[Coral-List] Did you see that sexy scientist on the news last night? Resiliency continued... really

Sinclair, James James.Sinclair at mms.gov
Thu Mar 9 08:12:32 EST 2006

I think Steve has some good points.  Let's brainstorm it.  


Here's one idea: Reality TV.  


We need to take it a step beyond "Bill Nye the Science Guy" and "The
Crocodile Hunter" to target audiences older than grade school.  As much
as I detest most reality TV shows, I have to admit that they reach
audiences and result in recognition and even fame.  


There are lots of ways this could be done to feature science and
scientists.  (I'll let everyone on the List develop their own ideas, to
boost creativity).  Such a show could be considered the upper crust of
reality TV, with a basis in something significant (not pointless) and an
atmosphere of respect (not crass).  (I don't mind skewing your ideas
towards culture and significance.  I'm sure Hollywood will skew the end
product toward frivolous and vulgar).  


This will take money and organization but may best be done by
whoever-it-is that sponsors Hollywood reality TV.  That way, the
majority of the logistics will be arranged by people who already have
the resources and know-how to produce a TV show.  


Care to venture some ideas of how to make this work?  Or a totally
different approach?  


James Sinclair, Marine Biologist 
Minerals Management Service 
Gulf of Mexico Region 

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Steven
Sent: Wednesday, March 08, 2006 9:31 PM
To: Coral List
Subject: [Coral-List] Did you see that sexy scientist on the news last
night? Resiliency continued... really


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.


Best regards.


Steven Miller, Ph.D.

Research Professor

UNC Wilmington 



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