Dear Randy Olson– A SIZZLE Review

Man, Randy, you were close with SIZZLE. You were really close, I think. I wish you would have let us preview the movie earlier, or just bounced some ideas off of us.

1– The scripted portions of SIZZLE were painful. Painful. Very awkward. Not at all believable. Your ‘producers’ could have been cut out entirely. The crew didnt ‘need’ to be ‘gangstas’, they just needed to be Average Joes (or… Average Dions… *wince*). Muffy was just there to push the plot.

2– You should have burned the script… and made a damn documentary!!! I think it was on accident, but you stumbled on something big! Its big because Im already aware of it (:P) and I want more people to ‘get it’:

  • Scientists talk one was to other scientists, and a completely different way to Average Joes!
  • Woomeisters talk one way to scientists, and a completely different way to Average Joes!

People are always like ‘Y R U talkinz like a lolcat on ur blag? It be nut perfesssionalble.’ Because, jerks, Im a friggen human being with a ‘personality’ and a ‘sense of humor’. We kinda cover that up when we are talking to other scientists– what matters are the FACTS. State them, debate them, move on. But I dont write this blog like Im talking to other scientists! I write this blog like Im talking to my friends. You heard me in Bloggingheads– I say ‘DOOOOD!’ in real life too 🙂 Thats not pandering, thats just me.

The Bloggingheads conversation was actually really hard for me, because I was alternating between talking to PZ as another scientist, talking to PZ as a friend, and talking to the audience as friends. It was goddamn hard, and I made lots of mistakes, but I learned 🙂 And that balancing act, obviously, is something scientists are not entirely conscious of. When you asked questions, you got ‘scientificy’ responses. When Marion asked questions, you got real shit. You got the scientists personalities. You got the scientists passion. That is the ‘face’ we need for science! The message to scientists should be, ‘Hey, when youre giving presentations to the public, when youre being interviewed for the 9 o’clock news, dont just be ‘a scientist’– be yourself. Be your passion, and give that passion to everyone else!’


I also loved how the wooers reacted to the same conditions. They were all shits and giggles talking to you. Sure you are ‘a scientist’, but you arent a climatologist. They let the distortions and lies slip by, one by one, until you caught one. Ah, then they backed off.

But when Marion asked questions, that was full-on lie fest! Stupid Marion wouldnt know any better– lay it on thick. Africa will be fine when/if Global Warming is real! No worries, brotha! Have some liquor and cigars! They lied and pandered straight to his face.

*sigh* Randy, you were really close to getting something good on how science (and pseudoscience) is communicated, but this end product felt forced, and diluted out the impact of a fantastic point.

We may get bitchy with you sometimes, Randy, but we want to communicate science to the public just as much as you do. We want you to succeed! Come to us sooner, man!



  1. #1 Dustin
    July 15, 2008

    I haven’t seen it. My main concern was that he was going to portray global warming denialists as good, earnest, well-meaning but misguided people and the scientists as aspies.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    July 15, 2008

    Abbie – Thanks for taking the time to see his movie – so I don’t have to. It seems to me that Randy Olson is now officially a one-trick pony. He’s had his 15 minutes of fame, and now it’s time to say buh bye. Randy – why do you hate scientists so much?

  3. #3 Virgil Samms
    July 15, 2008

    If you want to see a great movie about global warming, rent The Arrival, starring Charlie Sheen.

  4. #4 clinteas
    July 15, 2008


    call me a conspiracy theorist,but can someone explain to me why Abbie,Greg Laden and PZ all apparently posted a review of this fling that only comes out in 4 days at the same time,and in the middle of the night at that?

  5. #5 Darwin's Minion
    July 15, 2008

    Clinteas – afaik it’s a publicity stunt by the producers. They sent out a bunch of preview DVDs of the movie to a number of science bloggers and asked them to review the movie on the 15th, read, today. The whole 5am thing is a bit spooky, yes 😛 but I guess it can be explained by various people waiting ’til midnight, getting snacks, watching the movie, thinking about the movie and then putting together a review, which takes a bit of time.

  6. #6 Darwin's Minion
    July 15, 2008

    Addendum to my previous comment: I was right about part A (the publicity stunt) but wrong about part B. The 5am thing is also part of the package. Got this from the Beagle Project Blog: “Note: this review is part of Sizzle Tuesday, a blogosphere experiment in which 50+ blogs will simultaneously publish their reviews of Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy at 5:00am EDT on Tuesday 15th July 2008.”

  7. #7 John Kwok
    July 15, 2008

    Hi all,

    Randy Olson – who was a terrific marine biologist working on larval dispersal in invertebrates (work which has been cited by others, including, for example, eminent University of Chicago paleobiologist David Jablonski) before shifting gears to film making – is in the business of trying to make movies. Apparently he hasn’t succeeded with this new one, but it doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to make another film that’s as memorable as “A Flock of Dodos” (Incidentally I met Randy a few years back at the Tribeca Film Festival where he was screening some clips from “A Flock of Dodos” and had a great time talking to him.).



  8. #8 Chuck
    July 15, 2008

    Oops, I must have missed the message about posting at 5AM. Wouldn’t have happened anyway because I’m asleep then. But I think you’re basically right about the film. The scripted elements didn’t work at all and fell into som pretty pernicious stereotypes.

  9. #9 Martin
    July 15, 2008

    I think that’s a really balanced review, nice one.

    By the way, I just spotted on my site stats that you added me to your blog-roll, so thanks!

    On the subject of general blogging, I had a guy send me e-mail after e-mail about how I wasn’t being scientific enough on the blog, how I was pandering to a low common denominator, stating opinions, and so on and so forth. I could have throttled the obsessive little pedant. I spend my professional career doing science. ScienceBlogging isn’t an extension of my work in ecology – although people are welcome to come ask me about it if they want – it’s an effort to talk about some interesting stuff to do with science to a broader audience. It’s amazing how many people don’t get that.

  10. #10 anaglyph
    July 16, 2008

    Yeah, Randy Olsen is right but at the same time he’s wrong. I haven’t seen Sizzle. obviously, but I did hear him talking about it on Skepticality and he makes a lot of sense about how science needs to communicate better to the general public. I agree wholeheartedly. But here’s the real crux of the problem: to understand science, generally speaking, you need some education. In contrast, you don’t need to know how to rub two twigs together to fall for MOST woo. If your country is light on education, it stands to reason that you’re going to be in the woo up to your armpits (and I think I’m right in saying that the statistics bear me out on this…).

    Olsen seems to think that the biggest problem facing scientists is one of public perception. I disagree – the solution is not spin, or at least, not spin alone. I work in movies and sometimes in advertising. I know how easy it is to fool people. I also know how much harder it is to fool educated people.

    Education takes work. People are lazy. Woo will always have the upper hand, unless we educate better, and get people to understand that it’s worth the effort to be better educated.

    I was really hoping Sizzle might be something more than Dodos, and go some way to looking at the bigger issue, but it sounds from what you’re saying that it’s just playing the same gag. What a shame.

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