… Or is it?

I just wrote an entire blog post about Sizzle, but accidentally posted it as a comment instead here. I’m actually pointing you to the comment before mine, which in turn inspired mine. Have a look.


  1. #1 Joe V.
    July 17, 2008

    You framed your comment in an interesting way. The first option of why Sizzle has gotten poor reviews here at the Seed blogs is given as, “Science bloggers and scientists really know their shit and the film sucks and everyone else is simply wrong.” We the readers know this is meant to be the throwaway reason — the reason that can’t possibly be right — because of how you string together absolutes, and how apparently the opinions of this tiny minority of “science bloggers and scientists” is contrary to the opinions of “everyone else.” (It also implicitly hints that “science bloggers and scientists” are expressly unqualified to comment on the quality of a movie.) The problem, of course, is that there is no evidence that “everyone else” loves the movie. Prove that, and maybe you’ve got an argument on your hands.

    It’s like if I cooked a meal for my wife and kids, and when they didn’t really like it, I dismissed their criticism thusly: “Well, MAYBE all you women and babies really know your shit and my cooking sucks and everyone else is wrong, or MAYBE my cooking just appeals to different people.”

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    Joe: As I have said in various places, we know more than that sciencebloggers did not like this movie.

    We also know that some groups did like it, from the focus group data. Yes, we can use more data, but please don’t rule out the relevance of the data that exist now.

    So to use your analogy, your family hates your cooking but everyone else on the block likes it. Maybe your family is just very annoyed at you for some other reason and they don’t like your cooking because you put a bad taste in your mouth. So, you can conclude that there is something different about your family vis-a-vis your best guess on “everyone else” (your neighbors) that relates to response to your cooking.

  3. #3 Joe V.
    July 17, 2008

    You’re kind of showing my point again. You say that “some groups” like the movie, but somehow this transmogrifies into “everyone else” when it gets put into an analogy. I would be interested in seeing the percentage of positive reviews here at Scienceblogs compared to the general audience scores at RottenTomatoes, MetaCritic or IMDb. But in the meantime, surely you would concede that not “everyone else” has liked the movie, yes? That’s all I’m saying.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    I definitely do not mean everyone else. SOrry if I gave that impression. (If this was a point you were making, I missed it). There really is not enough information to characterize the broader viewing audience. The movie would need to be released for that to happen!

    surely you would concede that not “everyone else” has liked the movie, yes? That’s all I’m saying.

    This is a canard. If 100 people see a movie, half are scientsts, and half are not, and 48 scientists hate it and 38 non scientists like it, then how do you characterize that?

    The folllowing statemetns are true regarding Sizzle:

    1) “It is not true that everyone who is not a scientist liked it”

    2) “It is not true that every scientist disliked it”

    Neither statement is of much use.

    What is relevant is that there were non-scientist focus groups that saw it where most everyone liked it a lot and there was very little negative.

    In terms of written reviews, you also have to factor in that most written reviews of most movies are negative. Negative reviews are more interesting and sell better. Positive reviews are going out on a limb. So, if we are going to get all sciency about how this works, you’ve got to develop a null model.

    So no, I do not “concede” your statement because it is not useful. Try a different statement.

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    July 17, 2008

    Yeah, negative reviews sell, but these negative reviews have been making substantial points and are remarkably consistent with one another on the complaints they raise. Isn’t it more important to address their content rather than a ratio which can be skewed this way or that by averaging over different sets and fudging one’s definition of a “positive review”?

    I expect that focus groups have blessed a good many movies which have gone on to bomb with audiences and critics alike. Representative sampling ain’t easy.

  6. #6 Stephanie Z
    July 17, 2008

    I’m posting this here because the leap-frog discussion created by the moderation of comments at The Intersection drives me batty.

    Note: Use of the word “you” in the following is nonspecific.

    I absolutely accept the different roles of story and data in persuasion. However, what I’m seeing in the comments of science bloggers isn’t that they wanted more data. It’s that they don’t know whether they were being presented with data on science communication by the film or were being told a story about global warming. They don’t need a general perspective or form of mindedness or frame or set of book ends or anything else to feel that way. Olson has a history on the subject.

    Do you think any of the scientists seeing the film didn’t know about Dodos? How many do you think hadn’t seen it? That film had a message specifically for them. This film seems to them to sometimes be speaking to them as scientists and communicators, like Dodos did, sometimes to them as the general public. I’d be damned confused too.

