Archive for 2009

Sarajevo Film Festival: Gillian Anderson set for X-Files return

Aug-24-2009
Gillian Anderson set for X-Files return
(Sarajevo Film Festival)

[Original article here]

US actress Gillian Anderson. She said:

US actress Gillian Anderson. She said: “Of course I would accept an offer to appear in a new ‘X-Files’ movie. There isn’t any reason not to do it. EPA/FEHIM DEMIR

Gillian Anderson has confirmed she will appear in a third ‘X-Files’ movie.

The actress – who plays agent Dana Scully in the sci-fi TV series and its spin-off movies – surprised fans at the Sarajevo Film Festival by admitting she would happily reprise her role for another big screen instalment, despite recently complaining she felt typecast because of her association with the franchise.

She said: “Of course I would accept an offer to appear in a new ‘X-Files’ movie. There isn’t any reason not to do it.

“I feel a commitment to that group of people I worked with and we still enjoy doing it. There is no reason not to come together and do it again. If they can pull it off, we’ll find a reason to make it.”

The actress – who most recently played Agent Scully in 2008’s ‘The X-Files: I Want To Believe’ – said she believed work would start on the next movie in 2012.

Earlier this year, it was claimed Gillian would turn down any approaches to make a third movie.

A source said: “It took a while for Gillian to establish a career for herself outside the ‘The X-Files’ and she’s now enjoying her acting more than ever before.

“She’s very proud of ‘The X-Files’ but feels her career has now moved onto a different phase.”

When the last movie in the franchise was release, Gillian’s co-star David Duchovny – who plays agent Fox Mulder – admitted he was hoping it would be a success so he could continue to play the role throughout his career.

He said: “It depends very much on this film. I know we’ve made a great thriller and horror movie. Simply put, if it does the right kind of business, we’ll be able to make more.

“We hope it becomes kind of a franchise. Coming back was always something I wanted to do. I would love to follow Mulder as he got older and older.”

Radar Online: Gillian Anderson Says X-Files 3 May Happen

Aug-21-2009
Radar Online
Gillian Anderson Says X-Files 3 May Happen

[Original article here]

Gillian Anderson is giving hope to The X-Files fanatics everywhere that she and David Duchnovy may reunite for a third installment in the film series.  “There isn’t any reason not to do it,” the actress said during an appearance at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

“I feel a certain commitment to that group of people that I worked with and we still enjoy doing it, when we do it. There is no reason why not to come together and do it again. If they can pull it off, we’ll find some reason to make it.”

The film could be out in 2012, Anderson said.

Anderson and Duchnovy starred in The X-Files on TV all through the 1990s.  The two films came out in 1998 and 2008.

Scientific American: To Bee or Not to Bee

Aug-21-2009
To Bee or Not to Bee
Scientific American, Science Talk podcast
Steve Mirsky

[Original article here; mp3 download here]

In part 2 of our bee podcast, we talk with May Berenbaum, entomologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and inspiration for the X Files fictional entomologist Bambi Berenbaum, about bees, other insects and how life history analysis can make us rest easy during scary sci-fi invasion movies. Plus, we’ll test your knowledge about some recent science in the news

Podcast Transcription

Steve: Welcome to Science Talk, the weekly podcast of Scientific American posted on August 21st, 2009. I’m Steve Mirsky. This week more about bees and all manner of other insect with entomologist, May Berenbaum from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Now, last week I promised you that you’d also get a fellow named John Williams, the beekeeper at Darwin’s home in England; however I’m traveling, and I apparently neglected to bring along that audio file, but this problem is easily fixed because what was supposed to be a two-part podcast is now a three-part podcast. I plan to post the William’s chat on Tuesday the 25th of August, so look or listen for that. Meanwhile here’s more with May Berenbaum. Early in our conversation, she mentions Reed Johnson—you’ll recall from part 1 that Reed is her student working on genomes.

Berenbaum: Honeybees, everybody thinks eats honey and pollen, but in reality they feed their grub something called bee bread, which is a mixture of honey and pollen packed into cells, and it cures or ages. And the suspicion is that maybe some of these symbiotic microbes are contributing to the sort of processing of bee bread. So one of the findings from this yet unpublished work that was discussed in Florida at the meeting that Reed attended, Apiary Inspectors of America, was a high-fructose corn syrup which is the preferred diet for overwintering bees because it’s much cheaper than feeding them honey or sugar; apparently it wipes out these potentially symbiotic microbes. One thing that Reed found that’s in his dissertation, when you feed honeybees honey, they upregulate their cytochrome p450 monooxygenases, these enzymes that process among other things plant chemicals, when you give them sugar, it’s nothing. So when you feed them on a sugar diet they are not turning on their chemical processing equipment, so this is something that nobody expected. I mean people aren’t used to thinking of honeybees as broad generalists because they’ll feed on hundreds of different flowers, but in a way they are dietary super specialists because they feed on this narrow range—they feed on pollen, honey and bee bread. And granted the components can come from all different places, but feeding on nectar or honey derived from nectars [is a] very different proposition from feeding on other types of plant tissue because plants load up their vulnerable tissues with chemicals, you know, natural pesticides, so that insects won’t eat them, but they want insects to eat nectar; that’s the whole point [of nectar].

Steve: So it’s possible that this high-fructose corn syrup that’s, you know, partially responsible for the obesity epidemic in humans is also having a devastating effect on the bee population.

Berenbaum: Well, that’s a big jump, but I would say that feeding bees other than honey may have physiological consequences that nobody anticipated. Back in the ’70s the dietary studies were conducted, at least one of the USDA bee labs, and certainly short term there is no longevity effect. And that actually led to the widespread adoption of these alternative diets. But nobody was looking at the microbial symbionts in the gut, nobody was looking at the detoxification enzymes, we didn’t even know to look. So there may be subtle effects. That’s another focus too. As people have for a long time; you know, the way the EPA registers insecticides being safe or unsafe for bees, they do bioassays with adult workers, well adult worker physiology is very different from every other life stage. It’s just really hard to figure out bees. I have worked with caterpillars since, like, 1976. Bees are hard to work with, they are very complicated, they are, I mean they have this amazing social behavior and awareness. Caterpillars are nothing but eating machines, you know. I have seen black swallowtail caterpillars chewing on parsley foliage while the spined soldier bug is sucking out the haemolymph from the other end. They are so intent, all they do is eat, that’s what their, you know, they can increase in size and weight, you know, four to 10,000 fold in a couple of weeks; they eat their weight, their own weight in plant food, that’s what they do. So they have no kind of sense of awareness or recognition of family relationships, so that was one of the really difficult things about doing microarray to determine causes of colony collapse disorder. It’s really a correlative approach, and what complicates things is that you’re looking at genes that are turned on or turned off or turned way up or turned up a little, and there will be genes that are turned on in response to whatever the causative phenomenon might be; but there are also genes whose expression [is being] changed because the social structure [is being] changed. It’s as if you woke up one morning and half of Chicago was gone. Your stress genes would be turned on; that would have nothing to do with whatever wiped out half of Chicago, and that’s what we’re working with microarray. We have the advantage of the human genome; [we] know [a lot] more about what the genes do. So you saw that in the microarray, that big hunk of genes [that] we don’t know what their function is.

