The Intersection

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[From Sizzle: The scientist meets American culture.]

Yesterday my review of Randy Olson’s Sizzle went up at Science Progress. I absolutely loved and raved about the movie. To my mind it’s exactly the kind of thing we need more of.

So you can imagine how I felt when I surveyed the reactions from many of my fellow ScienceBloggers, who seem to be panning this film and just not getting it.

First, everyone is entitled to his or her aesthetic opinion. And indeed some fellow science bloggers really did like the film, including Bora, Jennifer Ouellette, and Greg Laden, to name a few.

Second, I acknowledge that the merits of Sizzle were debated intensively on the message boards, where I didn’t take part–and are still being debated there. But I still just have to say….I’m mystified with the tone of much of what I’ve read over all.

And so I’d like to make a suggestion: Could it be that, for some of these hypercritical bloggers, Randy Olson’s documentarian character in Sizzle is really their reflection in the mirror? After all, the character is basically a caricature of someone who repeatedly demands facts, facts, facts, and can’t relate to non-scientists, have a good laugh, enjoy a good story.

In my view, what’s so great about Sizzle is the way it asks us to look hard at the insularity of our pro-science community–and the disconnect between the science world and other walks of life, other parts of American culture. In this context, doesn’t the fact that many science bloggers are slamming it–and misunderstanding it–simply validate the film’s central point?

In throwing this idea out there, what I’d hope to encourage is that some of my fellow bloggers consider watching the film again with such thoughts in mind. Meanwhile, I’m going to the screening Saturday night in LA with three friends, and I’m going to mention this movie to everyone I see.

Comments

  1. #1 sng
    July 16, 2008

    Note that I haven’t seen said movie and thus the following question is based off of the reviews that I’ve read here. But what did the racial and gay stereotypes bring to the table?

  2. #2 Philip H.
    July 16, 2008

    Chris,
    I think you hit the nail squarely. I too notice how many pans there were – and not just from your fellow SciBlings. Those who panned Sizzle were expecting a documentary with lots of science, got a MOCK-umentary reminding them they had a long way to go in communicating to ordinary citizens, and then the scientists lacked communication training to understand why this mattered. I also know way too many academic scientists who have lost all ability to laugh at themselves.

    I will be very interested to see, however, how Sizzle changes the course of the Framing debate – if at all.

  3. #3 Samia
    July 16, 2008

    I think more than a few people had issues with the portrayal of black and gay people in the movie. A lot of bloggers who wrote bad reviews don’t seem to be uptight, awkward stereotypical science tightwads at all, and I’m not sure they have any reason to be paranoid about that. It might be interpreted as a bit condescending to say that someone didn’t “understand” the movie if they simply disliked it.

  4. #4 Jon Winsor
    July 16, 2008

    The surest way for Orthogonians to win the Franklin/Orthogonian Culture Wars is for Franklins to be easily baited.

  5. #5 cope
    July 16, 2008

    Well, I certainly overindulged in reading various ScienceBlogs reviews (including yours) and, though I have not seen the move, I think (based on everything I have read) that you may be spot on. I believe psychologists call it “projection”, yes?

    Anyway, I will see the movie eventually and look forward to it.

  6. #6 Nick Anthis
    July 16, 2008

    I watched it twice, actually, before writing my review. I must have gotten a different version from you, though.

    I don’t see how making a hopelessly confusing movie about a subject that scientists have communicated fairly well proves that scientists are such bad communicators.

  7. #7 Nick Anthis
    July 16, 2008

    I’ve posted a response.

    http://scienceblogs.com/scientificactivist/2008/07/sizzle2.php

    It’s nothing personal, Chris, and I think you do great work. But, I just really think you’re off base here.

  8. #8 H.H.
    July 16, 2008

    In this context, doesn’t the fact that many science bloggers are slamming it–and misunderstanding it–simply validate the film’s central point?

    No. No, it does not. The possibility still remains that science bloggers are slamming the film because it is a confusing mess. One cannot invalidate criticism simply by predicting one will be criticized.

