However, none of this explains Aardman’s decision. There are of course various theories doing the rounds. One suggests that the animator is a “national treasure” here in the UK, is known for its [very British] eccentricity and therefore we are more tolerant of its whims...and seemingly its film titles. Sounds reasonable. Another theory suggests that the film title was dropped in the US because the film makers did not want to risk offending – and, presumably not selling tickets to – the considerable proportion of the US population who do not accept the theory of evolution. After all, Charles Darwin is the grand daddy of evolution. Again, plausible if hardly enlightened.
However, I believe there is a more simple explanation: what is fixed, and problematic, is that word “scientist”. According to the complete Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the word dates back only to the 1830s, coined to solve a problem of what to collectively call the various geologists, biologists, chemists and others attending the annual gatherings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Various other permutations like sciencer, scientiate and scientman were considered, but according to reports from the time “some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist”, although strictly speaking you should go from science to “sciencist” - that T is effectively down to the original proposal from the “ingenious gentleman” and means scientists share more with artists than they might realise.
Right from the start many great men of science – and back then it was almost exclusively men – were uncomfortable with the term. Even Darwin, the real one as opposed to the comedy version in the Aardman film, avoided using it, preferring to call himself a “naturalist”.
But somehow it stuck, meaning scientists share more with artists than they might realise. But that is where the common ground ends. Nearly two centuries after its inception, it’s a word that Hollywood seems reluctant to use. Look at the number of movies on the film website IMDB with “scientist” in the title and its slim pickings. It’s a word that – in the words of Jennifer Ouellette, director of the Science and Entertainment exchange – conjures up images “of the mad scientist or the dweeby nerd” that “dress funny, have no social skills, play video games, long for unattainable women”. Now that may make perfect material for a clay animation, but it is hardly an easy sell in marketing terms.
The fact is that science and scientists, no matter how much they contribute to our lives, are still not seen as cool or worthy of a Hollywood poster. Which is sad. It seems the word needs to morph its meaning, so it’s associated with something mysterious, creative and hip; something that seemingly comes naturally to artists. Scientists – the word, not the people – need rebranding and marketing before they appear in the brands and the marketing. Which is why in 2012 it’s still struggling to creep into the tail end of a title while the year’s big winner at the Academy Awards and the box office was The Artist.
(16/04) This article has been updated to include further information about the derivation of the word "scientist".