Steve: The state of colony collapse disorder understanding is we have a lot of kind of interesting promising, tantalizing leads, but there’s still nothing that we have absolutely pinned down as the cause of this strange disappearance of the bees.

Berenbaum: There are constituencies who feel more or less strongly about the various and sundry causative or contributing factors, but there is no consensus at all and the general perception is that it’s a phenomenon that is perhaps [has arisen] from multiple causes. But one interesting consequence of colony collapse disorder, this was Kim Flottum, he runs Bee Culture magazine, and he has a blog—bee-log—and he remarked that more he has learned about bees in the last two years than in the last 20 and you know this is seriously, seriously overdo. This is a $15 billion industry, I mean, forget the bee is our friend and an inspiration and a model for social behavior, you know; this is a $15 billion industry that has been profoundly neglected, technologically.Steve: And so this could ultimately wind up being a blessing in disguise.

Berenbaum: I suppose. I guess it depends on what the last chapter is, but yeah in terms, in a sense that knowledge is power, yes, absolutely. We have a lot to learn and at least the pace of learning has been stepped up.

Steve: Let’s talk about some of your other work. You do some really fun stuff. Your husband, let everybody know, tell about your husband and the project that you two work on together.

Berenbaum: Well, since 1984, University of Illinois has put on an insect-fear film festival, where we show bad insect science fiction and then explain to people why, what they’re about see can possibly happen. So, we found this to be an incredibly effective mechanism for raising the general level of knowledge and sophistication about insects and …

Steve: Your husband is a film [studies guy]…

Berenbaum: He’s a film professor

Steve: What’s his name?

Berenbaum: Richard Leskosky. In fact, we met because of the Insect Fear Film Festival.

Steve: At Cornell?

Berenbaum: No, no. This was at Illinois. I had the idea for festival when I was a graduate student at Cornell; they thought it was not dignified, so I got my degree and went to University of Illinois, waited a few years to establish my reputation as a solid scientist and then went to the department head and pitched the idea, and he thought it was great.

Steve: You know, I went to Cornell, too. So, we’ll show them who’s dignified. So you do this film festival, I remember reading about; you had an article in the Ecological Society of America’s…

Berenbaum: “Life History Strategies in the Movies”, yeah.

Steve: Briefly explain that to people. That’s really a fun concept.

Berenbaum: Well, we’re now dealing with invasive species. It’s now a catch phrase, or term that a lot of Americans are familiar with. These are species that come from elsewhere and wreak havoc. Typically, invasive species is another name for aliens, you know, nonnative species. Well, movies have been dealing with aliens for a very long time, and I noticed as an ecologist that the life history strategy, the biological attributes of these invading space aliens really would be a recipe for disaster.

Steve: For them?

Berenbaum: For biological, if they were real biological organisms that were intent on invading Earth. Typically, invasive species that are successful are small and extremely numerous; invading aliens tend to be like the size of, you know, [Winnebagos] and relatively few in number. And you can tell from the titles, The Black Scorpion, you know, The Deadly Mantis, and not the hordes of them. They also in movies, tend not to reproduce; [I mean] that is hard to do if you’re, you know, you have biparental sexual reproduction [and] there is only one of you. Which is one reason, I think, that often aliens come to Earth to look for mates. You know, that’s another life history strategy that’s doomed because intraspecific hybridization generally is not a recipe for success, so…

Steve: What was it, Mars Needs Women?

Berenbaum: Right. That probably wasn’t gonna work out too well. This, you know, the hybrid inviability, hybrid sterility, somehow doesn’t apply [to] aliens; Mr. Spock being an exception, I guess—he was half Vulcan and half human.

Steve: Right, but we don’t know if he could reproduce.

Berenbaum: Good point. He could have been the mule of Star Trek.

Steve: You bring up something that I’ve been meaning to get into for a long time and that is that science fiction features a lot of interspecies relationships.

Berenbaum: I don’t know what that says about the movie-going psyche.

Steve: But they look humanoid, so we sort of overlook it, but yes.

Berenbaum: Oh, that’s the other thing, you know, they tend, these movie aliens often are real invasive aliens or small, so they can escape notice, particularly in sort of low budget science fiction films, aliens tend to be about human-size, because that way they can fit into the costume.

Steve: Robot Monster.

Berenbaum: Yeah, exactly. Gosh! It was Monster from Green Hell was about cosmic radiation induced giant wasps and basically they had one and a half giant wasps. They constructed models and just to keep the budget, you know, the cost down. So size, number, reproductive behavior. And then another ecological attribute that differs on screen and in reality is usually the density-dependent mortality sources tend to regulate populations. Generally, particularly in 1950s sci-fi films, it’s napalm, electricity, reversing the polarity, is all these physical factors that don’t really play quite an important a role.

Steve: An exception being, War of the Worlds, where…

Berenbaum: Right, where it was a germ, yeah, a microbe that’s a little bit more—that was not a low-rent movie.

Steve: Right, right. I’m talking about the Gene Barry version.

Berenbaum: Yeah. Well, even that was a step-up from Bert I. Gordon and Beginning of the End and Earth versus the Spider so… .

Steve: Earth versus the Spiders. It got to be a pretty big spider. So …

Berenbaum: It was a giant spider.

Steve: So, if I really want to do a sci-fi movie, that’s sort of accurate about a threat, I have the aliens send a few hundred billion microbes.

Berenbaum: Yeah. Well, yeah that would be certainly one way to do it. Microbes, I think insects would be better, because they’re mobile on their own, lot of microbes rely on vectors to carry them around, they are not quite so mobile. They maybe require water, that’s a vulnerability; you know, cholera for example, you boil the water, you’ll be all right. Or you take the handle off the pump as…

Steve: John Snow…

Berenbaum: John Snow in London. But as our continuing struggle to deal with malaria, which is the leading cause of deaths of kids under 5 worldwide and routinely sickens 200, 300 million people every year, that insect partnership makes it really challenging, control issue.

Steve: Now, let’s tell the story about you. Does anybody still jokingly refer to you as Bambi Berenbaum?