  9. #9 Optimus Primate
    July 16, 2008

    Chris,

    I haven’t seen the film yet, so — despite having read most of the reviews — I have no idea whether I’ll like it or not. You may well be right.

    But I just wanted to point out that falling back on the “if you didn’t like it, you didn’t get it” argument doesn’t really help you make your point. Quite frankly, it’s a teensy bit insulting.

  10. #10 razib
    July 16, 2008

    busy now, but i’ll watch it next week. i’m a weirdo, so i don’t have a problem admitting that i might not be prepared to ‘get it’ ;-)

  11. #11 Kate Wing
    July 16, 2008

    Chris, since you don’t actually cite which reviews you’re referring to I’m not sure if I’m one of them or not, but I definitely didn’t think Sizzle is the home run that you and Mark Powell did. For me, that has nothing to do with the topic and everything to do with the acting, editing, and overall story arc.

    With all due respect to Randy and his mom, neither of them are great on camera. Dr. Chil is a great character, in part because we get to see his house and drink with him, a view we don’t get of either of the main climate change scientists. As Nigel would say “This isn’t just about dancing, it’s about entertainment.” I wanted better technique and more entertainment.

    It’s certainly true that scientists (and others) can get all sour grapes about things they don’t get and act as if they never wanted to be part of the cool club anyways. That may in fact be part of the negative reviews. But Sizzle isn’t Caddyshack or even Hollywood Shuffle. It’s legit to point out the problems in the movie. We’re still giving it buzz.

  12. #12 Mike the Mad Biologist
    July 16, 2008

    Chris,

    two reasons why I panned it:
    1) it wasn’t funny (it’s 2008–queeny gay guys? C’mon…)

    2) I don’t agree that the communication problem is largely due to scientists. Do we blame economists for the rampant misunderstandings surrounding Social Security? Maybe there’s a little more there than geeky economists. So too with global warming.

    Olson could have humorously explored a lot of issues. Instead, he just concern trolled.

  13. #13 Chris C. Mooney
    July 16, 2008

    Hi All,
    Hope to respond further later. But this racism/stereotypes thing is just ridiculous.

    1. Sizzle’s screenwriter (along with Randy Olson) is Ifeanyi Njoku. He’s Nigerian-American.

    2. Sizzle is premiering at Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival, and is already accepted to Chicago Reeling Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

    Enuff said.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    July 16, 2008

    OK, my two cents.

    I think there is a serious possibility of people who did not like the film feeling that being told they “don’t get it” will elicit a negative response, and I think that is a reasonable response. I would rather use very different language. It is perfectly reasonable that someone would not like this film … and that can be said probably of every film.

    That said, it is also true (undeniably) that this film was not liked by a lot of scientists and/or science bloggers. There are two ways to look at this:

    1) Science bloggers and scientists really know their shit and the film sucks and everyone else is simply wrong. or

    2) Different people like different films, and for some reason, many science bloggers and scientists end up not liking this film. There are films out there that teachers tend to not like … too much cringing at the middle school antics to enjoy whatever good things might be in the film. Otherwise perfectly good action and adventure films laced with sexual violence are not going to be liked by large groups of people. There is no way to say Group X will all love/hate Film Y. Life is more complex than that. But I can see why a lot of science people would not like this film. I could see that the first time I watched it.

    So be it.

    The point is, yes, there may be a real phenomenon here. It is worth exploration. The sciencebloggers and scientists who panned the film are probably not going to usefully participate in this conversation after a bit of time goes by, and never if they think they are singled out as being wrong. They’re not wrong or incapable of understanding a film at all.

    They’re just special.

    As far as Race and GLBTA issues go, my reading of this is as follows: The people who are complaining about this are the same people (in some cases …. I have not read all the reviews) who a) have little to do with such issue in day to day real life but b) are often the first to jump on a band wagon in which they get to demonstrate their deeply held beliefs that are oh so easily offended.

    This is why I laughed and laughed when I got as a follow up on an inquiery an email from Randy Olson that says almost exactly what Chris’s comment above says. Here I parahpras and add a few of my own sentiments.

    If you have a general complaint about the movie, contact Randy Olson, director.

