Scott Z. Burns explains why the villain of his blockbuster film is an anti-science blogger, while the heroes are government officials.
Note: This post was originally published on October 25, 2011. Given the recent interest in the film (and the topic) we thought it was time for a rerun.
I’ve been writing about climate change for years now. And far too many of the words I’ve written on the subject have been dedicated to combating the misinformation spread by opportunistic climate change deniers. In an era where having a credible-looking blog passes as a credible-enough vehicle for disseminating information, many irresponsible bloggers have famously undertaken efforts to confuse the public about scientific findings or assail the credibility of scientists. Which was why I was amused to learn about Jude Law’s character in the film Contagion; he's a rogue blogger and snake oil salesman who bucks science for his own personal gain.At the 2011 Poptech conference, Contagion screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum, An Inconvenient Truth), participated in a fascinating panel about his film. He delved into the conception of the anti-science character, and how he can spread information in the new media environment. Watch:
Also on the panel were epidemiologist Ian Lipkin and author Laurie Garrett, two experts on infectious diseases who consulted on the film. And they each spoke passionately about the importance of preserving a robust public health sector -- the heroes in Contagion, as has been much remarked upon, are not rogue investigators but government health officials. They’re scientists and bureaucrats in the Center for Disease Control, and the statement issued by the film is relatively clear: Government plays a vital role in mitigating crises, and giving public scientists our trust is important.