Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style / Edition 2by Randy Olson
Pub. Date: 09/03/2009
Publisher: Island Press
"You think too much! You mother F@$#%&* think too much! You're nothing but an arrogant, pointy-headed intellectual — I want you out of my classroom and off the premises in five minutes or I'm calling the police and having you arrested for trespassing." — Hollywood acting teacher to Randy Olson, former
"You think too much! You mother F@$#%&* think too much! You're nothing but an arrogant, pointy-headed intellectual — I want you out of my classroom and off the premises in five minutes or I'm calling the police and having you arrested for trespassing." — Hollywood acting teacher to Randy Olson, former scientist
After nearly a decade on the defensive, the world of science is about to be restored to its rightful place. But is the American public really ready for science? And is the world of science ready for the American public?
Scientists wear ragged clothes, forget to comb their hair, and speak in a language that even they don't understand. Or so people think. Most scientists don't care how they are perceived, but in our media-dominated age, style points count.
Enter Randy Olson. Fifteen years ago, Olson bid farewell to the science world and shipped off to Hollywood ready to change the world. With films like Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (Tribeca '06, Showtime) and Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy (Outfest '08), he has tried to bridge the cultural divide that has too often left science on the outside looking in.
Now, in his first book, Olson, with a Harvard Ph.D. and formerly a tenured professor of marine biology at the University of New Hampshire, recounts the lessons from his own hilarious-and at times humiliating-evolution from science professor to Hollywood filmmaker. In Don't Be Such a Scientist, he shares the secrets of talking substance in an age of style. The key, he argues, is to stay true to the facts while tapping into something more primordial, more irrational, and ultimately more human.
In a book enlivened by a profane acting teacher who made Olson realize that "nobody wants to watch you think," he offers up serious insights and poignant stories. You'll laugh, you may cry, and as a communicator you'll certainly learn the importance of not only knowing how to fulfill, but also how to arouse.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1. Don't Be So Cerebral
Chapter 2. Two: Don't Be So Literal Minded
Chapter 3. Don't Be Such a Poor Storyteller
Chapter 4. Don't Be So Unlikeable
Chapter 5. Be the Voice of Science!
Appendix 1. The Sizzle Frazzle
Appendix 2. Filmmaking for Scientists
Appendix 3. Randy Olson
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book was especially inspiring for me because it argues that, if you want to reach the public, you need to prioritize entertainment and sociability alongside information content. If you aren't entertaining and sociable, your audience may tune out. I teach people, mostly children, about spiders and find myself mixing entertainment with fact for the sake of making a connection. If I don't have a connection, I'm wasting my time trying to convey facts. I think the author is arguing for balancing fuzzy-feel-good techniques for connecting with audience on the one hand, and accuracy of information conveyed on the other. Olson acknowledges that certain audiences are sufficiently motivated to absorb pure factual information and that less factual techniques are needed for generating interest among other audiences. The book seems to say that sometimes you have to sacrifice factual accuracy for the sake of engaging an audience, and it's understandable that many scientists have not liked the book's message. I have seen some documentaries that are thoroughly engaging and yet supposedly also purely factual, so advancing one doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing the other. But this is very hard to do and may be too much to ask of science communicators in general. In my case, I see a blurring of facts as valuable for generating interest in a subject. Once an audience is interested, you can engage them with more factual accuracy. Think of it as iterative learning, with each lesson clarifying and refining the previous, where previous lessons are more entertaining to get the audience hooked. However, I don't recall Olson suggesting that blurring need serve only a transitional function. I think Olson makes one critical mistake, though. He rates his "Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy" next to "Judgement Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," saying that the latter is full of information but not very entertaining, while the former is highly entertaining but virtually devoid of information. Olson fails to acknowledge that scientists have no interest in entertaining without educating, and if Sizzle is virtually information-free, there's something wrong with arguing favorably for it in a book on science communication. Olson's message remains valuable though. If you are in the business of motivating the public to be interested in some subject, you will need to heed Olson's wisdom.
"Don't Be SUCH a Scientist" had me chuckling in the first three pages! Olson uses countless real-life anecdotes to portray his points. His vignettes are both serious and humorous, which make for an overall easy read. Olson goes so far as to call academics "eggheads," leaving the reader unsure what to expect next! ex:) "By now you may be thinking, 'What's this guy got against intellectuals? He's calling them brainiacs and eggheads.' Well, I spent six wonderful years at Harvard University completing my doctorate, and I'll take the intellectuals any day. But still, it woul be nice if they could just take a little bit of the edge off their more extreme characteristics. It's like asking football players not to wear their cleats in the house. You're not asking them not to be football players, only to use their specific skills in the right places." Olson confronts scientists/communicators by provoking and urging them to communicate differently and to utilize visual media. Olson states, "...if you gather scientific knowledge but are unable to convey it to others in a correct and compelling form, you might as well not even have bothered to gather the information." The reader should come away with ideas on how to speak the right language to the right audience. This is a worthwhile, non-preachy read!