    If you have a comment about the race angle, contact the screenplay authors, Nigerian-American Ifeanyi Njoku and Randy Olson.

    If you have a comment about the gay angle, contact co-creator Brian Clark. He’ll fix you up.

    Ms. Helen Wait is the production companies complaint manager. Any comments that can’t be handled by the above, go to Helen Wait.

    (Sorry, could not resist adding that last part).

    Is this a “some of my best friends are black” cop out? No, it’s “the guy who wrote the screen play is black, so maybe you’re an uptight moron” answer to the question “oh, doesn’t this offend black people.”

  15. #15 Shirakawasuna
    July 16, 2008

    “1. Sizzle’s screenwriter (along with Randy Olson) is Ifeanyi Njoku. He’s Nigerian-American.

    2. Sizzle is premiering at Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival, and is already accepted to Chicago Reeling Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

    Enuff said.”

    Yeah, not so much. I don’t think anyone has accused Randy nor the participants in the film of being racist or homophobic, and that’s the only thing I could see your response effectively dealing with. Are you unaware of people using stereotypes that would apply to themselves and others they have no beef against?

    Anywho, I have trouble figuring out what your thinking is behind these posts, Chris. They come off as arrogant and condescending, from the assertion that people must not understand what you’re saying in order to disagree with it (it’s so very obviously implied) to labeling them and asserting (with superficial qualifiers) that they’re defensive because there’s actually *truth* to what’s being said. These are the classical rationalization methods of people who are *wrong*, Chris, and it’s time you realized it. Even if your general points are correct, the way you deal with critics or people you disagree with is fundamentally flawed and you can see it in how people react to what you say.

    Now, this has all been personal, but there’s few ways to deal with it effectively without doing so. You need to work on your communication abilities if you want to tout yourself as an effective communicator or come across as credible when recommending others to fill that role. Well, it’s either that or you really do have near-unshakable contempt (which is fighting your sense of decency, hence the qualifiers) for the scientists who disagree with you on certain issues and their views, which is what the “tone” of these posts gets across. I think it’s the communication, of course, but that’s only because of the context established from when I used to read this blog regularly.

  16. #16 Shirakawasuna
    July 17, 2008

    I don’t think I captured the entirety of my point with the racism/gay (non)issue, so I’ll try again: there is a difference between accusing someone of being homophobic and racist and not finding comedy built on racial/gay stereotypes funny, or even finding them distasteful. This is not a hard distinction to get and I think the misunderstanding is probably due to the ‘blinders’ people get when they deal with people who disagree with them.

  17. #17 Samia
    July 17, 2008

    Some of us who actually know more than one gay and black people in real life may be operating under the quaint delusion that not every member of a minority group has the same opinion of what is demeaning to them. Some people are more fed up with the stereotypes than others. I am in the “fed up” group for personal reasons, but I’m a lot more sensitive than some of my friends. It’s something we talk about quite a bit, and agreeing to disagree is quite routine. ;) I don’t think calling someone’s sincere concern “ridiculous” is terribly productive. But I am really happy to hear that Sizzle will be screened at a queer film festival. Outfest sounds like a ton of fun!

    Random: yesterday I went out for a salad with a gal pal and we somehow meandered onto the topic of strange racist shit we’ve experienced. She told me someone once asked her if black people have tails. Totally serious question. She handled it quite well and politely explained a few facts of life to this dude. He later thanked her profusely for not punching his lights out immediately. Everyone’s threshold is different. Some people can handle just about anything, others are just fed up with the stereotypes because they really are everywhere and it’s just effing annoying, you know? Just something to keep in mind. :)

    Anyway, I’m kinda curious about Sizzle because the idea of a more lighthearted approach to the global warming issue intrigues me. And I am interested in the “stodgy scientists” thing, but that might be because I’d enjoy a decent parody of some of my least favourite teachers. ;) I also heard good things about Flock of Dodos. Will Sizzle hit theaters or go direct to video?

  18. #18 Zuska
    July 17, 2008

    Hi All,
    Hope to respond further later. But this racism/stereotypes thing is just ridiculous.

