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February 22, 2010

Is this AAAS, or Comic-Con?

Posted: 02:11 PM ET

Actor-turned-White House staffer Kalpen Modi, better known by his former name, Kal Penn, spoke two years ago at the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con 2008, promoting the "Harold and Kumar" sequel. This past weekend, he appeared in the very same convention center in a suit and tie, reading a statement from the White House.

Since I was in San Diego last year for Comic-Con, attending the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the very same venue this weekend was a little jarring. Instead of thousands of geeks clad in elaborate costumes to celebrate characters from comic books, movies, and TV shows, I was surrounded this time by thousands of scientists. Instead of networks and studios promoting their movies and shows, researchers were here explaining their work.

Seeing Kumar– I mean, Modi, in action as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement drove home the point that this was not a costume party anymore. Director Ron Howard also spoke at AAAS, further blurring the line between science and celebrity.

But Modi wasn't the only crossover between Comic-Con and AAAS. James Kakalios, technical consultant on "Watchmen" and a physicist at the University of Minnesota, delivered a version of the very same speech he gave about the science of comic-book heroes at Comic-Con 2008. And I acquired a lot of brochures at AAAS just like I did at Comic-Con, and even came away with some fun, geeky swag (a magnetic button that flashes brightly colored lights in honor of the 50th anniversary of the laser).

Of course, AAAS does not dominate the convention center like Comic-Con did; there are other events going on in various halls of the complex, including a home improvement and landscape show. The huge registration hall for Comic-Con was eerily empty this weekend. AAAS is believed to draw about 6,000 attendees; Comic-Con 2010 is slated for 126,000 people. It's like comparing a small town to the entire city of Hartford, Connecticut.

I would assume that at Comic-Con 2008 Kal Penn was surrounded by giddy fans who waited in line for hours to see him. On Friday, a much more subdued audience listened to him talk about partnerships between science and the arts.

That meant I had comparatively little competition in approaching Modi afterwards and asking the question we all want to know: Does he have any plans for going back into acting?

"Perhaps at some point," he told me, and then explained that many people have come from the private sector to the current administration. "I would hope to continue to serve for the next few years, and you know, after that, I'm not sure. I don’t have any, sort of, set plans after that."

And since this was not Comic-Con, I professionally waited until he walked away to blush, smile, and sigh like a giddy fan.

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Filed under: Movies • science

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CAS   February 22nd, 2010 3:42 pm ET


PJ   February 22nd, 2010 7:57 pm ET

Awwww. Whatever. Letsee- HOW much have fans spent on "Sci-Fi", comics, movies, merch. and just all around general crap? We stand on the verge of losing the REALITY of the NASA program and Manned Space Exploration almost entirely. We have spent, in real dollars, since 1958, approx. $450 billion on the Space Program including the ISS, Space Shuttle, Voyager, Apollo and other mssions. HOW much has Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, Batman, Spiderman, ad infinitum brought in? You wallow in the fantasy while the REALITY – the Science Fiction you LIVE, not DREAM, dies on the launchpad? YOU are not worthy. Pick yer pimples, folks, 'cause you aren't even the smallest fraction of the heroes you worship and wish you were...

Ryan   February 23rd, 2010 12:11 pm ET

I can not even begin to understand your problem PJ. Are you suggesting people should take their money they worked for and spend it on the NASA program? (You know the same program their taxes are paying for.)

Chris   February 23rd, 2010 1:32 pm ET

PJ you miss the point. Life and the world suck. Everyone has an escape and for some its that stuff. They arent the problem....fat cats with'in the goverment that are lineing their pockets are.

Anonymous   February 23rd, 2010 2:31 pm ET

Love his duality.

Joel   February 23rd, 2010 3:09 pm ET

PJ you also have to remember that science fiction often provides the innovations for tomorrow. Cell phones are pretty much communicators from Star Trek, space flight and submarines were penned by Jules Verne long before they were realized, planet colonization and terra-forming, space elevators and "bionic" replacement limbs are science fiction concepts that have not yet fully materialized into reality, but that are taken seriously by researchers and are very active research topics. Heck we're even working towards partially intelligent robots which for the longest time were merely fiction.

I appreciate your zeal for real science, and I definitely think that Science should get a bigger piece of the pie financially, but attacking Science Fiction is like shooting your idea men. Also you're attacking the entertainment industry like it's hurting Science. Many modern scientists derived their inspiration to become a scientist from their interest in Science Fiction.

The U.S. and parts of Europe have a stigma against science and intelligence. How often do you see a scientist as a hero in modern fiction, and now think about how often a scientist is the villain. Even when the hero is scientist often times he's working to undo the horrible atrocities of a fellow scientist who didn't show as much restraint. Science Fiction can ,but doesn't always, help shift science back into a positive light for the general public. Science Fiction (especially hard science fiction) shows people what can be as opposed to what is, and I think is an overwhelmingly positive thing.

