Last night I went to a preview screening of the new Ghostbusters film. This isn’t a review, all I’ll say is that if you liked the first one, you’d probably like this one too.

In the first film, an early scene was set here at Columbia University, with Bill Murray an experimental psychology professor (you can watch it here). Academia doesn’t come off too well… In the new film, again an early scene is set at Columbia, but now the protagonist is a theoretical physicist played by Kristen Wiig. She first appears in a lecture hall with a huge blackboard filled with equations relevant to GUTs and supergravity. For some explanation of how that came about from Lindley Winslow, who provided this and other advice, see here.

Theoretical physics comes off better in this version of the film than experimental psychology did in the first version. Academia is still made fun of though. The chair of the Columbia physics department is portrayed as telling Wiig’s character that if she wants to get tenure she needs to do better than to have a letter from Princeton, since that department is well known to no longer be what it once was.

Update: For more about the physics background, see here. The Lindley Winslow piece doesn’t mention that Janet Conrad took over from her when she had a baby, and it was Conrad’s stuff that went into the Kristen Wiig character’s office. I’d somehow missed that the bad guy had a string theory paper:

Meanwhile, an antagonist named Rowan North got a string theory paper on Feynman ghost diagrams, which offered the opportunity for a little interdisciplinary ribbing. “Of course we made the woman a neutrino theorist and the bad guy a string theorist,” Conrad says.

String theorists really do get no respect these days…

Update: More here, including

Conrad made Wiig’s character a neutrino physicist. She decided the bad guy would probably be into string theory. There’s just something sinister about the theory’s famous lack of verifiable predictions, Winslow says.

String theorists can also be lovely people, though, Conrad says, and “I wanted to make [the bad guy] as evil as possible.” In the scientific paper she wrote for his desk, “he doesn’t acknowledge anyone. He just says ‘The author is supported by the Royal Society of Fellows,’ and that’s it.”

Also, she wrote for him “an evil letter where he’s turning someone down for tenure.”

Update: There’s a profile here of Kate McKinnon, the most entertaining of the new Ghostbusters, emphasizing her interest in physics.

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14 Responses to Ghostbusters

  1. I think you really wanted this clip for commentary about academia:

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Douglas Natelson,
    Thanks! I had forgotten about that part of the earlier film. Lovely sentiments and footage of the campus here (the new film has no such footage, just a quick exterior shot).

  3. Peter Woit says:

    For the new film, I don’t think there was any actual filming here at Columbia, and in general most of the places supposedly in New York were actually locations in and around Boston.

  4. Mark Callaghan says:

    I liked the first one – but i was 15 at the time! , I used to find ‘ Carry on’ films funny , but now they make me cringe. Thanks for the clip though – very funny.

  5. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    I have no plans to ever see this movie.

    That said, I’m curious enough to ask: Are these amazing details something any moviegoer (expert or otherwise) is likely to be able to apprehend, or would it require one’s nose be pressed against their 60″ flat-screen while their itchy trigger finger hovers over the Pause button?

  6. Peter Woit says:

    A huge blackboard is the background for an early scene. No pause button, but I could recognize the standard graph of GUT coupling constant unfication, as well as some SUGRA equations.

    The scene in the office with Conrad’s stuff lasts a little while, but I wasn’t paying attention to the books or other things in the office.

    You need more of an experimentalist than me to recognize things in the lab scenes.

    As for the string theory paper mentioned, I didn’t see that, quite possibly it ended up on the cutting room floor.

  7. Doug McDonald says:

    I’m a chemical physicist. I very strongly recommend the film Real Genius. It too has pertinent equations on the blackboard. The lab laser is a real one, and would actually burn holes in (very thin) ceramic plates. I’m told that a larger version of the same ideas has burned a hole through the Pacific Coast range (comment from a very very drunk ex-student in a position to know, and apparently too drunk to worry about classified information) and is admittedly now militarily operational.
    And even better, the main professor protagonist is the very perfect image of a very real Professor of Electrical Engineering here at the time, who worked in the “Gaseous Electronics Lab” building (I’m not making up the building name.) This guy ran the exact same kind of jokes for real.

  8. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Thanks for the summary! Amazing the amount of work that must have gone into those minute details, and too bad some of them didn’t make the final cut. Also somewhat ironic, given the premise.

  9. srp says:

    A second to the motion for Real Genius.

  10. String postdoc says:

    last night I saw ghostbusters with some string theory postdocs here at Princeton. Two of them are women and found the film hilarious. One remarked that Lubos has no place now that physics departments hire men based on looks. 😀😀

  11. Chris W. says:

    From what I’ve seen of Kate McKinnon’s performances in other things, including SNL skits, she seems smart as hell and naturally inquisitive about a lot of things.

    That said, it sounds like her interest in science and engineering was almost still-born. Maybe she should take a sabbatical from acting and comedy sometime and make a serious run at it, at least as a self-taught amateur. Her lack of a mathematical background will require a very serious commitment to work through, however.

  12. Andreas says:

    Hey Peter! There is the IUTT Mochizuki workshop going on since monday ( Did you hear some news from there yet? I can’t find any sources – usually your blog is a pretty good one 🙂

  13. Peter Woit says:

    Yes, I know, see the previous posting. I have been hearing some news from there, will likely write something after its over. I do hope a well-informed take on the workshop will emerge from one or more of the participants, as happened with Brian Conrad’s summary of the last one.

  14. Chris W. says:

    The New York Times has another profile of Kate McKinnon:

    Did you consult with any real-life scientists?

    I’ve been a big astrophysics nut since I was 12. I have always had a real soft spot for the bizarreness of quantum mechanics. But I gave up on being a scientist in high school — I’m just not that good at math. So that ticks me off, that I’ve limited myself and my life choices in that way. I will never be a theoretical physicist.

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