    1. Sizzle’s screenwriter (along with Randy Olson) is Ifeanyi Njoku. He’s Nigerian-American.

    2. Sizzle is premiering at Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival, and is already accepted to Chicago Reeling Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

    Enuff said.

    Um, maybe not so, Chris. A gay and lesbian film festival recently finished running here in Philadelphia and at least one of the films was panned for negative portrayals and the festival as a whole was critiqued for the paucity of films featuring lesbians. Mere entry into a film festival does not automatically give a film “cred”. Some other Sciencebloggers had serious critiques of the portrayal of the gay and black characters in Sizzle. Maybe you should take a second look.

  19. #19 DrugMonkey
    July 17, 2008

    Have you gone completely and utterly mad Chris?

    Black and gay people are involved in this so it can’t possibly be offensive/trite/tired to other black or gay people?

    That’s an “enuff said” defense?

  20. #20 H.H.
    July 17, 2008

    Greg Laden said:

    The point is, yes, there may be a real phenomenon here. It is worth exploration. The sciencebloggers and scientists who panned the film are probably not going to usefully participate in this conversation after a bit of time goes by, and never if they think they are singled out as being wrong. They’re not wrong or incapable of understanding a film at all.

    They’re just special.

    But it is not at all clear that there is a phenomenon here. The scientists and Sciencebloggers who disliked this film are only “special” if it goes on to garner mostly glowing reviews. But if the film, in fact, continues to garner mostly tepid or mixed reviews, then they wouldn’t really be special at all. Their opinions would fall squarely within the majority.

    In that case, the “special” ones would be those few who found Sizzle to be “hilarious” and “profound.” Time will tell, I suppose.

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    July 17, 2008

    Wait…what’s hypocritical about not caring much for the movie?

    A lot of us did get it — that it’s a movie about how scientists are doing a poor job of getting the message out to people — and several of the participants in my review made exactly that point. But they also noticed that this movie itself did a poor job of communicating its message. I think what we wanted to see was a movie that did less carping about how oblivious scientists are, and did more to actually demonstrate a productive approach to communicating science. Why not make a movie that uses humor and an appeal to people’s day-to-day needs to make a case for global warming awareness? I know — that’s not the movie Randy made, which was a movie that used humor to poke at the failures of scientists. Ultimately, though, that’s not a very exciting premise.

  22. #22 razib
    July 17, 2008

    Black and gay people are involved in this so it can’t possibly be offensive/trite/tired to other black or gay people?

    ok. so i didn’t really like the film. i also found the stereotypes a little weird in this time and place and context. that being said, how is anyone going to be able to make a film is the stipulation is no one be offended??? if you had a black guy eating a watermelon with big red lips; thaz offensive. but what about the borderline cases where people disagree??? i don’t think that the fact that a black dude was involved means that it isn’t going to be offensive to some black people…but where does this stop?

    anyway, i didn’t even like the film too much. i guess mostly cuz i thought it wasn’t too funny.

  23. #23 Matti K.
    July 17, 2008

    PZ, I think Mooney used the term “hypercritical” (not hypocritical), which in his context means having the opinion that Olsons movie is less than wonderful.

  24. #24 dominich
    July 17, 2008

    Not seen the film yet, and if the balance of reviews I’ve seen so far are an accurate description of its quality, I’m not sure I want to.

    This is therefore a general comment on the stereotyping issue and the way it is being addressed in this thread (and others).

    The issue with stereotyping is not necessarily just that members of a group may be offended by a stereotypical depiction of members of that group.

    It is also (and maybe even more importantly) that stereotypical depictions will tend to reinforce stereotypical views of the group held by rest of the audience.

    The issues of whether the depiction was played (successfully or not) for laughs or that it was a self depiction by a group member are completely irrelevant.

    It is the effect on the general viewer that is important and I would have expected a professional communicator to have regard for that.

    If a black comic in front of a predominantly white audience uses the ‘n word’, does that give me dispensation to use it? Might it lead some of the audience to think it was OK?

  25. #25 MartinM
    July 17, 2008

    Wait…what’s hypocritical about not caring much for the movie?