Berenbaum: Yeah. Thanks to TV and the Internet. Yeah, I have to say that I used to carry my Bambi Berenbaum collector card around, because people would come up afterwards ask me to sign there’s.

Steve: They explain who Bambi Berenbaum is and how you got involved and all that?

Berenbaum: There’s an X Files episode called where the “War of the Coprophages” where Mulder is called into investigate mysterious rash of cockroach-related deaths that lead him to suspect that perhaps these cockroaches may be of extraterrestrial origin. Investigating the cockroaches leads him to a USDA facility where he is confronted by Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, USDA entomologist. I first saw the write-up, you know, the blurb in the newspaper, you know, the episode summary; I thought this cannot be a coincidence and I watched the show and it sounds really familiar. And it turns out, it took me a while to track him down, but Darin Morgan, the scriptwriter, for that particular episode had used my books for background research, and he wanted a plausible name for female entomologist, thought Berenbaum worked, Bambi was just kind of icing on the cake, I think. And what’s really nice there’s, you know, stereotypes about entomologists and scientists in general, Coke-bottle glasses which I happen to wear and you know, no sense of fashion or style.

Steve: Let me cover this for you. The Bambi Berenbaum in that show was a very attractive young lady.

Berenbaum: She was a total babe. So, I think that’s fabulous, you know.

Steve: And if I remember correctly, Mulder has a real thing for her.

Berenbaum: There’s a moment where it looks like they might hook up but then she goes off with the genius roboticist, who is wheelchair–bound. I was [rooting] for Mulder.

Steve: You have at least one book out for general audience. Tell us about that book and anything else you might be working on.

Berenbaum: Well, I have two books that are just short essays that are based on a radio show that I used to do locally. One is called Ninety-Nine Gnats, Nits and Nibblers, the other is called Ninety-Nine More Maggots, Mites and Munchers‘ and they’re sort of like little insect profiles. The biggest book is Bugs in the System: Insects and their Impact on Human Affairs, which explains, kind of, how insects have really shaped our lives and our culture and our evolution, which means we shouldn’t ignore them. And then buzzwords and it’s a collection of columns from American Entomologists, humorous essays. In fact, we had a quote from Barry for the cover who said…

Steve: Dave Barry?

Berenbaum: Yeah, the humorous who words the effect of, “If there is a funnier book about insects, I do not know of it.” Because I had actually in one of the essays, I had written about prosthetic legs for cockroaches ended up in one of his columns, and there is a new book coming out in August, Harvard University Press, it’s called The Earwig’s Tail, that’s T-A-I-L. It’s a modern bestiary of multilegged legends. So, bestiaries are medieval collections of usually, well, descriptions of natural life that usually has some sort of moral lesson associated with it. And people believe[d] them completely, even though some of the creatures described were totally fantastic, manticores and unicorns, right next to the rhinoceros. Well, we would like to [think we’ve] progress beyond that point, but in reality the Internet has created a whole new forum of bestiary in these, sort of, urban legends or modern misconceptions about insects; illustrated by the brilliant Jay Hosler, who did Clan Apis, in the style of a bestiary of, oh, “The Brain-Boring Earwig” for example or “The Aerodynamically Unsound Bumble Bee” or, you know, all these convictions people have about insects that actually aren’t true.

Steve: The Brain-Boring Earwig made famous by Night Gallery.

Berenbaum: Well, it goes back further than that. Actually, there’s this longstanding conviction, I know only of two publications that actually document earwigs in the ear, hundreds that document cockroaches. If anything that’s gonna bore through your brain is more likely to be a cockroach. But earwigs, yeah, are not bent on boring through your cerebellum.

Steve: Where are they bent on boring through?

Berenbaum: Kind of depends on the species of earwigs, some of them are like parasitic on bats, you know. But bat ears may be in trouble; but a lot of them are sort of opportunistic feeders, they like sort of moist places. They are well feed on roots and plant, you know, debris [and the like], but nobody eats brains that I know of.

Steve: So, Laurence Harvey was safe all along in that Night Gallery episode.
Berenbaum: Yeah. Well, I mean, movies kind of tap into our inner most fears however ridiculous they are. Just gimme a letter, I can tell you, I’m just trying [to think of] some of the other ones. Oh! Zapper bugs which is about, sort of, the electrocution devices—in reality they’re not killing mosquitoes at all, they’re killing enormous quantities of completely innocuous things.

Steve: There is a fellow at the University of Delaware who did that work.

Berenbaum: Yeah, Dr. Doug Tallamy.

Steve: Right, I remember writing about that years ago.

Berenbaum: And what’s another letter. Oh! the idea that if you pinch your skin while a mosquito is feeding, it’ll explode—[eh,]that doesn’t [work either].

Steve: Now, they can remove that little needle out of your skin, no matter how hard you try to push your skin together.

Berenbaum: There are exploding mosquitoes, but that’s after they’ve been surgically altered, so that the feedback signals that indicate to them that they’re full are interrupted; but that goes beyond most people’s thirst for revenge—getting tiny little tools to severe their nerve cords.

Steve: And that book comes out this summer.

Berenbaum: It’s supposed to be out in August.

Steve: Great! We’ll definitely look for that. Thanks very much.

Berenbaum: Thank you.

Steve: By the way in June, the multitalented May Berenbaum, won first place in the National Pollinator Week Recipe Contest for her dessert called Apiscotti.

Los Angeles Times: For ‘X-Files,’ the truth is still out there … but what about a third film?

Apr-27-2009
For ‘X-Files,’ the truth is still out there … but what about a third film?
Los Angeles Times
Yvonne Villarreal

[Original article here]

Liver-eating contortionist Eugene Tooms wasn’t there.  Neither were the Peacock Brothers. Extraterrestrials? Nope, not a one. But even without those memorable characters of any of the other paranormal beasties, shadow-government operatives or little green men from “The X-Files,” fans of the spooky franchise turned out in force last week at The Grove in Los Angeles to question and cheer X-creator Chris Carter and key writer Frank Spotnitz.

The two longtime collaborators (or is that conspirators?) were joined by Matt Hurwitz, a co-author of the lavish new book “The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, Myths and the Movies” (Insight Editions, $49.95). The event was on the third floor of Barnes & Noble and a crowd that went into triple-digits was eager to get autographs and answers, many of which were delivered by Carter with his wry, mellow-surfer baritone.

Is Walter Skinner still infected with nanotechnology? “He’s been to the doctors a number of times.”

Is the Agent Dana Scully immortal? “It’s kind of true, if you think about it. I mean, she’ll never die. She beat cancer.”

Any plans to take “Millennium” to the big screen? “That seems to be the question all the fans want answered. Nothing has been discussed.”

