Science goes to Hollywood– favorite movie scenes, 2

November 12, 2010 • 10:20 am

by Greg Mayer

My second entry for favorite science-y movie scene is from the 1986 remake of The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum as modestly-mad scientist Seth Brundle, and Geena Davis as Veronica Quaife, his journalist-love interest. (The 1958 original starred Vincent Price, but not as the scientist.) The scene occurs fairly early in the film. Seth and Veronica meet at a press event, and go to Seth’s lab/loft apartment. Seth hangs up his coat, opening up a closet that reveals several sets of the same clothing that he is wearing. He explains to the surprised Veronica that, by always wearing the same type of clothes, he never wastes any time deciding what to wear, thus leaving more time for his scientific work.

I couldn’t find a video of this scene, but the following clip shows Seth wearing the outfit in his lab/loft apartment.

The kernel of truth here is that scientists really do deliberately limit their clothing choices, as a way of eliminating distraction– they’re dedicated to what’s truly important. There’s a story of a famed herpetologist, the lower portion of whose tie was stained with alcohol and snake scales, because he wore the same tie every day, and it would periodically get dipped in the trays and bottles of the snake specimens he was examining. Dick Lewontin, Jerry’s esteemed graduate advisor, always wears khaki pants, a blue work shirt, and, if it’s chilly, a brown sweater. He kept a tie in the office, in case some formal situation demanded it. Here’s Dick at last year’s Darwin festivities in Chicago; then take a look at these other photos, taken years apart.

Dick Lewontin at Darwin/Chicago 2009.

38 thoughts on “Science goes to Hollywood– favorite movie scenes, 2

  1. I preferred the original version of ‘The Fly’. The ending, where Price squishes the fly before it is eaten by a spider, is a real classic. The gene splicing explanation used in the remake never made sense to me (there were more than human and fly genomes present in the transporter pod – what about all the bacterial DNA in the scientists gut?)

    1. …and, of course, once again the process of evolution is presented as a process of morphing.

      It’s no wonder people don’t believe in evolution. They never see Jeff Goldblum morph into something other than Jeff Goldblum in real life.

      Still and all, I liked this version better than the Vincent Price original. Geena Davis at her long-legged loveliest. And the special effects at the end were great.

        1. Heh. Fair enough.

          I think by this time they were married to each other.

          They met, I believe, during filming yet another science-fiction classic, “Earth Girls Are Easy”.

          With Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey, no less.

  2. I sort of do that clothing thing too. I have more colors, but otherwise the stuff is identical. When I go shopping, I will buy 3-4 pairs of the same khakis and shirts in a couple of different fairly neutral colors. When a pair of shoes wears out, I buy another identical pair. I’ve been wearing basically the same running shoe for the past six years, and as long as they keep making them I’ll keep buying them. Before that it was 6-7 years of a slightly different running shoe.

    I’ve just got better things to do, even when I don’t really have better things to do.

  3. I could also see it as a reaction to changing fashions and brands. If you find a suit you really like (or shoes, ties, etc), why not buy a bunch of them, rather than have to deal with changes in fashion you don’t like. I used to wear sneakers all the time, but for the last few years they’ve just gotten really ugly (or I’ve gotten better taste).

    As for the Fly, I really love that movie, but I’m still shocked that Goldbloom didn’t see the non-human transporter as a tremendous advance… imagine being able to ship dry goods through a power line? It would still have to have an economical power use against regular shipping, but since he was running it out of his house, it probably was pretty favorable. Though who knows what all those unemployed truckers would do.

    1. And, if you can copy, send, and re-fabricate, why can’t you just skip the sending. Suddenly you have a replicator. Or a matter refiner.
      Either way, screw human transport, this baby could revolutionize manufacturing and shipping both.

    2. Or if you just have a set of standard units that you like – T shirts in summer, turtlenecks in winter; sweaters or sweatshirts as needed; sweatpants at the desk, jeans outside. That’s me dressed, and has been for decades.