    Yeah, that’s how I read it first time around, too. It actually says hypercritical, though.

  26. #26 PhysioProf
    July 17, 2008

    But this racism/stereotypes thing is just ridiculous.

    1. Sizzle’s screenwriter (along with Randy Olson) is Ifeanyi Njoku. He’s Nigerian-American.

    2. Sizzle is premiering at Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival, and is already accepted to Chicago Reeling Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.

    Enuff said.

    This is satire, right?

  27. #27 Ian
    July 17, 2008

    “Could it be that, for some of these hypercritical bloggers, Randy Olson’s documentarian character in Sizzle is really their reflection in the mirror?”

    Or could it be that they simply disagree and think Olson’s approach was both insulting and inappropriate?

    Perhaps it is you who needs to take a look in the mirror – one which is properly framed of course, and really see what you’re writing.

    The people you’re talking about have already proven themselves to be effective communicators since they are blogging and garnering an audience. You seem to be forgetting that. I wonder why?

    Worse than that, you’re insulting your fellow bloggers who have repeatedly proven themselves capable of communicating in an effective and fun-loving way.

    I wonder why?

  28. #28 Stephanie Z
    July 17, 2008

    The thing about stereotypes in a comedy is that almost every character starts as one. It gives the filmmaker a set of viewer expectations to violate. The question is where do these characters end up? Are they still stereotypes by the end of the movie?

  29. #29 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    Samia: I will be very interested to hear what you say once you’ve actually seen the film. Having not personally used the word ridiculous, I could drop that part of the discussion, but Chris may not be too far off if he really is criticizing white liberal guilt. How does a white liberal distinguish between stereotype and humor? How does a black liberal do the same thing?

    I will tell you this: The two characters in this movie who are black are all over the place in terms of their personality, so given the nature of stereotypes, no more than half of their total representation in the film, roughly, can be pure stereotype. So that helps.

    Since the film is opening in two days at a gay film festival, we will probably find out soon what, at least, the gay film festival going community things about it.

    H.H.: True, but there are positive reviews. About half the reviews I know of say “go see it” and of them a smaller number loved it. There are also focus groups (I’ve blogged on this) whereby the non-scientist groups generally liked through loved it and the science groups did not.

    It already does look like there is a phenomenon based on more than one intersecting line of evidence.

    The other piece of evidence is the kind of one-on-one I’ve had with a number of scientists.

    “This was a sucky documentary” (the scientist)

    “It was not a documentary. Read the box.”

    “OK, it was a MOCKumentary, but about global warming. Global warming needs to be demonstrated with data”

    “Data is what you put in a documentary or a slide show. Regular people turn off the moment you start showing data”

    “OK, right, but they should have had more than that one graph on global warming, they needed to also describe how we know what we claim about climate change”

    “That one graph was a JOKE. It was the one single graph that everyone who has one GW slide in their lecture uses … This was not a documentary”

    “Right, I GET that … not a documentary. But it was a FILM about global warming and there fore should have put global warming research in the proper perspective, talked about methods and at least privided a FEW facts.”

    and so on and so forth.

    Like the song goes. Blinded with science. It is a side effect for many of being a scientist.

    Bottom line: Some people are saying to the scientists “Hey, you are affected, in this instance. Sorry, but there is a bias here.”

    And the scientists are saying “Right, I understand biases and stuff, I’ll just step aside from the bias and render an UNbiased opinion. Oh, funny that, my UNbiased opinion happens to be the same as my BIASED opinion. ”

    IF the people who are saying that the scientists are affected, then this does not work. This is a question, in the end, that is very much the same form as the one Samia is asking above, isn’t it? Who gets to be the one to step outside the little universe we’re working in here and see the truth?

  30. #30 Ian
    July 17, 2008

    “1. Sizzle’s screenwriter (along with Randy Olson) is Ifeanyi Njoku. He’s Nigerian-American.”

    So if a Nigerian-American creates a racist stereotype, it’s not a racist stereotype? If a homosexual creates a gay stereotype it’s magically not a gay stereotype?