    Differentiating between that confusion and any “literal-mindedness” in a review is going to be, at best, difficult. It certainly won’t be transparent in a “go see it”/”don’t” coding of the reviews. Olson needs to work on his controls.

    And on another ranty note, can someone please tell the self-professed “communicators” to pay attention to their less-official statements, too? Mooney telling people that discussing the use of stereotypes in the movie is ridiculous? Olson characterizing a scientist at a screening as having been over-ruled? Bullshit. You can disagree with my opinion of a film. You don’t get to overrule it.

    Okay, done for the moment.

  7. #7 JanieBelle
    July 17, 2008

    I think y’all are overlooking the very most important detail:

    How much gratuitous science is in the movie under the cover of sex?

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    Blake and Stephanie actually toucn on an interesting aspect of this event. Without giving details, let me tell you this:

    Many/most of the science bloggers for various reasons did not like Dodo’s. I don’t know why they didnt’ like it, but they didn’t and it could be because scientists are are included in that film among the “dodo” category.

    Then, partly because of Dodo and partly because of a perception that Randy Olson and the Framers are joined at the hip and a lot of sciencebloggers are (justifiably) annoyed at certain aspects of what the framers have suggested, Olson and anything he does is put into a certain category (stuff we should not like).

    [now, before you (whomever you are) get all pissy, read to the bottom of my comment, please]

    Then, many of the science bloggers did a lot of communication with each other about the film during this review period, and in my view that became a bit of a Lord of the Flies event. Throw in the fact that bloggers have enormous egos, that science bloggers always thin they are right and that everyone else needs to be more flexible in coming around to the opinion held by said blogger, etc., and you’ve got a recipe for a lynching.

    And yes, of course, similar reviews. I promise you that while much or even all of the similarity may be because similar people are looking at the same thing, it is NOT possible to rule out interdependence. IF these different blog posts were data points, they could NOT be considered independent data points. So their number and similarity is not data. No, not under any circumstances from a scientific perspective.

    Now, that does not mean that the opinions of these science bloggers is not valid. Of course it is! As I have been saying. But it can be demonstrated, I think, that scientists by and large are going to have certain expectations and desires regarding a movie about a scientific topic, and that these expectations and desires affect their appreciation for or enjoyment of a film like this. Scientists know how to hate a film like this.

    And it is totally their right, and possibly even job, to do so.

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    July 17, 2008

    So we need to add to our reanalysis of the reviews the field of the scientist-reviewer. Some of them are going to feel less targeted by virtue of the focus of Dodos, yes?

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    Yes, and I would imagine climate-area vs. other scientist matters as well.

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    July 17, 2008

    Janie, probably not enough, I’m afraid, but that’s generally true of films.

    “We” and “our,” by the way, were used in the least volunteery of all possible ways. Someone else feels passionate enough about the subject to take on this project, right?

  12. #12 Carlie
    July 17, 2008

    I’m interested in hearing more about the racist/gay stereotyping that some reviewers have mentioned. For the rebuttal to be that gay/black people worked on the film is pretty sad. That’s not a rebuttal at all; otherwise, we could say that Phyllis Shlafly and Ann Coulter and Maureen Dowd and Michelle Malkin and all the Prairie Muffins never say anything sexist, couldn’t we?

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    Carlie, I can repeat to you what I said over on The Intersection. You are correct that this as a rebuttal would be sad. And, really, you should make your own decision by watching the movie about a) if you see stereotypes and b) if there are stereotypes being used to make a point (a distinct possibility). If the latter is a problem for a particular viewer, than there is not way for that viewer to have anything but a negative opinion, of course. Or a life. But that is another story.

    The point that the production, directing, and acting staff of this film is more black and more gay than the average population would not justify negative stereotyping. But in comparing negative comments about a movie that a white middle class reviewer obviously does not like to the creative output of such a staff, you might want to reserve judgment.

  14. #14 bioephemera
    July 17, 2008

    “Then, many of the science bloggers did a lot of communication with each other about the film during this review period, and in my view that became a bit of a Lord of the Flies event. ”

    Dude, Greg: I didn’t speak, write, or listen to a single other Scienceblogger about Sizzle in ANY context before posting my review, and I had a LOT of the same concerns other people had. In fact, I had the exact same gut reaction re: distasteful stereotyping, but decided not to get into that morass in my post. (Lo and behold, others covered it in theirs.)

    Why do you and Chris seem so anxious to find an explanation for the general panning of the film, other than maybe it isn’t all that successful a film?