      1. Have you been in my closet?;-)
        I stopped trying to figure out what to wear back in 2000 when I got pregnant the first time (then again in 2002, and in 2004… can’t button my pants… can’t button my shirt… that went on for years.)And pregnancy #1 just happened to coincide with an 80’s revival in the fashion industry. Why, oh why? I, unfortunate wench that I am, spent the entirety of my secondary school years during the 1980’s. I was tortured with mustard, teal, and stirrup pants once already:))

  4. O esteemed commentaters and elders in the field of science, answer me this: as a young female graduate student in the biological sciences, do I get looked down on for enjoying makeup and fashion? I mean, I’m no fashion plate, but I like to wear clothes that flatter me and my vanity insures that I put on at least a little makeup every day.

    I did read an article recently in Psychology Today (yeah, yeah…) that said that being good looking is an advantage when being assessed by the opposite sex (obviously) and a disadvantage when being assessed by the same sex. The writer mentioned an interview where a particularly good looking graduate candidate who was otherwise qualified was rejected on the basis of being too attractive and “nobody wants to compete with that.”

    1. Well, as an anecdote against your hypothesis, I will note that magazines aimed at men routinely have a larger rack sales rate when there is an attractive woman on the cover.

      And magazines aimed at women routinely have a larger rack sales rate when there is an attractive woman on the cover.

      I think the research shows that attractiveness is an advantage overall.

      One wonders how low a self-esteem one has to have to not hire someone on the basis of good looks of the applicant.

      1. Not my hypothesis – it’s Psychology Today’s!

        But reading this post, I am a little concerned about how I come across to others in the department, since this blog seems to imply that “serious” scientists have better things to worry about than fashion. I’d rather be judged by my work than whether or not my eyeliner is inappropriate. I’m serious about my studies, but I like to be pretty too.

        1. Well, I’ll just say that if someone doesn’t hire you because you’re too good looking, that would probably not be the type of boss I’d want to have.

          That type of person would go out of their way to torture you for their inadequacies.

          As far as your current position, well…I think there are plenty of scientists in my circle who don’t subscribe to the Einsteinian sartorial philosophy (he’s the one who initially popularized this meme).

          One female cardiologist of my acquaintance is addicted to Chanel suits.

        2. Nope, don’t worry about it. I’m a male graduate student and I take care with my appearance. I got tired of looking like “just another schlupy grad student” and took a real interest in style, presentation, etc. I get nothing but compliments on it within my department. And that includes the majority of PIs who know me enough to talk to me in the hall.

          The “real scientists have other things to worry about” is a load of junk. Some people just don’t care, and thats fine, but it isn’t a sign of greater commitment or intelligence.

    2. As an un-esteemed commentator not yet an elder in non-scientific fields, I’ll offer you a bit of advice:

      To thine own self be true.


      Trying to conform to other people’s expectations just isn’t worth it. You’ll always be at the mercy of different people’s desires, and none of them will match your own.

      In your specific example…if your prospective employers are basing hiring (etc.) decisions even in part on whether or not they think they want to and will have the chance to get into your pants, or whether or not you’ll be an obstacle for getting into somebody else’s pants, then that’s one place you want to avoid like the plague. I guarantee you, the pay and prestige isn’t worth it, no matter how much it might seem like it would be.

      If your job / school / whatever has a dress code, comply with it. If you don’t enjoy complying with it, consider if you’d dislike complying with it more than you’d dislike going somewhere else, and go with the path of least resistance.

      Also keep in mind that the guys you’re trying to impress are almost guaranteed to not share your taste in makeup and clothes. Some will want more, some less…it’s all over the map. Some will like their women dressed like floozies; some like they’re going to the prom; and some will prefer the way somebody looks right after she wakes up, before she even hits the shower. And some will think that person X looks best in a business suit while person Y looks best in jeans and a sweatshirt — and others will come to the opposite conclusions about persons X and Y!

      So be yourself, let the chips fall where they may, and you’re almost guaranteed to be happier with the results than if you were to try to force things.



    3. I’ll just toss in that if you subscribe to fashion magazines, have them sent to your home address, not to the lab.

    4. I’m glad I’m not the only person here who enjoys both science and fashion. Dolling up every day may take time, but if it’s fun, what’s the problem? I think if there’s a stereotype of scientists being unfashionable men who are so obsessed with their work that they’ll wear the same outfit daily just to save a bit of time, it’s not helping the recruitment of women or a good portion of men either. That’s why I didn’t join in the pharyngulation of the vote for the science blog vs. the beauty blog. I love performing phylogenetic analyses of theropods, but I love coordinating my eyeshadow too. They’re not mutually exclusive.