Carter’s favorite episode? “Beyond the Sea” and “Home” make the short list, but, he insists, he has a lot of favorites.

When is the series going to be available on Blu-ray? “There’s a technical problem … we just have to figure out how to solve it.”

But the pervading question of the night centered on one yearning hope: A third installment of “The X-Files” as a movie franchise, which would pick up where last year’s ”X-Files: I Want to Believe” left off. In an interview after the book signing, Carter was elusive … but he did give fans a reason to believe.

Noting the lackluster commercial success of the second film, Carter said the venture was hurt by its timing. The U.S. release “was foolish, opening a week after the blockbuster hit “The Dark Knight … it was really the worst weekend to open any movie.”

The film pulled in an anemic $21 million in the U.S., which fell short of expectations for a film that cost $30 million to make. It did go on, however, to make $47 million in foreign markets. “The movie did a lot of business worldwide so, I think, it’s really up to Fox to decide,”  he said.

Despite the lackluster grosses, there’s no denying the impact of the television series and its characters  on pop culture.  It demonstrated the potential of what the sci-fi genre could achieve on the small screen.  And though recent sci-fi series like “Battlestar Galactica” (a show Carter “likes”) and “X-Files”-influenced “Fringe” have picked up the torch, Carter said crime dramas have handcuffed TV’s limited programming schedules for scripted dramas.

“When you look at what’s on television right now, there’s a little bit of science fiction, but there’s mostly cop procedurals,” said the 52-year-old Carter.  “People see every episode of ‘Law & Order,’ and all its incarnations, so I don’t know … if you do science fiction on television it’s a little bit of a gamble sometimes.”

But, hey, if that doesn’t work, there’s always the Internet, right? “X-Files” fans have proven there’s an audience out there for all the fan content they’ve created. From fan-fiction to mash-up YouTube videos, people have taken notice. Even the actors that inspired the content, Spotnitz noted.

“You know, there’s a story that David [Duchovny] told when we were doing the movie last year,” Spotnitz said, “about how Gillian had seen a YouTube compilation of all their kisses and David saw that and said it actually affected his performance in the film because it was like reminder of the power of their relationship. So it just tells you how meaningful they are. It really is part of what the ‘X-Files’ is now. It’s just the way the fans re-interpret it.”

And with the release of the book — practically an encyclopedia of “The X-Files” franchise — fans will now have more to interpret, because as one fan said, “The truth will always be out there.”

Beyond The Sea: Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow for an Italian thesis

Apr-27-2009
Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow for an Italian thesis
BeyondTheSea.it

[Original article here]
[Video montage of the thesis presentation here]

Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow

Virgil, a friend of ours, received a degree few weeks ago.
His thesis is about Motion Graphics and during its work Virgil interviewed two guys we know very well: Frank Spotnitz and Mark Snow.

Click on the title of this article to read the complete interviews.

Congratulations Virgil!

Intervista a Frank Spotnitz

Your work as screenwriter for “The X Files” has evolved in some way in the course of 8 years? I mean, you had to modify your original style adapting it to the series?

I can’t overstate how important “The X-Files” was to my development as a writer. I worked as a news reporter for the wire services and various magazines, then studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.  “The X-Files” was my first professional job in Hollywood.  I think I had good storytelling instincts, and a strong sense of what I liked and didn’t like, but I had an awful lot to learn in terms of craft. Fortunately, Chris Carter is an amazing craftsman, and I learned an enormous amount about interior scene writing and storytelling economy from him.

Some Italian critics believe that TV shows have the power to  exercise influences on TV viewers’ thoughts, even if they are considered harmful; there are some articulated shows, like “The X Files”, that lead people to intelligent attitudes and opinions. Do you think “The X Files” is for everyone?

I wish it was, but I don’t think “The X-Files” is for everyone.  You have to be interested in these kinds of stories and this type of subject matter. I don’t think “The X-Files” tells people what to think, however. I don’t really think any good entertainment does. Propaganda is about pushing a particular line of thought or opinion; for me, the best entertainment keeps you interested and then gives you something to think about. It’s left up to you, the viewer, to come to your own conclusions.

Some narrations obliged screenwriters to elaborate the stories many times to be understandable, particularly in sub-plotted episodes where the viewer is compelled to get information deliberately hidden; how do you go into these kind of choises? Which is your own method during the draft of a script?

In the case of “The X-Files,” we were always looking to make the viewer think: How much do we need to say? To show? How long can we wait before answering certain questions that we’ve raised? We were trying to engage the viewer in the show, raising provocative questions, both in the mythology episodes and the stand-alones. Sometimes we wouldn’t realize until after we’d written and shot an episode that certain pieces of information weren’t necessary, or were better off delayed, and in those cases we would make the change in the editing process.

Television images can’t stimulate viewers’ imagination as the reading of a book does, in its textual form, but it’s also true that we partially solved this problem with modern technologies. How hard it was for you to write imaginary stories remaining in the feasible limits?

I think the secret of “The X-Files'” success was that it made the outlandish seem plausible. The believer-skeptic dynamic made it necessary for Mulder to overcome Scully’s doubts each week — to show her how what they were seeing could be possible, or deny conventional explanation. In the process, it made each story more believable to the audience, and therefore scarier. From a production standpoint, there are many things we wanted to show or do that simply wouldn’t be possible budget-wise. As is so often the case, though, those limitations forced us to become more creative. It’s true that what you can’t see is scarier than what you can.

Talking about the x files opening credits, they were realized leaving absolute freedom to the designers or Chris Carter suggested scrupulous guide lines? I mean, they had their own script?

I wasn’t on the show when the original opening credits were designed, but my understanding is that they went through a lot of last-minute changes that somehow ended up being just perfect. In the last few years of the show, Chris made the decision to finally change the credits, both because David was on and off the series, new characters were being introduced, and, by Season 9, it felt like the images could benefit from some refreshing.

Intervista a Mark Snow

What connection is there between the video image and music? Do you think they have different values?

It is always the video that comes first. It is the inspiration for the music. Writing music for TV and film, is a very distinct art form, that cannot be easily taught. I feel the composer must have a deeply honest emotional reaction to the film, be it a fast chase scene or a heart braking sad or romantic moment. I think you will agree that some of worlds best film composers, have written some of the most beautiful and thrilling music, from John Williams, Hans Zimmer and the great Italian master, Ennio Morricone. But to answer your question, the video is the “master” and the music is the “slave”. It is very rare that the music is written before the video, but sometimes happens as in “The Shining”, when the director, S. Kubrick, used modern classical music as the score for the movie. I remember Frank saying to me once, that he thought my best scores were written for the best shows, showing you how much its the picture that drives the music.

