physically impossible. Instead, they learn that the two smaller pieces would strike the planet’s surface a few city blocks apart (Efthimiou and Llewellyn, 2006). An important part of the Physics in Film curricula is helping learners see that science on the big screen does not necessarily correspond to the laws of physics. The same approach has been used in biology and in other fields (Rose, 2003).
Many television dramas are also based on scientific concepts, especially medicine (Turow, 1989; Turow and Gans, 2002). Criminal programs like Numb3rs and Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) have received recent attention due to their influence on public perceptions of science. In fact, the term “CSI effect” has been used to describe two different phenomena that result from viewing popular science programming.
In one case, the forensic science aspects of shows like CSI are believed to result in jurors increasing their demand for physical evidence in court trials, since this is what they see in fictional television labs (Houck, 2006). For example, district attorneys suggest that jurors now expect advanced technology to be involved in all court proceedings and that DNA testing is required as evidence. There are alarming examples of court cases being dismissed because jurors lack DNA and other physical evidence that appears prominently on CSI and related programs. In one case, jurors fought for DNA evidence despite the defendant’s admission of being at the crime scene (Houck, 2006).
This version of the CSI effect demonstrates how viewers may not understand differences between fictional accounts of science and the realities of practice. It also demonstrates the power of entertainment media to teach viewers what it means to do science, as these programs seem to increase expectations of what occurs in court trials. While CSI may occasionally lead to misconceptions about real science, it has also led to positive outcomes in terms of viewers’ awareness of and interest (Strand 1) in forensics (Podlas, 2006).
The second interpretation of the CSI effect focuses on representations of scientists. Jones and Bangert (2006) asked a convenience sample of 388 ethnically diverse middle school students to participate in a version of the Draw-A-Scientist Test (DAST, Chambers, 1983) to understand children’s beliefs about scientists. Their results showed seventh grade girls drawing a larger percentage of female scientists than their ninth and eleventh grade female counterparts. Additional interviews with a sample of female and male students found seventh grade girls mentioning CSI, Killer Instinct, and other programs that made forensics look “fun” while including male and female characters as scientific contributors. Although the research design precludes a conclusive finding, the authors propose that middle school girls may have different mental images of scientists than their older counterparts due to their exposure to new programming, like CSI. Unlike many television programs in the past, these shows do not characterize scientists as odd, eccentric people wearing lab coats (e.g., Gerbner, 1987), and they portray women in