      1. Look back at old pictures of scientists, especially from the early half of the 20th century and up to about the 70’s. A lot of sharply dressed folks.

        Of course everyone tended to be better and more professionally dressed then compared to now.

  5. Even going to the bother of always buying the same clothes would be way too much hassle for me.

    Most of my wardrobe is cheap shorts (I’m in Arizona) and jeans from whatever department store I happened to be driving by when I realized what I was wearing was threadbare, plus “free” t-shirts.

    What few dress clothes I have are from Men’s Warehouse, where (again when I realize what I have is threadbare) I just tell the salescritter “I need pants / shirts / whatever,” answer his questions (usually with, “I don’t care” and / or “cheaper is better”) and leave with whatever he recommends. The marginal premium on price is well worth not having to deal with the hassle — plus, I buy clothes so infrequently it amounts to a rounding error.

    Come to think of it, I’ve probably spent more time thinking about clothes (excluding doing laundry) while typing this post than in the rest of 2010 combined.



  6. scientists really do deliberately limit their clothing choices, as a way of eliminating distraction

    I have an extensive collection of clever T-shirts, many of them based in science or intellectualism. So, even though I always wear a T-shirt with jeans or shorts, the selection is still there.

  7. totally OT rant:
    Videos and pictures at the wrong aspect ratio really bother me! It’s like nobody notices any more.

  8. One thing about the Fly remake that always bothered me – why the hell would he test the thing with a baboon from the outset? Why not a mouse, or a worm? I could see using a baboon before trying it himself, but not before he’d tried something cheaper and…less aware.

  9. I’m just thinking of all the potential research time lost while Jerry picks out which pair of boots to wear.

  10. speaking of lewontin… what was the aftermath of the 80s “Not in our genes” polemic? There were some vicious exchanges between him and dawkins

  11. I was worried a bit, here, but I see I’m not *quite* alone as a budding female scientist who enjoys fashion. Well, I don’t care much for trends and never wear makeup, but I love to wear interesting outfits.

    Dressing up boosts my confidence and my motivation to get work done. If I have an exam, I’ll wear my favorite fancy shoes. Lazy clothes lead to overall feelings of laziness.

    Then again, I’m a fresh grad student and have not yet settled into the cycle of malaise and despair that seems to grip most of my peers. Here’s to trying to do everything at once!

  12. Here’s a budding male scientist who also likes to look good! It is a slight concern to me that I won’t be taken seriously in Grad school because I pay attention to the way I look and I hope that’s not the case but I’m confident that my work will speak for itself. I don’t think spending an extra couple of minutes putting an outfit together is going to fault any research I might be doing.

  13. I just watch Agora this evening. I loved her line as Hypatia, “Synesius, you don’t question what you believe, or cannot. I must.”

  14. Nice! I always thought the outfit I’ve worn for the last three decades (jeans worn with shirts from a thrift store) were just signs of my poor taste in clothes, but now I have a much better excuse!

  15. Does physical attractiveness have a negative impact on one’s career in science? I’d say possibly, slightly, occasionally, but in the long run not so much. Here’s a little evidence. (I’m a woman, botanist, and sometime professor.)

    One time, I was more than half way through an upper division botany class before I recognized that a particular young woman was the best student in the class. Why the delay? She was a young female college student who had friends, was reasonably attractive, and wore the usual reasonably tasteful clothes. I had just graded her work and ignored her. I had picked out the second and third best students early — a shy young woman with eccentric taste in clothes and an obsession with plants, and an equally eccentric though more normally dressed young man. But note: I did finally pick out the best student.

    At a conference I sat ignoring the sort of cute, blond, middle-aged woman in a pink dress who was flitting about the stage, setting things in order. Some secretary assigned to set things up, I assumed. Then as she opened the session she introduced herself. She is one of the leaders in my particular sub-discipline, a woman whose articles and major texts I had read and used. Was I embarrassed!

  16. As I recall, the comment on fashion came from another Goldblum as scientist, sciency film, Jurassic Park. I remember it from the book but can’t recall it from the film though…

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