The Seed Magazine motto is “Science as Culture.” Interesting. I think they are talking about the interaction of culture and science, and about science as a part of the broader culture. But it may also be true that science, or scientists in particular, form something of a subculture (not a perfectly bounded one, of course) that acts differently from the rest of the humans.
I’ve reproduced most of the email below, but I want to make a number of comments on it.
First, the numbers are interesting: 27 reviews were positive, 18 negative. I talked to Randy about how this was determined. The reviews were ranked by his assistant, and positive vs. negative was determined where possible by the final recommendation … go see the movie vs. don’t go see the movie. I’m sure different individuals ranking these reviews would come up with different results.
In fact, if anyone out there would like to volunteer to analyze these reviews to either verify/refute the like/don’t like count, refine the method, or maybe to collect other information, let me know. You can do a guest blog analysis if you want! (Pending approval, offer not valid in certain states.)
To be pessimistic, one could say that 27 out of fifty bloggers gave positive reviews, with 18 giving negative reviews, and a few not giving the reviews they had promised (I believe it is the case that there were originally fifty).
Moving on from this, Randy provides some additional information and presents us with a rather startling conclusion:
Obviously, there are two groups of people: Those who liked the movie and those who did not. But beyond this, Randy is suggesting that this difference is primarily explained by whether or not a person is a scientist. By and large, scientists do not like the movie, non scientists do.
Randy specifically attributes this to literal mindedness vs not. Literal minded scientist want to know certain things, focus on certain details, etc. and miss the point of the movie or miss the humor, or generally, the experience is simply ruined for them,. The less literal minded non-scientist just enjoys the movie.
Some will argue with the data. It could be said that Randy has sets of non-science friends who almost all liked the movie, compared with scientist non-friends who did not like it. But that is not accurate. There are scientist friends in the sample who hate it. But, if Randy were to supply the raw data, perhaps this could be clarified.
I have mixed feelings about the literal-non literal model. That may be part of it, or it may be that literal mindedness vs. not is correlated with other factors. Personally, I think the biggest factor may be templating (which is a word I’ll use here in order to avoid using the word “framing”).
A number of the scientists who did not like the movie assert that it falls short in efforts to demonstrate that global warming is real and human caused. Let’s examine this criticism as a way of revealing what may be behind the scientist vs. non-scientist dichotomy.
The movie makes the point that global warming is real, that humans are the primary cause, and that it may be fixable. Clearly. These statements are made throughout, and the main character, Hapless Randy clearly “believes in this.” But some scientists are saying, quite validly from their perspective, that it did not work because it did not provide the documentation, the backup, for these assertions. This was a virtually data-free movie. What kind of documentary is that???
Well, for one thing, this movie was called “Sizzle: A global warming comedy” and described as a mockumentary. SO, if you want to evaluate the movie as a science documentary about global warming then, well, fine, but you re not reading the instructions on the outside of the box and your results may not be as expected….
But what about the important task of making the point about global warming? Why were data not used to do this?
This is where templates come in. A scientist has an expectation about methods and presentation as to how one makes a point. Especially a point about science. If you are a scientist, you want to see those methods used, and if they are not, the outcome is a failure. But this movie is neither a grant proposal nor a peer reviewed paper. It is quite possible that for the average non-scientist person showing all the data NEVER makes the point. In fact, that can be demonstrated. Try teaching for a living, you’ll know.
In this movie, the cool black guy buys a Prius. POINT MADE. The anti-point is held by some freak that looks like he’s wearing a fake mustache. TWO POINTS. There are cute cuddly polar bears swimming around in the background while someone is saying YES!, global warming is REAL! …. RIM SHOT!
I think that Randy Olson is just scratching the surface with the memo laid out below. Give it some thought. This is not an afterthought on his part, but rather, the considered opinion of someone in the communication business who also has a strong science background.
(I want to thank Laelaps for his insight in this area. We have been having a useful conversation about the issue. Look for a post or two from him, hopefully. Ah, wait, I see it is already here! Here. )
POSITIVE – 27
NEGATIVE – 18
Hi Sizzle Reviewers – I want to thank you all very much for taking part in the group review of “Sizzle.” One very interesting pattern emerged which actually matches what we saw last fall. The movie seems to divide audiences between the literal minded types (who for example want to know if Dr. Chill is real or not) and the less literal minded types (who really don’t care if Dr. Chill is real or not, they just find him funny).
In November we had a first test screening in Hollywood made up of about 35 of our non-science friends who filled out anonymous questionnaires, just as we did with “Flock of Dodos” two years earlier. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the film, laughed at all the right parts and every person gave the movie a score of 4 or 5 out of 5. We were pleasantly surprised given that Dodos had scored a lot of 2′s and 3′s with the test screening. But then we were brought down to earth the next week when a number of my science friends watched it and strongly disliked it. Most of them began their feedback by explaining why Dodos was so much better of a film, and the main reason was the information content — Dodos taught you a lot of specifics about the science of evolution, Sizzle seemed to have almost no science content.
The pattern continued in January when the movie was shown to a dozen senior scientists at a scientific meeting. They all disliked it, several left during the movie, and the rest left immediately afterwards. They felt it was light weight, borderline offensive, and even too supportive of the skeptics.
And yet when we showed it to another, completely different group of 35 of our non-science friends in Hollywood, it again played fine and everyone loved it. HOWEVER, at that second screening, a friend who is a producer of science documentaries with Discovery Channel was the first to speak in the Q&A and said, “I found this film completely frustrating from the very opening as I could never figure out who was real and who were actors.”
But he was immediately over-ruled by two people in the audience who said they ate up every minute of the film and loved the fun, simple story.
The bottom line is that we see two groups of viewers. One group who are interested in the facts and accuracy, and they want to know what is real in a movie and what isn’t. The other group really isn’t that concerned about the fact/fiction divide and mostly just want to enjoy a fun story, AND prefer there not be too much information (these people love Marion because he interrupts the scientists interviews and stops the flow of information).
And in general, these two groups seem to fall somewhat along the lines of scientists (literal minded) and non-scientists