What are your musical influences for the production of your works?

For the X-Files, I was heavily influenced by modern classical music, composers such as Bartok, Stravinsky, Ravel, Prokofiev, Xenakis, Stockhausen et c., and the film music of Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone. Chris Carter and Frank, were always encouraging me to be different, and let me be as creative as I wanted, and I took full advantage of that.

What are inputs required by the production to create a soundtrack?

You must have a collaborative personality to be a successful film composer. The producers and directors have a hard time of telling you what they want since music is such an “abstract”, you must be able to interpret there desires, at least 90% of the time. Some directors could want no melody and all synth pads, while others are the exact opposite. Minimal verses elaborate, fast V. slow and so on. The successful composer must have many different musical identities in his or her arsenal.

Do you think the audio remix’s aesthetics is also used in television for the re-mix videa? Or maybe they are two unique and distinct things?

There were many re-mix versions of the X-Files theme. Sometimes there were only “beats” added to the theme and other times, like the end credit version of “I Want To Believe”, they could be intense elaborate versions taking elements of the theme and doing variations on it. Most re-mix’s were quite one-dimensional, while there were others, from a piano solo, to an accapella chorus, that almost created something new.

Beyond The Sea: Mark Snow speaks to ‘Beyond the Sea’

Feb-23-2009
BeyondTheSea.it
Mark Snow speaks to ‘Beyond the Sea’

[Original article here]

Mark Snow

Mark Snow doesn’t need any introduction. For all the X-Files fans, he is just the man who wrote the extremely famous TV show theme and who emphasized all the Mulder and Scully’s stories with his music, from the Pilot to the “I Want To Believe” movie.
When you think to “Existence” finale, don’t you hear the “Scully’s Theme” in your mind? Speaking about one of the last pieces, how many of you were moved by the “Home Again” theme in the “I Want To Believe” last scene?

From the first arrangements created using a synthesizer and samples to the classic orchestras and live instruments, the pieces and the genius of this composer were an extra values for X-Files since the beginning.

X-Files, Millennium, The Lone Gunmen and Harsh Realm. All these TV shows created by Chris Carter have the voice of Mark Snow and it was just one year ago when Frank Spotnitz officially announced, at the WonderCon, that the second X-Files movie would have had the same voice again.

Mark Snow kindly answered some questions we made him and he told us about his work for X-Files. He talked about the pieces he made for the TV show, the music he composed for both the movies, and how it felt like to write once again for a new chapter of this incredible story after a very long time. These are just some of the issues we talked about. Besides, he revealed us that a 4 CD boxed set of the X-Files TV music from the TV shows only will be released this spring.

Many moments of the show are still vivid in all fans mind thanks to the music, for example the “Scully’s Theme” that plays during the pregnancy story arc. In order to get to orchestrate music like this, do you get inspiration from pictures or is that a separated creative process?

I was inspired for “Scully’s Theme” from the incredible emotion of the story. I actually felt like part of Scully’s family, and it was almost a religious experience for me, and how great that I was able to use a live singer!

The “Teaser” from “Trust no 1” episode, which music is based on works such as Tchaikovsky’s “Barcarolle”, or also “We Wanted To Believe” from “Little Green Men”, based on Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F”, are just a couple of examples where classic music, joined with some of the X-Files characters voices, creates a style that perfectly fits with the show. Why did you choose to use classic music for the score?

Those classical pieces that we used, I chose them because they just seemed so right, and as a former classical musician, I had a lot of classical repertoire “spinning” around in my head. That Brandenburg Ct. #2, is a piece that I use to play as a student at Juilliard, as an oboist. So, working on those shows was especially great because I was able to delve into my past life.

Mark Snow, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz at the I Want To Believe premiere in Los Angeles

In many pieces from “The Truth and The Light” you used the music with the insert of some voices from the X-Files dialogues (Mulder, Scully, Deep Throat) that made these pieces unique and original. How did the idea to use this approach come to you?

The idea of using the dialogue from the shows in the “Truth and the Light” CD, came from my music editor Jeff Charbonneau, who thought it would be very original to do this, and in a way, to make it sound like a radio show, that without watching it on TV, it really got you into the moment of the experience.

Sometimes in X-Files we can listen to very famous music like, for example, Cher’s or Moby’s. How was this music chosen? Have you had to adapt them to the show?

The Cher piece as well as Moby, was chosen by Chris Carter, who thought they would be especially effective. I think he was right. I also know that at the time, Chris was a big fan of Moby’s, and when I did the theme for Harsh Realm, he requested that I do something like Moby.

How did you feel to go back to write music for X-Files after many years? Have you tried to get back again to the old ‘classic’ X-Files style or did you just watch the movie and then began to orchestrate the soundtrack?

It was very easy and exciting to do the film score, especially being able to use the full orchestra and the singer. The music did not sound so good in the movie because it was mixed too low, but at least on the CD it sounded good, I hope you enjoyed it.

Has Chris Carter, or someone else, given you some input about the “I Want To Believe” music?

For “I Want To Believe”, Chris asked me to compile a CD of some of my favorite film music, and /or any music that I thought might have the right mood for his movie. He seemed to like what I chose, and it helped me to come up with a sound for the movie.

Were there any differences to orchestrate “Fight the Future” and “I Want to Believe”?

I thought that “Fight the Future” was much more of a traditional score then “I Want To Believe”. “I Want To Believe”, was I think more modern, and reflected more the sounds that are current now. The “Fight The Future” score was more heavily dependent on electronics and samples.

Is there any difference in writing music for a movie and for a tv show?

Writing for a movie you usually get more time, and have a much bigger pallette to work with. The modern film score today is made up of huge orchestra’s and tons of samples. In fact in “Bat Man: The Dark Knight” Hans Zimmer used 1000 tracks of music in his score, sampled orchestra , live orchestra, electronics, and anything that can make a noise!!

Mark Snow working at the I Want To Believe score

I think “Home Again” and “The Surgery” are very emotional and moving. Compared with the rest of the soundtrack, they have a sort of more positive “breath”, they are bright, less oppressive, less dark… less X-Files, maybe just to point out the new style Chris Carter gave to X-Files in the movie. What do you think about that?

Those are some of my favorite pieces that I ever wrote. The idea of writing beautiful melodic music in X-Files land, is really great. Yes, Chris wanted these emotional pieces in the movie and made it a point to make sure these were included. Thank you for noticing.

Is there a music you wrote for X-Files that after many years it’s still your favorite one?

