The Intersection

…about, like, things people don’t want to hear. But if you do want to hear, listen to this Skepticality podcast. I’ll quote a particularly poignant part of it, from Olson discussing how little the science world does to support innovative attempts at communication (around minute 40):

What if there’s some sixteen year old kid right now that is making great short films about evolution. How can that person get any sort of recognition and support, how can somebody guide them to the place where they can get a hundred thousand dollars to make a documentary film about some aspect of evolution. It doesn’t go on. There’s no points of entry for it.

Again, you can listen to the Skepticality podcast here.


  1. #1 pough
    May 15, 2008

    I’m going to turn this around and say that the burden is more correctly placed on people like Randy Olson and Chris Mooney; people who not only know communication but also personally know scientists and could create a point of entry.

  2. #2 Joe
    May 15, 2008

    There’s someone giving teenagers $100K to make movies? Most public school districts in the US can only dream of a grant that large for teaching science.

  3. #3 Cameron
    May 15, 2008

    That student could upload them to YouTube or as a video podcast in iTunes. He/She could then email a noteworthy blogger, point out his project, and hope for some link love. Could that be a point of entry?

  4. #4 Inoculated Mind
    May 15, 2008

    I’m going to check out this episode – I think Randy Olson is right – there needs to be avenues for students interested in doing media projects to promote science, so that they can have the possibility of realizing their ideas, testing them out. Points of entry are REALLY difficult in established media – getting a radio show, for example, is really hard to do. But podcasts are easier, small community stations are easier, but you’re still limited in scope due to funding, mentorship, etc. Just getting equipment to go DO the project, and paying for your rent and food while you do it can keep your idea locked up in your head forever.

    The media needs to have more opportunities for experimental approaches to [science] communication, and science needs to help out more. Science students who want to do media projects (myself included, personal bias noted.) need the money to be able to do it, the time to divert from research, and the media mentorship to make it work. Media students need mentorship, education, and editing help from scientists.

  5. #5 Davis
    May 15, 2008

    I’m all for providing help for such people, but who in the “science world” should be responsible for providing such entry points? More importantly, where is the money going to come from? The NSF certainly doesn’t have that kind of spare cash, nor do most science-producing organizations. $100k may be peanuts in the movie industry, but it’s serious cash from the perspective of most researchers.

    I’m not someplace where I can listen to the podcast right now, but I’d be curious how Randy addresses these obvious questions.

  6. #6 Randy Olson
    May 15, 2008

    Yes they do. Take a look at the millions of dollars that NSF and the major foundations pour into “blue chip” science and nature documentary series. I’m not saying get rid of those projects, I’m saying that any investor will tell you to put 80% of your funds into blue chip stocks, and 20% into smaller, higher risk plays.

    The science world puts 100% of its funds into the same traditional media, over and over again. Where are the smaller, higher risk efforts, and where does someone with a smaller, higher risk project (such as when I made “Flock of Dodos”) go to find such funding? If they are making a pro-I.D. film they go to the Discovery Institute. If they are making a pro-evolution film they go to PBS and get told that other people are already doing something on the subject. And this is not “bitterness” from me, I’m doing fine and about to premiere a fun new movie. It’s just the facts of the situation. Read George Lakoff’s books and essays, he’ll tell you about it in detail.

    There is no fostering of innovation going on in the mass communication of science. No breeding grounds for independent voices. There is a simple need for greater diversity.

  7. #7 caynazzo
    May 16, 2008

    Starting from a generalization, Olsen points out that scientists have a problem communicating Evolution. Here’s Olson diagnosing the problem in the podcast and in his talks to academics titled “Don’t Be Such A Scientist.”

    “Thin-skinned evolutionists aren’t interested in the truth,” oh, and, “spend too much time in the laboratory.” And thus are double failures: 1) communicating Evolutionary Theory to the masses. 2) recognizing that the first failure is a problem, and therefore also a failure. Therefore, the Creationists are winning, presumably because they’re spending less time in the laboratory.

    Did it ever occur to Olsen it’s not so much that scientists have a problem explaining evolutionary theory to the public–any more than they have a “problem” getting across atomic physics or body mass index–but that certain religious sects have a great big honking problem with Darwinism and engage in a concerted well-funded campaign of cognitive dissonance in media, government and education?

    Here’s another Olsen gem: Dawkins, Eugene Scott and PZ Myers “allowed themselves to be interview unknowingly?”
    Not only does this make zero sense, it’s specious.

    To quote H.L. Mencken “That conflict was not begun by science. It did not start with an invasion of the proper field of theological speculation by scientific raiders. It started with an invasion of the field of science by theological raiders…A defensive war is not enough; there must be a forthright onslaught upon the theological citadel, and every effort must be made to knock it down.”

New comments have been disabled.