  15. #15 Carlie
    July 17, 2008

    I’m not trying to judge it before seeing it; I was honestly muddled about it. I’ve seen several reviews on SciBlogs that mention racist/gay stereotypes, but not a solid description of what they mean by that other than something about a Hummer being involved(?). I was curious as to what got everyone’s dander up, and “people from those groups worked on it” didn’t seem as substantive a reply as “we were subverting ‘x’ stereotypes for ‘y’ reason” or “this is why those weren’t stereotypes”.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008


    I don’t recall your being involved in any sort of Lord of the Flies event, no. I have not read Chris’s review so I don’t really know what he thinks about the movie. (Obviously he likes it, but I have not sat down and read his review in any detail.) I have indeed made the suggestion that some of the similarity among sciencebloggers could be because of communication (which absolutely did happen) or because of other factors. I’m sticking with my assertion that scienceblogs.com bloggers by and large are not a set of independent data points for a wide range of possible reasons, with communication on the back channel being only one factor that, as you say, does not apply to everyone.

    All Randy is saying is something similar to this but more broadly with science-oriented viewers. This idea has been vehemently rejected by many science bloggers who happen to not like the movie. Maybe it is a bad idea but honestly, the out of hand rejections are a little telling, IMHO.

    Carlie, there is not a comfortable or easy way to address this. I am not allowed to convey to you what I have seen in the back channel, but lets just say that I found it sufficiently disturbing that I’m no longer checking in on that conversation. So no, frankly, while I fully accept and understand and appreciate and have no problem with the obvious and plain fact that X,Y and Z science blogger did not like the movie, I also am not at all comfortable going to bat in support of any particular criticisms that I know of regarding stereotyping (or any other aspect of the movie). I simply don’t trust those opinions.

    I guess I feel this way: Liking a movie vs. not is one thing. The details of why one does or does not like a movie may not be so interesting or relevant from one person to another. It certainly may mean something that 18 (or whatever) science bloggers gave the thumbs down, but while I would trust groups of Sblings to have very valid and valuable opinions about a lot of things, cinematic critique is not one of them.

    I regard the Sblings as a whole as amateurs in this area (because they are) and I’m afraid a lot of my colleagues are not fully aware of this fact. (A lot of them also think they are journalists, a couple think they are thought police of various kinds … huge egos do not make for universal expertise. Just the delusion of universal expertise).

    Yes, there is something about stereotyping going on in the movie. It is used, as I have said. Just see the movie. Come back later and yell at me if you think the stereotyping is gratuitous or harmful. Everyone else yells at me about shit, I can take it.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    And another thing….!

    I just want to make this point. It suddenly dawns on me as I’m about to shut down for the night…

    There has never in all history … never! …. been a film that was not liked or disliked by some group of people. Teenagers like this, chicks like that, guys like the other thing, nerds prefer X, geeks prefer Y, critics like nothing, etc. etc. This is the nature of films. There are groups of people who like a particular film, dislike another.

    It seems that science people do not like Sizzle.

    The only thing that is different between this circumstnace and others is that these science people are insisting that this is god’s truth. They don’t like the film therefore the film is bad. No one else could possibly like it. Anyone else who likes it is wrong. Someone who likes this film is missing something, etc.

    I find it ironic that the people who DO like the film are not in any great way telling those who didn’t like the film that they are simply wrong. Yes, of course, on BOTH (BOTH!) sides people are saying “Hey, didn’t you get this, this was cool” or “Hey, Didn’t you notice this, this totally sucked.” And that is fine, that is how human conversations about thing where people hold differing opinions work.

    I don’t think, though, that it is reasonable for either side in this discussion to be telling the other side that they are simply wrong. More importantly, however, I am beginning to tire of the rejection by science bloggers that there is the possibility that among science oriented viewers there will be a greater rate of disliking the film, just like any film X may be more liked by group Y and less liked by group Z. The rejection of the basic heterogeneity in likes and dislikes … and replacement with some concept of truthosity … is puzzling.

    (and puzzling … that’s a euphemism.)

  18. #18 --bill
    July 18, 2008

    if it’s so clear that many scientists (just by the nature of their being scientists) wouldn’t like this movie, wouldn’t have been smarter to have not asked them to review it in the first place?

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    July 18, 2008

    Further thoughts: “On Critique (or, Randy Olson, erv Is Absolutely Right to Be Kicking Your Ass Right Now)” is up at my blog.


    Basically, Greg, if Olson wants anyone to listen to his thoughts on their reviews, his timing, at the very least, sucks. His general approach isn’t great either, but the timing is really awful.