That’s easy. “Surgery” and “Home Again”. (also, “Post Modern Prometheus”, “Beyond the Sea”, “Scully’s Theme”, hard question to answer)

The X-Files Theme is famous all over the world and people can connect it immediately to the show. Was there a moment in which you understood that your music contributed to create the X-Files phenomenon?

I didn’t think that my music and the theme were that great until after show #6, people started talking about it, and people were telling me how great the music was. All that music I wrote for the show, came so easily for me, that it was such a gift to have it be so successful, and I doubt that it will ever happen, a miracle!

Frank Spotnitz told in his blog that some of your X-Files works will be released in a new album. Could you say us something about that?

In this spring, La La Land records will release a 4 CD boxed set of the X-Files music from the TV shows only. It will have all the shows that I have been nominated for plus probably pieces from episode, I’m sure some of your favorites will be included.

Our huge thanks to Mark Snow for the helpfulness and niceness he showed us upon this occasion.

Last, but not the least, a special thanks to two users of ours, Virgil and Bittersweet, who made all this possible through their “behind the scenes” work.

Christianity Today: Sci-Fi’s Brave New World

Feb-06-2009
Christianity Today (Vol. 53, No. 2)
Sci-Fi’s Brave New World
James A. Herrick

[Original article here]

How the genre draws us to its own views of redemption.

In recent years, movie and television audiences have been treated to stories both captivating and curious. We’ve watched extra-dimensional aliens instruct pre-Columbian Native Americans in the basics of civilization. We’ve looked on as an ancient super-race reluctantly assumes the role of modern superheroes. We’ve cheered genetically advanced humans with their assortment of superpowers. And we’ve marveled as residents of space or the future reveal secrets of human origin and destiny.

Despite these far-out scenarios, viewers don’t leave movies such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hancock, X-Men, and Contact—or television programs such as The X-Files or Heroes—scratching their heads in confusion. We are intrigued, but not surprised. Why? Because stories of advanced extraterrestrials, ancient human-alien contact, superior intelligences roaming the universe, and emerging super-races have grown familiar through repeated exposure. Thanks to the longstanding efforts of a wide range of artists, popular writers, and even scientists, we immediately recognize intelligent aliens and advanced humans. We now see space and the future as sources of hope.

The culture-shaping force of science fiction storytellers may be more significant and more widespread than we imagine. That’s because they trade in myth. By myth, I mean a transcendent story that helps us make sense of our place in the cosmos. This common definition makes the Christian gospel, as C. S. Lewis suggested, “God’s myth”—not because it is fiction, but because it is a story that gives ultimate meaning. We live in an age in which new myths, born mostly of science-fueled imaginations, are crafted and propagated at an unprecedented rate.

The vast international audience for science fiction seldom asks about the origin of the exotic notions that animate these tales. Nor do we usually ponder what their social impact might be. We are well aware of the venomous public assault on Christianity and scientific challenges to faith from militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Yet underneath our noses, creators of blockbuster movies and best-selling books circulate compelling new myths. Scientists write and speak on essentially spiritual themes. Authors invent new religions wholly in their inquisitive minds.

Many of these powerful shapers of culture are unfamiliar to Christians. Life-extension advocate Aubrey de Grey, inventor and author Ray Kurzweil, X-Files creator Chris Carter, astronomer Martin Rees, physicist Freeman Dyson, and Matrix directors Larry and Andy Wachowski come to mind. They are just a few modern mythmakers whose creative minds mold stories that are subtly persuasive and freighted with spiritual implications.

The new myths don’t arise from a single source. Yet science fiction has played a disproportionate role in modern myth crafting. The genre has profoundly shaped not only the entertainment industry, but Western spirituality as well.

Recently deceased scientist and science fiction author Sir Arthur C. Clarke captured a generation of readers with his spellbinding visions of the future. The English mythmaker built on the foundation of elder countrymen such as H. G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon. Clarke’s early short story “The Sentinel” (1948) and novel Childhood’s End (1953) set humanity in a cosmos controlled by evolution and advanced aliens. But his mesmerizing 1968 collaboration with Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, revealed Clarke’s force as a religious visionary. In that story, the new humanity arrives as an embryonic god floating in space, contemplating the planet of its origin.

Earlier science fiction, including The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), explored similarly religious themes, notably technological resurrection. But godlike superhumans date to much earlier fiction, such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871).

Author L. Ron Hubbard chose a direct path to spiritual influence, founding the now worldwide Church of Scientology in the 1950s. Scientology’s teaching that humans lived among extraterrestrial cultures before being trapped in bodies on Earth reveals Hubbard’s early work as a science fiction writer. Other relatively new religions—Mormonism and the Nation of Islam among them—incorporate interplanetary narratives as well.

Science fiction also animates the work of many scientists. Jason Pontin, editor in chief of MIT’s Technology Review, writes, “Most of us came to technology through science fiction; our imaginations remain secretly moved by science-fictional ideas. Only the very exalted are honest about their debt.” Many working in space exploration and artificial intelligence are either fans of science fiction or freely acknowledge its deep influence on their thought.

Science fiction is important to scientists interested in transcendent themes such as the design and purpose of the cosmos and the future of humanity. Dyson, a devoted reader of Stapledon, writes, “Science is my territory, but science fiction is the landscape of my dreams.” Ironically, the universe that science stripped of the supernatural is being resupplied with deities and redemptive purposes by science fiction writers and moviemakers. Apparently, we cannot do without myths.

Perhaps Kurzweil was correct when he said that a dawning techno-spiritual age would require a new religion. In a 1999 interview with journalist Bill Moyers, Star Wars director George Lucas said, “I put the Force into the movie to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people—more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system.” There is some evidence that his efforts have been successful: In the 2000 British census, more than 390,000 people listed their religion as “Jedi,” a reference to the pantheistic spirituality of Star Wars. The numbers probably reflect a coordinated effort to skew census results, but still suggest the vast reach of the Star Wars myth. (Lucas’s view of myth’s cultural role was shaped by Joseph Campbell, who more than any other writer made myth relevant to late-20th-century Americans.)

Redemption Recast

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans expect human contact with extraterrestrials during this millennium. Moreover, we anticipate that the aliens will be “friendly” and “superior.” Major scientific figures, including Nikola Tesla, Stephen Hawking, Francis Crick, and Carl Sagan, among others, have popularized their ideas. Whether panspermia (Earth was seeded with life from space), space colonization, highly evolved extraterrestrials, or genetically enhanced post-humanity, each belief has its advocate in the academy. And well-publicized projects such as the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence involve both the public through donated computer time and private business through donated money.

What exactly are we expecting to encounter? Perhaps the advanced and benevolent extraterrestrials who in Star Trek: First Contact (1996) speedily usher in an earthly utopia free of poverty and warfare. Or maybe the childlike aliens of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), who disembark from their space-faring city of light as a human priest reads from Psalm 91: “He will give his angels charge over you.” After all, angels had accompanied an earlier salvific arrival.

