We just heard Steinn SigurÃ°sson complain that there’s no science in Harry Potter, and therefore the book title The Science of Harry Potter is a non-starter. Jennifer Ouellette then leaped to its defense:
I think in this instance, I’d conjure the spirit of Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” :)
But then, that’s just the sort of viewpoint you’d expect from somone who wrote about the physics of the Buffyverse.
In a display of the kind of synchronicity one might expect whenever the system is large and the selection criteria are loose, Bee at Backreaction just pointed to a new paper on the arXiv, “Hollywood Blockbusters: Unlimited Fun but Limited Science Literacy” (9 July 2007). C.J. Efthimiou and R.A. Llewellyn declare their intentions as follows:
In this article, we examine specific scenes from popular action and sci-fi movies and show how they blatantly break the laws of physics, all in the name of entertainment, but coincidentally contributing to science illiteracy.
Movies under their microscope include Speed (1994), where projectile motion is thrown out the window; Spiderman (2002), which stretches Newton past the breaking point; Aeon Flux (2005), whose muscles really have to torque; The Core (2003), which just doesn’t float at all; Superman (1978), which ought to make a physicist’s head spin; X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), whose finale is cut loose from reality; and The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), which I haven’t seen.
Let’s look at their X-Men example. Efthimiou and Llewellyn choose to ignore the bad biology of the premise and focus on the bad physics of the climax, when Magneto breaks the Golden Gate Bridge free from its moorings, carries it about five and a half kilometers, and drops one end on Alcatraz Island. Rather than asking, “Why didn’t he just drop the bridge on the building he was trying to destroy?” they investigate the energy budget required to pull off this feat. Estimating the mass of the bridge being moved at about 380 million kilograms and the speed of the bridge as roughly 10 meters per second, the kinetic energy of the moving bridge is approximately twenty billion joules, or almost 4.8 million kilocalories — the energy contained in 1350 pounds of fat.
Now, Magneto doesn’t appear to be divesting himself of that much extra baggage, but I vaguely recall reading somewhere on the Blagnet that all the mutants in the X-Men universe draw their energy from some parallel plane, so maybe the source of the energy isn’t a problem. (Somebody who knows the continuity better than I might be able to clarify — Russell?) Unless he does a very good job of dumping all that energy into his magnetic field, Magneto will have a whole other problem, too: 20 billion joules expended over the time-span of his bridge-hefting job is 37 megawatts. Radiating that much energy as light would make his body glow more than 900 times more strongly per unit area than a 60W light bulb.
It’s almost beside the point to note that once detached from their anchors, the suspension cables of the bridge will not support their load, and the bridge will collapse.