    You seem not to be getting this in the same way you didn’t get it with the framing blow-up a while back over “Expelled”. Olson has effectively made an “Expelled” for global warming.

    Every time a little insulting and stereoptyping slips by, it’s tacitly accepting it and letting it build until it becomes ugly and so much harder to deal with.

    If that’s what you’re in favor of, then please, go on supporting the gratuitous inclusion of these stereotypes in a film which had nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality or racism, but which, by opening itself up to these criticisms is actually misdirecting people from the message Olson wanted to send. How’s that for framing?

    What concerns me just as much is the negative stereotyping of scientists. I see a lot of those who favored the film talking about people not getting the subtleties of it.

    Exactly how subtle is it to paint ham-fisted stereotypes of scientists and laugh at them, and then ask a group of successful science communicators (the bloggers here) to validate it and then insult them when they refuse? How’s that for framing?

    “2. Sizzle is premiering at Outfest, a gay and lesbian film festival, and is already accepted to Chicago Reeling Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.”

    I know you can do better than this. If a creationist or a global warming denialist had put up a straw man of this caliber, Chris, you’d be all over them like white on rice. It makes me dispair that you don’t see it and you’re buying into this misdirection.

    The acceptance of this film is a comment on how the gay community feels about global warming. It has nothing to do with the portrayal (or not) of stereotypes.

    It actually begs the question as to why it is opening at that festival. It makes me wonder if Olson understands what he did and is trying to assuage guilt.

    What Olson was trying to do is complain that scientists don’t know how to communicate. The problem is that he fails to communicate it! He’s failed with all-too-many scientists at sci-blogs who have a proven track record and quite evidently know how to communicate science in a fun and interesting way.

    That ought to speak loudly to Olson, but from what I see, he’s not listening. If he’s not prepared to listen and learn and take this where we all want him to take it, then why even bother asking you guys to review the film in the first place?

    IMO, his most serious failure was where he tried to show what he thought was the answer (assuming he got the question right). This is what I’ve called the Big Easy Lie.

    Olson whisked everyone away to the Big Easy to show “the human face of global warming”. The Big Easy Lie is that what happened in New Orleans had nothing whatsoever to do with global warming. It was solely to do with a massive hurricane hitting in the wrong place and the appalling lack of preparedness for it. This same thing would have happened in the same circumstances whether the Earth was warming, cooling, or going nowhere.

    If a creationist or a global warming denialist had used a ploy like this, you’d have torn them to shreds. Yet Olson does it and you have nothing to say?

    Nuff said.

  31. #31 Orac
    July 17, 2008

    Hope to respond further later. But this racism/stereotypes thing is just ridiculous.

    Weak.

    Just because an African-American wrote it doesn’t inoculate it from such criticisms, nor does its acceptance at a Gay-Lesbian film festival. I haven’t watched it yet, because I had other very bad things going on last weekend, but this strikes me as a lame defense in general.

  32. #32 Janet D. Stemwedel
    July 17, 2008

    PZ, I think Chris said “hypercritical”, not “hypocritical”.

    And the defense of the film as not engaging in stereotypes of African Americans and gays on the basis of who was involved in the project — rather than any defense of the actual content — does not persuade me. Especially since I watched that film and its content seven times.

  33. #33 Chris C. Mooney
    July 17, 2008

    I guess I expressed myself badly. I didn’t find the film offensive. I am one person, though, and obviously other people can disagree about what is and isn’t a troublesome stereotype. So I shouldn’t have said “ridiculous,” because it isn’t ridiculous, it’s subjective.

    I said “hypercritical” because that’s one of the biggest problems on scienceblogs to my mind–endless negativity and attacks. And now the negativity has been brought to bear on a talented scientist-filmmaker who is trying, without big time funding, to communicate broadly about key scientific topics. Randy Olson is someone we ought to be supporting, but that’s the farthest thing from what I see happening. And I find it so depressing. How does this treatment of Randy’s film help the cause of science?

    To me, it is just more foot-shooting, more eating of our own. It’s the reason I don’t blog much here any more, except when I think it’s really important–like, say, to stand up for someone like Randy.

