Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema



"We all know-or think we know-what science consultants do on Hollywood films: they check accuracy. They would be wrong. David Kirby shows the relation as much more complex, and vastly more interesting than that. Hollywood wants a landscape of verisimilitude, an elaborately produced naturalness, and legitimization of their image of the future. For their part, scientists can alter the public status of their fields and gain a powerful hand in articulating visions of how their own fields might work, from supercomputing to genetic alteration. This is an original study of a field that combines real knowledge of Hollywood films, scientist-consultants and science studies. It is fun to read, taking you to the back and forth between science and film everywhere from 2001 to Contact and Minority Report. I recommend it with enthusiasm."

-Peter Galison, Pellegrino University Professor in History of Science and Physics, Harvard University, and Producer/Director, Secrecy


"Kirby makes a compelling case that scientists and filmmakers need each other. I know of no other book like it."

-David Saltzberg, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UCLA, and Television Science Consultant


"In the gap between science fact and science fiction stands the motion picture and television science consultant. In this brisk, lively account, David Kirby provides us with a history of these often unheralded scientific ambassadors to Hollywood and the critical role they play in shaping how film and television makers depict science--depictions which in turn shape how science is understood by the public at large."

-Zack Stentz, writer/producer (Thor, X-Men: First Class, Fringe, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)


"There have been many books written on the intersection of science and Hollywood. But David Kirby's excellent tome is the first to examine seriously the role of the science consultant in the movie-making process and assess its potential impact. Lab Coats in Hollywood is essential reading for anyone who shares Kirby's passion for bringing science into the service of storytelling for the silver screen."

-Jennifer Ouellette, science writer and former director, National Academy of Sciences' Science and Entertainment Exchange


"Kirby convincingly shows us that the interaction between science and cinema is not limited to the portrayal of scientists and science themes in the media, but can significantly contribute to shaping a movie's core concepts and - even more interestingly - scientists' own activity in the research sphere."

-Massimiano Bucchi, Professor of Science and Technology in Society, University of Trento


"In the book, Kirby balances a thoughtful analysis with a wealth of well-researched anecdotes that reveal a previously hidden but important part of the culture of science. ...For movie-lovers everywhere, it provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how art and science meet in producing motion pictures we find delightful."

-Review in Science by Malcolm Maciver


"Numerous examples and interesting historical details make for an enjoyable read. The book is in part a handbook for those who might try to influence the way in which science and technology are portrayed on the big screen."

-Review in Nature by Kevin Hand


"Lab Coats in Hollywood opens a fascinating window on to the world of science and cinema."

-Review in the Times Higher Education by Alison Adam


"Kirby's first book is studded with fascinating details. ...Film and science aficionados will find much to love here."

-Review in the Times Literary Supplement by André Naffis-Sahely


"This isn't an esoteric tome of jargon-filled social science. It's a neat little book for a generally interested reader; direct, clear, thoughtful and communicated with a genuine interest in the people it studies."

-Review in Through the Looking Glass by science communication scholar Alice Bell


"Kirby has written that rare book: a scholarly work at the intersection of popular culture and serious science that is accessible and highly readable."

-Review in Physics World by Jim Kakalios


"[Kirby's book] does an admirable job of parsing and exploring the landscape of science consultation for film."

-Review in Film Comment by Ari Handel


"[Kirby] admirably provides several examples in which moviemakers made fantastic or uncertain science seem real and described how science consultants influence all levels of the moviemaking hierarchy. ... If you want to reach millions with your chemical ideas, you must read Kirby's book to learn what you can accomplish by making Hollywood friends."

-Review in Nature Chemistry by Mark Griep


"Thorough, detailed, and honest, Lab Coats in Hollywood is an exhaustive tome of the history of scientists' impact on cinema and storytelling. … Ultimately, readers will enjoy Lab Coats in Hollywood for its engaging writing style, detailed exploration of the history of science in film."

-Review in Script PhD by Jovana J. Grbic


"The synergy and history of the scientific consultant and film maker is perfectly presented in this well researched, and excellently written, superlative book."

-Review in Chemistry World by Paul Wolstenholme-Hogg


"Above all, Kirby’s book is eminently readable and useful for scholars, scientists, and members of the lay public with a special interest in the relationship between science and film.”

-Review in Technology and Culture by Jen Schneider


"Kirby's command of the subject makes for entertaining reading and, likely, more informed viewing."

-Review in Publishers Weekly


"For that strange corner where science nut meets movie buff, this is a very enlightening book."

-Review in Booklist by David Pitt


"It's an academic treatise, but a very readable one, which will be of interest not only to movie-loving scientists but to anyone who is interested in how 'realty'-scientific reality, that is-is conveyed on the silver screen."

-Review in Pop Matters by Sarah Boslaugh


"[Kirby] has given many detailed descriptions of scientific and cinematic work, and his brightly-written book ought to be enjoyed by anyone interested in either subject."

-Review in The Skeptic Magazine by Rob Hardy


"Kirby's book is honest and true, well-researched, unique, and easy to read."

-Review in The Journal of Mind and Behavior by Jeff Schmerker


"[Kirby's book] contains delightful tales of the trouble that ensues when scientists meet directors."

-Review in Wired Science by artist Alexis Rockman


"[Kirby's] book is a worthy contribution to the growing scholarship on representations of science in film."

-Review in Science Fiction Studies by Jerome Winter


"[Kirby] has given many detailed descriptions of scientific and cinematic work, and his brightly-written book ought to be enjoyed by anyone interested in either subject."

-Review in The Commercial Dispatch (Columbus, MS)


"Is [science consulting] worth it? Absolutely, concludes Kirby, pointing to cinematic depictions, tales, and social impacts shaped by scientific insight."

-Review in The Australian by Leigh Dayton


"The science must always serve the story, and, says Kirby, if you can figure out how to improve the scientific accuracy while also improving the story you can make a real difference. If you're a scientist, instead of writing off popular culture, embrace it."

-Review for ZDNet UK by Wendy Grossman


"An authoritative and Illuminating survey of science in the cinema."

-Review in the Canberra Times by Colin Steele


"The film buff will enjoy this immersion in Hollywood gossip, and it will be useful in the media studies classroom."

-Review in Leonardo by Mike Leggett


"Although Kirby stands on the sidelines as a mere reporter, you can tell he's rooting for the scientists."

-Review in BBC's Focus magazine by Lisa Sanders


"[Kirby's] backlot revelations about specific movies inspires seeing them again with this information in mind. For sci-fi and science-based adventure film buffs, always a good thing."

-Review in The North Coast Journal (Humboldt County, CA) by William Kowinski


"Moviegoers will be fascinated to learn how much-and how little-filmmakers draw on experts to get things right."

-Review in Red Weather Review by Joseph Barbato


Blog Posts

"The Role of Scientific Integrity in Cinematic Science" on Berfrois: Intellectual Jousting in the Republic of Letters

Age of Engagement, "Learn About the Science Behind Hollywood Blockbusters like Thor and The Avengers " by Dr. Matthew Nisbet

Dean's Corner "Science Four Ways?" by Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney

Cocktail Physics "So you want to be a science consultant" by Jennifer Ouellette

The Page 99 Test applied to Lab Coats in Hollywood