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

Andrew Williams A.J.G.Williams at newcastle.ac.uk
Thu Mar 9 10:37:14 EST 2006

I am sorry, but is this a serious suggestion? 
Reality TV will almost certainly be twisted into a marketable product (i.e. will lose it's 'high brow' motives) and in my opinion, only really targets the grade school audiences that you have already mentioned. Personally, just hearing the words Reality TV has me reaching for the remote control. I would be genuinely concerned that instead of creating a 'hero' we would end up making the whole subject a joke, undermining it's importance and not reinforcing it.
Has no one heard of Sir David Attenborough? That would be a model that I would advocate replicating, although good nature programs are usually focused on the macro-fauna like tigers, lions, dolphins and other 'fluffy' good looking animals. I am not sure a 45 minute program on macro algae (ex-coral reefs) would have the same 'eye candy' value. There are an abundance of these type of programs out there already, I am not convinced their lack of success is down to the 'sexiness' of the presenter.
People of the 'hollywood generation' seek to escape reality, with implausible lucky escapes and happy endings, I am not sure pandering to these ideals is constructive. Painting this picture of unsustainable development with a rosey sheen is only going to re-inforce the apathy, the business as usual ethos.
What happened to the world post Dec 28th 2004 Tsunami? The global public showed its ability for understanding and compassion - this is a 'market' (sorry that is a very inappropriate use of the word) that needs to be tapped. I say forget hollywood, tone down the exaggeration and sensationalism, start telling people the truth, like they are intelligent human beings and you may find that they respond as such.

From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov on behalf of Sinclair, James
Sent: Thu 09/03/2006 13:12
To: Steven Miller; Coral List
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Did you see that sexy scientist on the news lastnight? Resiliency continued... really

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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