  34. #34 Laelaps
    July 17, 2008

    As others have already aptly pointed out who creates a stereotype doesn’t exonerate it from being offensive. That argument is BS, and I’m very interested to see the reaction the film will get at the film festival this weekend.

    I also don’t buy the “blinded by science” shtick, particularly since the other side of the argument is “Oh, you can’t expect us to back up what we say with any kind of evidence whatsoever; you’re being too literal” or “You need to give up rationality to enjoy the film.” Lots of people have found the film confusing, and looking at it both ways (as a film about global warming and a film about science communication) I don’t think it works. If we’re all such blind, biased, and terrible communicators then why not demonstrate how to make climate change relevant and take a more productive approach rather than continuing the stereotype that scientists can’t effectively communicate with the public and leaving it at that?

  35. #35 gillt
    July 17, 2008

    I love it when Mooney patronizes his audience by telling them that the reason they don’t like something is because they don’t get it…and we can ignore it because it’s baseless. Anyway, I have a question:

    Who is the intended audience for this film? If it is the science community, then Mooney’s claim that many science bloggers–who are scientists–just don’t get it can only be interpreted as a hefty broadside to Olson’s film. If the audience is the lay-community, then the movie is a vehicle for reinforcing stereotypes of scientists as witless nerds. And so, as a mockumentary it fails in the same respect the recent New Yorker cover fails in its satire of the Obamas.

  36. #36 Bee
    July 17, 2008

    Not having seen the film, I can’t very well criticize it. I can, though, offer my reaction to Chris Mooney’s responses to the people who did not like the film, and my reaction is certainly affected by past events at ScineceBlogs.

    I’m a visual artist with no science education past high school, other than what I’ve chosen to learn since. I know and have known quite a few scientists. I have not found scientists personally to be worse communicators than anyone else, particularly when explaining something they are enthusiastic about.

    I am very sceptical about the whole ‘framing’ issue. The issue has always seemed to me that American media does not do well in communicating what scientists tell them, not because scientists communicate poorly, but because reporters and editors (in all media) are not terribly well-educated or interested in science and use such communications as ‘catchy’, edited down to fluff, filler, often with disastrous results for the science. There is also the issue of the journalist’s mantra of ‘presenting both sides’ to sell controversy, without ever paying attention to whether one side is severely lacking in facts or integrity. Why isn’t this issue an important one for the ‘framers’?

    Chris, if this is how you think communicating is done – ur doin it rong’. Telling people the film’s use of black and gay stereotypes is okay because black and gay people were involved in making the film is stupid. Stereotypes are for bad television sit-coms, and even there they provoke that rolling-of-the-eyes reaction that should tell you most thinking people are tired of them. It doesn’t matter if the screenwriter is black – quite a few people have said they found the stereotyping offensive; telling them it isn’t won’t change their minds, or the minds of the next thousand people who see the same thing.

    Using New Orleans as an example of GW’s effects is stupid. It isn’t any such thing, and most people who care in the least about climate change, believers or non-believers, are aware of that, even us great unwashed non-scientists non-framers. You think no one’s going to notice?

    The science bloggers at this site are a perfect example of scientists communicating freely about what they love and how it affects them and us. It works: thousands of people visit this place every day. Yet Chris and the Framers keep insisting that scientists are a monolithic humourless crowd of esoteric equation spouters, flying in the face of easily observed reality. Why?

    I keep reading that Chris et al are great communicators, yet I’ve almost never agreed with them on any major issue that’s come up so far. It always looks like they are picking up the wrong end of the stick, and it always sounds as if they cannot deal with criticism without claiming the critics ‘don’t understand’. Again, if people don’t understand, then you are failing to communicate effectively.

  37. #37 PZ Myers
    July 17, 2008

    <latella>Oh. Never mind.</latella>

    But wait! I wasn’t hypercritical, either! I went into the movie hoping it would provide us with better tools for communicating science. I want Olson to succeed. If anything, I felt like I was trying harder to find good things to say about it than I would for the average documentary.

