Film & TV

Film Review: ‘Science Friction’: Please Allow Them to Retort

BY Michael Clark TIMEMay 7, 2022 PRINT

NR | 1h 26min | Documentary, Science | 1 April 2022 (USA)

If you are a consumer of documentary films, non-fiction nature/science/history/crime-based TV programming, TV talk shows, or even infomercials, chances are you’ve been told something in the past that is not true.

In some form or fashion, the data that is presented in the lion’s share of these productions has been crafted, shaped, edited or presented in a manner that serves their makers’ narrative, which frequently flies in the face of the people providing said data, or science, if you will.

Presenting news and information within the framework of entertainment-based programming is nothing new; “The Today Show” on NBC has been doing it for over 70 years. In 1981, with the launch of Paramount Television’s “Entertainment Tonight,” this practice received its own sub-genre classification: “infotainment.”

In the 40 years since then, literally hundreds of other start-up shows have adhered closely to the “ET” and “Today” blueprints and, for the most part, have remained innocuous and scandal-free; largely because they trade in gossip and other fluffy, wading-pool-deep chunks of minutiae. The closest any of these programs ever get to math or science is reporting Nielsen ratings or last week’s box office take.

That’s Not What I Said

Directed by Emery Emery, produced by Brian Dunning and written by both, “Science Friction” is a retort or rebuttal of sorts from roughly two dozen scientists and field of study specialists, who have appeared in assorted big and small screen productions while being quoted wildly out of context. They’ve had their opinions chopped, diced, spliced and reassembled so often, and to such a degree, that what shows up in the final product is frequently the exact opposite of what they said, intended, or implied.

In movies, especially documentaries involving science, there tends to be copious amounts of “inside baseball” industry jargon, which works fine for those with a knowledge of “Discipline X” going in, but for Mr. and Mrs. Joe Lunchbox, it is boring, dry, and can be used as a cure for insomnia.

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Comedian Brian Malow is featured in “Science Friction.” (Skeptoid)

Perhaps realizing this potential roadblock, the filmmakers include a handful of individuals to add levity to the proceedings. Among these additional talking heads are magicians Banachek and Jamy Ian Swiss, TV host Matt Kirshen (“Probably Science”), and Brian Malow, a stand-up comedian whose act includes science references of all sorts.

No stranger to comedy himself, part-time speechwriter, pundit, and game show host Ben Stein shows up early on in a clip culled from his 2008 feature documentary “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” where he’s interviewing evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.

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Richard Dawkins is featured in “Science Friction.” (Skeptoid)

What could have been an intelligent interchange about the origins of humanity turns into a one-sided interrogation with Stein putting words in Dawkins’s mouth and barely allowing him to speak. Those who previously respected and admired Stein (myself included) are certain to change their opinions of him somewhat after witnessing this portion of the film.

Debunked Urban Legends

One of longest-lasting, highest profile and well-known urban legends is addressed in the movie and has its validity summarily decimated in mere minutes. While attempting to determine the existence of Michigan’s “Lake Champlain Monster,” or as many locals have dubbed it “Champ,” one of the experts comes to the rock-solid conclusion that it isn’t even an animal.

Exactly what it turns out to be isn’t shocking in the least, makes complete scientific sense and contains a twist which shall remain unrevealed here. In the process, this expert also debunks the notion that there is a similar “beast” in Scotland named “The Loch Ness Monster.”

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Magician Jamy Ian Swiss who is featured in “Science Friction.” (Skeptoid)

In the first of two segments examining the validity of “alternative medicine,” footage of an Asian woman undergoing open-heart surgery is presented and, at first blush, it is mesmerizing. Not only is the woman awake, her only “anesthesia” is dozens of acupuncture needles. It’s pretty amazing until the full story plays out and, again, the twist is something that shouldn’t be even hinted at here.

One of the many laughs in the movie comes courtesy of a comedian who wryly states “if ‘alternative medicine’ actually worked, we’d simply call it…medicine.” Perhaps a better description of these practices would be “alternative treatments” as little to none of its alleged benefits is rooted in provable science.

Not Exactly the Merry Old Land of Oz

This makes for a perfect lead-in to a lengthy segment focusing on Mehmet Cengiz Oz, better known to the masses as Dr. Oz, a retired physician and talk-show host who is currently seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Oz is considered by many in the scientific community as a quack and the most successful snake oil huckster the world has ever known.

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Mehmet Cengiz Oz as featured in “Science Friction.” (Skeptoid)

So egregious and lengthy were the charges and accusations levied against Oz, he was called before a 2014 Senate hearing chaired by Claire McCaskill who said to him “the scientific community is almost monolithic against you” for airing segments on weight loss products that are later cited in advertisements, concluding that Oz plays a role, intentional or not, in perpetuating these scams, and that she is concerned that he is “melding medical advice, news, and entertainment in a way that harms consumers.”

To one degree or another, the curtain on a considerable portion of the various producers of sensationalized film and TV is pulled back revealing them to be shameless charlatans that have zero qualms in requesting (and sometimes ordering) that scientists in their employ twist the truth or outright lie on camera for the sake of pushing their bogus narratives.

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Promotional logo for “Science Friction.” (Skeptoid)

For the past few years, we’ve been told by various institutions to “follow the science,” but after watching this film, one has to wonder if these same institutions are going by the same shaky blueprint as these “entertainment” entities.

“Science Friction” is now available to stream on TUBI and Amazon Prime.

‘Science Friction’
Director: Emery Emery
Running Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Not Rated
Release Date: April 1, 2022
Rating: 4 out of 5

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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