Teychin Tamchai   June 25th, 2010 7:20 am ET

Good on him..


Directory Organization   July 9th, 2010 1:39 am ET

Nice short article..Well done.

Directory Organization

su   September 29th, 2010 1:53 am ET


magic of history   October 4th, 2010 9:14 am ET

Flag this comment

trembling flame   October 17th, 2010 2:27 am ET

This is very informative and interesting post.The U.S. and parts of Europe have a stigma against science and intelligence. How often do you see a scientist as a hero in modern fiction, and now think about how often a scientist is the villain.

asheer   November 14th, 2010 6:26 am ET

This is article include informatics things. And welcome again.

united   November 27th, 2010 2:32 am ET

Who says that Science and Arts cannot come together. Here we have a living example of such.

marina's dream   December 11th, 2010 11:38 pm ET

This is intresting , we can surely say that comics and science are related to life. both we want in life.

Jay   September 7th, 2012 4:06 am ET

(Hardcover) Arthur C. Clarke The Lost Worlds of 2001 Sidgwick & Jackson, Paperback, 1972. 12mo. 240 pp. Foreword by Arthur C. Clarke [p. 11]. First published in 1972. Contents Foreword 1. View of the Year 2000 2. Son of Dr. Strangelove 3. The Sentinel 4. Christmas, Shepperton 5. Monoliths and Manuscripts 6. The Dawn of Man 7. First Encounter 8. Moon-Watcher 9. Gift from the Stars 10. Farewell to Earth 11. The Birth of HAL 12. Man and Robot 13. From the Ocean, from the stars 14. With Open Hands 15. Universe 16. Ancestral Voices 17. The Question 18. Midnight, Washington 19. Mission to Jupiter 20. Flight Pay 21. Discovery 22. The Long Sleep 23. Runaway 24. First Man to Jupiter 25. The Smell of Death 26. Alone 27. Joveday 28. Jupiter V 29. Final Orbit 30. The Impossible Stars 31. Something Is Seriously Wrong with Space 32. Ball Game 33. Last Message 34. The Worlds of the Star Gate 35. Reunion 36. Abyss 37. Cosmopolis 38. Scrutiny 39. Skyrock 40. Oceana 41. Into the Night Land 42. Second Lesson Epilogue Note on the ctetnnos. The book is a very curious mixture of fiction and non-fiction. Apart from the Foreword and the Epilogue, the ctetnnos can be split as follows: – Chapters 1, 3, 7-10, 12-18, 20-33, 35-42 are fiction: leftovers, alternative versions, etc. that were supposed to be used in the writing of the novel but in the event were discarded. The only exception is the short story The Sentinel which was published as early as 1951. All other pieces apparently appear here for the first time. – Chapters 2, 4-6, 11, 19 and 34 are non-fiction. They mostly serve as links between the fictional parts. The early chapters are mostly concerned with the genesis of the novel and the movie in parallel. ========================================== If you have the same defect of character as I do, namely if Arthur Clarke's classic science fiction novel (1968) is among the greatest experiences of your young adulthood, you should certainly read this book. First published in 1972, that is when the events were still fresh, The Lost Worlds of 2001 is a detailed account of the strange working relationship between Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick during the 1960s which produced a novel and a movie that have become absolute classics; curiously enough, both were born during the same time and the adaptation for the screen was actually released first, whereas the novel appeared a little later on the same year. I daresay this book might be quite boring for those movie fans who don't care for Arthur Clarke or his novel, but it sure makes an engrossing read for those who do the opposite. It contains lots of compelling and illuminating details about the origins of at least one masterpiece. Since there is in this book quite a bit about the movie, I have to make something clear in the beginning: the extravagant praise usually accorded to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey I have always found frightfully perplexing. Now, I wish there was other say to say it, but there isn't: the movie is perfect crap! What exactly its classical status rests upon is an absolute mystery for me. It is a visual tour de force all right, but that's just about the only asset it might possibly have; except perhaps that some of its music is among the greatest ever composed; if, indeed, the movie has brought to more receptive ears the famous opening of Richard Strauss' magnificent tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra, that's something; actually, this opening is famous more because of this movie than because of anything else, I think. As for the visual side, it is not nearly as impressive today as it must have been in 1968, of course, but it has aged surprisingly well. So much for the good sides though. For otherwise the movie is one failure after another. To begin with, a good many people have complained that when they saw it before the book, they didn't understand the ending at all only later did the novel make it clear. This is as expected for the ending is an incomprehensible mess. What's worse, the pace is appallingly slow imagine a spaceship landing that lasts for full ten minutes, during which you can appreciate Strauss' famous waltz An der schf6nen blauen Donau, another musical masterpiece from the soundtrack; but even the greatest music cannot make the scene less tedious. The whole cast is downright horrible. Keir Dullea is as dull as a Dave Bowman as one could

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