In the exotic terrain of a foreign planet, the starry emptiness of space, and the utilitarian interiors of vast starships, we discover a new redemptive landscape. To be sure, science fiction often portrays the future as a dystopia, a world devastated by science and technology. But just as often, the genre seems hopeful about the future. Modern mythologies don’t explain how space or the future will mend a broken humanity, but suggest that technological progress and vast distances from Earth somehow entail transformation.

This thinking migrates back and forth between science and science fiction. In 1953, Clarke imagined a space deity he dubbed the “Overmind,” thus fictionally re-enchanting the empty cosmos left by naturalism. A writer who helped prepare the welcome messages launched into space with the 1977 Voyager probes recalls that project participants pursued their work “with a sense of sacred purpose.” A mere two years later, a fictitious, godlike Voyager probe—altered by an advanced alien race—played a major role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

These mythologies also place hope in the belief that through genetic and mechanical engineering, we will create an immortal, omniscient human-machine hybrid. Kurzweil eagerly anticipates the day when humans will join their slow, biologically based brains to much faster machine intelligence, introducing a humanity that will make Genesis version 1.0 pale in comparison. Kurzweil’s fellow transhumanists see human enhancement as inevitable, desirable, and within our grasp. Their myth of a new humanity envisions human alteration via medical technology and a new eugenics. Advocates promise to make good on a dream that has been rumored and sometimes actively pursued since the days of Francis Galton, the father of eugenics and a cousin of Darwin’s. Science, equipped with an internal moral compass of uncertain origin, can apparently be trusted to design the next human.

C. S. Lewis warned in The Abolition of Man that subsequent generations would be the slaves of the first to manufacture post-humanity. That powerful generation will decide the design of future humans. Such Christian “pessimism” notwithstanding, superhumans beckon from diverse precincts, clearly on display in science fiction from Wells to X-Men. But they also show up in the International Raelian Movement, a new religion that funds human cloning research, and in the popular biology of Lee M. Silver and others.

Rival for Our Social Imagination

I have labeled the modern myths arising from science, science fiction, and new religions scientific mythologies. These powerful narratives represent a cultural current the church needs to take seriously as the source of a growing worldview. Propelled into post-Christian public consciousness by the powerful machinery of mass marketing and media, techno-spiritual myths do not draw audiences of millions because of compelling storytelling and mind-boggling special effects alone. They also provide spiritual seekers answers to perennial questions about our nature and place in the cosmos, our predicament and redemption, and the future. Seldom are the myths adopted as a complete worldview package. Rather, readers and viewers, often young and outside the church, fashion personal spiritual systems from individual experience and elements of mythic popular culture.

Seekers, then, get some answers and a taste of transcendence without the moral accountability or costly interpersonal commitments of church. But they also forfeit significant checks on the reasonableness of their beliefs, a worthy object of worship, authentic spiritual community, and, most importantly, any ultimately redemptive message or means.

But seekers aren’t the only group influenced by scientific mythologies.

The new myths have found their way into scientific thought, providing both direction and moral purpose for research and writing. Carl Sagan, a prominent scientist and the author of Contact, recognized the grip that the future, space, and the extraterrestrial hold on the post-Christian Western imagination. He understood the tremendous combined social force of science fiction, professional science, and mass media. Space would replace heaven as the location of our corporate spiritual hope. Extraterrestrials would supplant God as the intelligence behind all things. An enhanced post-humanity would provide a new vision of a redeemed human race.

These myths also focus hope in the redemptive work of evolution, understood as inevitable biological and moral progress. When Richard Dawkins affirms, as he did in his recent debate with John Lennox, that “our evolutionary past … built into us a lust to be good, a lust to be friendly, a lust to cooperate, a lust to be sympathetic towards suffering,” he speaks not as a naturalist but as a morally hopeful pantheist. “There is,” according to Dawkins, “something in the air, some other force” that is “not religion,” and it is improving us morally. Indeed, the Force is strong with this one. But is he right?

Much hangs on our answer to this question.

Story Watching and Telling

Which stories will guide us as we make our way through the perilous 21st century with its stunning technologies and burgeoning data about our bodies, minds, and universe? As science holds out to us possibilities previously only imagined, which myths will shape the imaginations of our decision makers? Which narratives will form our religious sensibilities, provide our spiritual values, and craft our view of the supernatural—indeed, of God? Only the true myth at the heart of Christianity is powerful enough to prevent excesses and avert atrocities. How can the church respond?

First, we must become more discerning viewers and consumers of popular culture. Many of us, myself included, find science fiction and popular scientific writing entertaining, informative, and thought provoking. But we must also watch and read with critical insight. Many of the most popular narratives bursting with spiritual and worldview implications are more persuasive because they come dressed in the invisibility cloak of “mere” entertainment.

Second, the church needs to broaden its apologetics work to include serious analysis of and response to popular culture, now our most potent form of religious persuasion. Frankly, we have given these narratives a free pass in our eagerness to appear culturally savvy. But we must be clear: Arguments against Christianity and in support of rival worldviews now arrive daily as embedded components of visual and written fiction. Pop-culture fiction, not academic nonfiction, is now the cutting edge of public discourse on spirituality.

Though our desire not to moralize about secular culture is understandable, discernment in the face of challenges to the gospel remains a biblical imperative. The spiritual messages conveyed by our most popular television, movie, and literary products are often questionable and sometimes dangerously misleading. We are not the center of the cosmos, nor are we (or extraterrestrials) evolving toward divinity. Evolution is not the benevolent operating principle of the entire universe, and technological transformation of our species is not spiritual rebirth. Ignorance is not our predicament, progress is not redemption, the future is not salvation, and space is not our destiny. Responding to Gnosticism proved one of the early church’s most difficult challenges. Today’s Christian community faces a similar antagonist, not just in radical atheism, but in increasingly insistent pop-culture spiritualities, too. How shall we make our defense to Neo Anderson as well as to Christopher Hitchens?

Third, the church must attend more diligently to the presentation of her true myth in public settings. The biblical account of human origins and purpose, of our predicament as well as our redemption, and of the nature and purpose of the cosmos we inhabit, is emotionally, spiritually, and rationally more satisfying than modern myths featuring aliens, starships, divine evolution, hidden knowledge, and biomechanical post-humanity.

