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Opinion: I’m not a scientist, but allow me to say a few things about science

By Sam Neill

By Sam Neill

As with most people, I didn’t really hear about science for the first few decades of my life. Oh, every now and then you’d see it mentioned in the newspaper, or perhaps in a book somewhere; “science” had solved some great conundrum, such as how to make butter spreadable. But for the most part, we lived on merrily here at the edge of the world, gazing out over bleak coastlines and not speaking about all the great family crises that apparently gripped our grey, hopeless communities.

But then I became an ac-tor, and this allowed me to go out into the world and learn a great many things, such as how to ride a horse for Ivanhoe, and how to strangle a priest for Omen III: The Final Conflict. This came in tremendously helpful when I travelled to Elizabethan England several hundred years ago, but I shan’t go into more detail at this time as I am still gripped by the wizard’s curse.

These skills were useful, but as my career ascended so too did the value of the new things I learned. When I filmed The Hunt for Red October, I was amazed to discover that beneath the water there was a whole other area known as “under”water. What I didn’t know then was that we had this “under”water thanks to something called science. At the time I asked Sean Connery if he knew anything about science, but I was unable to understand anything he said, as he is Scottish.

It wasn’t until filming Jurassic Park some years later that I began to find out more about science, where fortunately the Scots were kept out. When I auditioned, Steven Spielberg told me he was interested in me for the part of Dr. Alan Grant, a “pay-lee-on-toll-oh-jist”.

“What’s that, Steven?” I asked, while swirling tea around in my goblet.

“Well, Sam,” he answered, while tearing at a large piece of unadorned baguette, “it’s a scientist who studies dinosaurs.”

“Oh,” I responded.

“Yes,” he said.

After we then sat in awkward silence for six-and-a-half hours, occasionally offering each other a smile and looking like we were about to say something, but then stopping for the other, and then neither of us saying anything, I thought I had perhaps find out just what this science thing is. And I think the most marvellous thing about science is, is the fact that nobody really knows what it is. It just does things, which is quite wonderful.

But even though we can’t really understand science, I still like to talk about it and listen to people say things that have science in them. However, it can also be concerning, and as an actor I believe it’s important that I speak out about the issues that science presents us with in this day and age.

I was going to speak out against genetic modification, but I thought that may have been a mite hypocritical after my starring role in the Jurassic Park, and also due to the fact that I was engineered by a team of exiled German biologists in a secret facility in rural Northern Ireland in 1947. I also considered global warming, but then lots of people are already on that bandwagon and I don’t like to share, which is why I’ve been systematically buying up every last haberdashery in Aotearoa.

But then I was asked to host the documentary television series Space, which is about something called “space”. I was fascinated to learn that science had not given us only “under”water, but also “space”, which is everything that is not land, “over”water, or “under”water. And although I have never been there and have no real reason to believe it exists, I’m told that it is very large indeed.

I was alarmed, though, to discover that Earth does not sit flat on some kind of cosmic tabletop, but is rather sitting suspended in “space” – with nothing beneath it. Nothing. It is really only by sheer luck that it has stayed put these past 972 years.

I decided to science my way through this idea a bit. And it was then I thought, “Hang on a moment, Denzel” – I call myself “Denzel” sometimes – “sometimes if you put too many things on something, it collapses, or falls, such as that time you piled all the skulls of the unfaithful atop the Crystal Altar of Grah’froourhk”.

That is when I realised: the Earth is getting heavier. And if it gets too heavy, it may fall out of “space”.

Try sciencing yourself through it: we keep building things. Heavy things. Concrete is very heavy. And with all this concrete we put on Earth, we increase the strain to a level it simply cannot take. Yes, for now our buildings stand tall, and proud, but I do not believe Earth can sustain its enormous erections much longer.

Also, I have noticed that people are much fatter than they used to be. And fat people are heavy.

What then for us, should we fall? Fortunately, I know about science, and I know about awareness, and I know that once a respected celebrity has made you aware of a problem, then it is no longer really a problem at all.

What’s more, you can “science” up solutions to things. For example, in response to this, I say we simply attach helium-filled balloons to everything. I saw the documentary film Up whilst I was travelling on an aeroplane once, and I learnt how balloons can lift things up very effectively. This will have the secondary benefit of making the world seem much jauntier. I like jaunty things.

I realise that some of you may be now wondering if “science” is really all that positive a thing. But it’s important to remember that as scary and mystifying and confusing as it can be, it also gives us wonderful things, like telephones, and the clap. In fact, just last week, that nice Tom Cruise man was telling me all about some new science that I hadn’t heard of before. I’m going to see him next week to talk about it some more. My goodness. I certainly do feel lucky to know about science, and to be able to tell you all about it.