NAS unveils entertainment ‘Exchange’

Academy initiative to unite sectors with scientists

The National Academy of Sciences Wednesday formally unveiled a collaborative initiative to better connect producers of films, TV shows, vidgames and other entertainment properties with top scientists.

“The Science and Entertainment Exchange,” which will include the formation of a Los Angeles NAS office that will, among other things Hollywood-related, field inquires from those in the entertainment biz seeking to integrate greater realism of scientific principles into their work, was unveiled at a noontime press briefing at CAA headquarters in Century City.

NAS prexy Ralph Cicerone introduced the effort, which he said will be funded with “a few hundred thousand dollars a year” of NAS money obtained through private donations.

Cicerone was flanked at the event by an assorted group of media heavyweights, which included, among others, “Family Guy” mastermind Seth MacFarlane, helmer Lawrence Kasdan and former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

Among the most vociferous and well-received speakers at the event, MacFarlane said an initiative to better support the role of science in pop culture is needed in an era in which “comicbook spiritualism” in film and TV has replaced the more science-rooted storytelling found in older sci-fi and fantasy properties like “Star Trek” and “Indiana Jones.”

“Instead, we now have ‘The Ghost Whisperer,’ ” he said. “I don’t know why I chose to crap on that show specifically, but the point is that the realism is gone and the believability is gone. … We used to get excited about what’s going on in the space program, for example. I’d like to see us get excited about that stuff again.”

Besides having top scientists at their disposal to act as either consultant or muse, MacFarlane added that, conversely, the initiative might also help develop representatives in the science community who can effectively communicate through the media.

“It would be nice if, in this process, we stumbled on the next Carl Sagan,” he said.

Also present at the event was helmer Jerry Zucker and his producer wife Janet Zucker, whose activism on behalf of stem cell research led to a relationship with Cicerone and the NAS — and, ultimately, the creation of the initiative itself.

As liaisons to the film and TV business, the Zuckers were instrumental in the coordination of the new NAS initiative, as well as the symposia on climate change, rare infectious diseases, genomics, artificial intelligence and the human brain that followed the news conference Wednesday.

“We were just trying to include scientific topics that we thought were relevant (to entertainment pros),” said Jerry Zucker, describing the thoughts that went into programming the seminars. “We just didn’t have time for the one on studio accounting practices.”

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