A little while back, I reported on a discussion between NASA and hollywood movie execs in which they discussed ways to promote science within films. As part of those discussions, a list of movies was released which showed the ten best and worst science fiction films for realistic protrayal of science. This seems to have irritated some of the people who were actually present at the meeting. They argue that the original report was totally bogus, that quotes were fabricated by the reporter who wrote it, and that they would never undermine the purpose of the meeting with arbitrary and insulting lists!
So what happened? How did this get to be such big news? John Harlow of the Sunday Times wrote an article covering a private meeting at the JPL between NASA and the Science & Entertainment Exchange (SEE), a program designed to give entertainment industry professionals access to top scientists and engineers, to help create more current and realistic science and technology in popular fiction. Unfortunately he seems to have been a bit creative in his report. He managed to completely misidentify the people at the meeting (usually putting the wrong person in the wrong job), he fabricated quotes, and made up his own 10 Best/Worst list which he then attributed to the scientists present. Predictably, the reactions of people who were at the meeting are ranging from confusion (“I don’t remember saying that…”) to anger.
This would not have been much of a big deal, except that journalists around the world picked up the story and produced their own versions. Soon the whole world knew about this fictional list. And Urban Astronomer was part of the throng. Now I made an effort to check the facts. But when I could find no mention of the list on any NASA websites, I should have seen a red flag. Instead, I made do with what I’d read in other articles. This was a mistake.
So you heard it from the horses mouth: Urban Astronomer got suckered into publishing a bullshit story. Sorry about that.