[Coral-List] Did you see that sexy scientist on the news last night? Resiliency continued... really
smiller at gate.net
Wed Mar 8 22:31:08 EST 2006
Changing the subject just a little, I believe that one of the reasons
scientists are so easy to ignore these days is that we don't have any
nationally or internationally known personalities who speak for our
discipline. I'm talking about no Einsteins, Carsons, Sagans, or
Cousteaus. We certainly don't have any ocean advocates who are
effective outside the realm of academics or NGOs. Absent are
charismatic, camera-savvy, camera-friendly, willing, and respectable
scientists who are widely known and accepted by the public as
entertaining and truthful. In my opinion, our failure is related to the
fact that today's media environment requires an approach that is outside
the comfort zone of most scientists. It's not about arguing better
because that doesn't work and it's boring. But that's what we're good
at, arguing. We need famous, entertaining, and trusted (heroic would be
good too) scientists to speak for the ocean.
How do we foster development of such spokespersons? We need platforms
to showcase the talents of our best communicators and hope that a few
have that "something special" that allows them to connect broadly with
audiences. Platforms that currently exist to showcase "talent" are
traditional in the sense that TV news and documentaries are routine
activities that touch the lives of many scientists. Platforms we need
but don't have include what is best described as a marriage between
Hollywood and science. What characterizes these hybrid science and
Hollywood platforms is that they are entertaining, including comedy,
emotion, drama, maybe even sex (thus my headline above).
I don't exactly have the answer about how to make such a thing happen,
other than we need to try lots of different things. We know the
conventional stuff does not work. What might be unconventional?
Development programs that send scientists to Hollywood to learn about
script writing, filmmaking, even acting classes! And then let these
scientists loose with their new skills (fund them to do stuff). And
don't hold it against them when tenure decisions come up! Most will
never become famous but I bet they will produce some really good stuff
that will be important in other ways so its a no-lose proposal. Who
knows, maybe one or two will produce something that helps launch a path
to stardom (but not so they have to give up their day jobs).
I have other ideas too, but my agent told me not to let everything out
of the bag... ha ha ha. Not. Seriously, we need help in the area of
communications and I'm not talking about bigger budgets to do more of
the same old stuff. And I'm not talking about how to talk better with
the press. That's an issue, but it's a conventional issue. I'm
suggesting that we need to find and nurture a generation of scientists
who seriously understand the new media landscape of public relations
firms, sound bites, and all the rest (the Hollywood element). And who
get famous! Of course, these scientists have to be excellent and well
respected in their fields because you can bet they will be attacked
(maybe first and most viciously by their peers). This new
communications paradigm requires an investment in infrastructure and
training that I believe is missing, and worse is shunned, in today's
academic world. But that could change... maybe.... eventually....
tomorrow would be good.
I suggest that innovative communication strategies that marry Hollywood
and science also apply to organizations, especially environmental NGOs.
When I say Hollywood I don't mean using Hollywood stars to front (the
talking head syndrome) for scientific or environmental issues. I mean
the techniques of Hollywood that make issues and people interesting and
entertaining, worth watching.
Finally, I understand that people can do important things, make
important discoveries, with a secondary result being that they become
famous. I don't think we are likely to see such discoveries within the
realm of ocean science. But I could be wrong. Expeditionary science
still has an important role to play and it's possible that placing the
right people on ships and in subs, with the right documentary
filmmakers, might eventually create Cousteau-like fame. But we need to
do more. I'm suggesting a pro-active approach that uses a core group of
people who are already good scientists and making them really special
communicators, and then hoping a few of them won't mind becoming famous
too, if the opportunity arises.
Steven Miller, Ph.D.
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