A discerning student of culture, Lewis answered modern scientific myths with daring retellings of the Christian story that integrated the patterns and language of the new myths. His science fiction trilogy provides an admirable model of storytelling that intelligently and artfully incorporates foundational truths from a Christian worldview. Concerned about the growing influence of writers like Stapledon and the popular scientist J. B. S. Haldane, Lewis crafted his trilogy for readers whose spiritual hope was being turned to space, the future, limitless progress, and scientifically assisted human advancement. Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945) vividly portray the reality of evil, pillory human hubris, and affirm redemption as God’s work. They also show humanity’s crucial role in God’s unfolding work, celebrate truth while preserving mystery, and return us to Eden to contemplate the grandeur of a fresh Creation and the terrible potential of a catastrophic rejection of divine protection.

Human spiritual well-being, and thus the humaneness of civilization, depends in large measure on which narratives hold sway in our souls. The present millennium poses possibilities none of us can now fully predict, and requires decisions that will test our moral capacities in unprecedented ways. Which stories will animate our corporate imagination, guide our interpretation of limitless data, and shape our technologies? Among the myriad redemptive myths displayed before us, it is time to remind ourselves that only one has ever been God’s story.

James A. Herrick is the Guy Vander Jagt Professor of Communication at Hope College and author of Scientific Mythologies: How science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs (IVP, 2008) and The Making of the New Spirituality (IVP, 2003).

National Post: The Insect Files

??-??-2009
The Insect Files
National Post

[Original article here]

It was altogether appropriate that Professor May R. Berenbaum of the University of Illinois inspired a character on The X-Files, the 1990s TV series about FBI agents who tried, week after week, to uncover the truth that the U. S. government was hiding about flying saucers and similar mysteries.

As a distinguished entomologist, Berenbaum takes great pleasure from her research into many corners of the insect world. But she’s clearly just as enthralled by what happens to the human imagination when it confronts creepy, crawly creatures. She helps run, at her university in Champaign, Ill., the Insect Fear Film Festival, focusing on movies about threats to humanity from beetles and spiders grotesquely overgrown through cosmic radiation.

In 1996, she became a surprised participant in fictionalized etymology when Agent Fox Mulder, in an X-Files episode, investigated a series of deaths caused by cockroaches. Mulder speculated that the killer bugs were outfitted with steel exoskeletons before being sent earthward from some distant planet. The scriptwriter borrowed cockroach data from Berenbaum’s books and, as a tribute, gave the name Bambi Berenbaum to the entomologist consulted by the FBI.

Some professors would find this offensive but Berenbaum was delighted. When an interviewer mentioned that long-ago TV show during a recent Scientific American podcast, Berenbaum said it did wonders for the image of entomologists. Usually they’re stereotyped as nerds with Coke-bottle glasses ( “which I happen to wear”) but the actress who played Bambi was gorgeous enough to excite students with the possibility of careers in entomology. “She was a total babe,” Berenbaum said. Hearing that, I decided May R. Berenbaum is my favourite entomologist.

Her chatty and highly readable new book, The Earwig’s Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-legged Legends (Harvard University Press), unites her scholarship with her interest in the fantasies insects inspire in humans. It’s a modern equivalent of the bestiaries that excited medieval readers with accounts of the world’s animals, among which the authors frequently included unicorns and mermaids. Berenbaum also includes many an unfounded myth but crisply refutes delusions with scientific truth.

The earwig in the book’s title is named for its alleged habit of crawling into human ears and laying eggs that drive the hosts insane. Somehow the idea took hold, long ago, that the best place to look for an earwig is in someone’s ear. But Berenbaum says that a survey of research over 10 centuries yields exactly one case of ear invasion by an earwig.

She traces the story to Pliny the Elder, a Roman scientist who lived two millennia ago and believed, among other things, that caterpillars originate from dew on radish leaves.

Our belief in the ability of cockroaches to survive catastrophe appears to be equally groundless. Someone, at some point, remarked that if there’s a nuclear war, cockroaches would be the only survivors. That soon became folk wisdom but Berenbaum informs us that many other insects show greater resistance to radiation. She notes that advertising on the Internet suggests that the blood of the beetle called Spanish fly retains the reputation as an aphrodisiac that it acquired in the 17th century (one version is marketed as Kriptonite). It may indeed arouse sexual interest, but Berenbaum believes it’s likelier to produce a painful itch in those who use it, or perhaps kill them.

She writes about bees with great enthusiasm and wants her readers to know that with a brain one-millionth the size of a human’s, a bee conveys precise directions about the location and abundance of desirable flowers — by dancing! She’s among the scholars studying “colony collapse disorder,” the rapid decline of bees in recent years. But on this occasion she takes up the myth

that bees, by flying, defy the principles of aerodynamics.

I remember from childhood the appearance of that notion on a classroom wall poster. It said scientists had determined that, given their weight and wingspan, it’s scientifically impossible for bees to fly. “But, blissfully unaware of science’s judgment, the bee flies anyway.” The scientist who came up with that nonsense neglected to consider that a bee has flexible wings, unlike an aircraft, and flaps them 200 times a second. Berenbaum notes with some sadness that it was an entomologist, otherwise deservedly obscure, who wrote in 1934 that “I have arrived at the conclusion … that their flight is impossible.”

Ever since, the idea has been firmly embedded in the popular imagination. To this moment it’s used on self-help sites for inspiration and on anti-science sites to demonstrate that scientists don’t know everything.

The one fact everyone can recite about insects is that the praying mantis, during mating, kills and eats her mate. The story was first told in 1886, in a Science Magazine article by Leland Ossian Howard, an entomologist, who brought a male of the Mantis carolina to a friend who had been keeping a solitary female as a pet. When they were placed in the same jar the female began biting off bits of the male, finally devouring its head. Throughout their brief relationship the male tried desperately to achieve sexual union and finally carried it off.

Eleven years later a writer named Jean Henri Fabre elaborated the story poetically: “If the poor fellow is loved by his lady as the vivifier of her ovaries, he is also loved as a piece of highly flavoured game.”

Fabre claimed he saw the same female use up seven males. This was a great moment in the history of metaphor. My guess is that it has often provided a nice scientific touch in otherwise arid arguments between men and women. Certainly it enriches fiction, particularly screenplays. And why not? As Berenbaum says, “How many other metaphors evoke sex, murder, decapitation and cannibalism?” She doesn’t condemn it as false but points out that while there are 2,000 or so species of mantis, this bizarre sexual performance has been reported among only a few of them. Moreover, it’s seldom observed in nature: It could be something that happens mainly among nervous and underfed animals in labs, where scientists may not be aware of the minimum daily nutrients their mantids require.

Still, the metaphor retains an element of scientific truth. Berenbaum can’t deny that female praying mantises have been known to eat their mates. But she wants us to know that they don’t do it often.

robert.fulford@utoronto.ca