  38. #38 Kate
    July 17, 2008

    I have to say, I just don’t see the stereotypes in the movie. Mitch and Antoine were my favorite characters because they were fully formed and, well, I know guys like them. Flaky, self-absorbed hollywood types, guys who are working tech jobs to break into film and ripping it up at Luka’s on Saturday nights. Antoine’s really the center of the film, explaining to Randy why his vision isn’t working.

    Comedy works when you believe the characters. Sizzle’s got a couple of cop-out jokes (the ‘saved us from a gang’ story, old white people talking ‘gangsta’ — very Boost commercial) but I chalk that to lazy writing. Maybe we need to change our expert group and get the psych and film blogging community involved in this thread, not just Sciencebloggers. I can dust out my old film theory books on the “representation of the other.”

  39. #39 gwangung
    July 17, 2008

    The science bloggers at this site are a perfect example of scientists communicating freely about what they love and how it affects them and us. It works: thousands of people visit this place every day. Yet Chris and the Framers keep insisting that scientists are a monolithic humourless crowd of esoteric equation spouters, flying in the face of easily observed reality. Why?

    Scienceblogs is not the perfect counterexample because it’s a self-selected audience. It is, in fact, an easily observed reality that SUPPORTS Chris and the Framers, because it’s not a set of blogs that people in other, selected segments of the general population can easily pick up on or get something out of.

  40. #40 penguindreams
    July 17, 2008

    I suppose I should confess that I’m a scientist. Worse, I work on or near climate and have for over 20 years.

    That said, I find it baffling that Chris or anyone else believes that is is news to me or anyone else in the field that lots of people think that scientists

    ” … repeatedly demands facts, facts, facts, and can’t relate to non-scientists, have a good laugh, enjoy a good story.” and be disconnected from other walks of life or culture.

    I’ve known that this is the image for 40 years now. Add in ‘pencil necked geeks’, ‘mad scientists out to rule the world’, ‘ivory tower’, ‘welfare queens in white coats’, ‘have no life’, ‘have no emotions’ (Spock was supposed to be our role model — according to pretty much everyone _except_ any scientist I’ve ever talked to), and quite a few other things, all negative.

    Somehow a movie that plays up a bunch of stereotypes about scientists is supposed to be news to us? Hardly.

    News would be a movie that showed a scientist who _did_ communicate well with non-scientists, coached his kid’s baseball team, ran marathons, played (All-Star even) on his work softball team. Aside from the debatable first comment, I’m one such. (I do look pretty geeky, though, so they could preserve that stereotype.)

    The thing about that “scientists can’t communicate to ‘ordinary’ people” stereotype, which we’ve all seen since birth, is that it encourages us to not try, and give up at the first failure. We’re doomed to failure anyhow (says the stereotype). Its merit and effect is on par with ‘girls can’t do math’.

    Since I don’t find stereotypes interesting, I’m going to be talking at a Cafe Scientifique in 2 weeks (Annapolis). Topic is ice ages this month, sea ice in October. Anyone with constructive suggestions on how to make it a good chat is welcome to drop me a note. ‘don’t act like a scientist’ is not a useful comment.

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    July 17, 2008

    So if a Nigerian-American creates a racist stereotype, it’s not a racist stereotype?

    No of course not, that is absurd. I feel rather insulted that you would assume this level of consideration. Wow.

    But, if a pasty white middle class lab rat tells me that there are racial stereotpyes in a movie, so it is a bad movie, and one of the screenplay writers and a couple of the key actors are experienced performers/writers/directors and happen to be black (African and/or African american) then I might question the the degree to which I take Pasty White Lab Rat seriously.

    Seriously…

    Furthermore it is totally blindingly obvious that the use of stereotypes in the first half of this movie are meant to be stereotypes. They are playing off of stereotypes, and not just of African Americans, but some others as well (like the scientists, hollywood stars, and so on).

    BEE: I have not found scientists personally to be worse communicators than anyone else, particularly when explaining something they are enthusiastic about.

    I tend to agree with you that among scientists there are some excellent explainers of things. However, it is also true that science as a discipline has done a lousy job of explaining itself.

    This has nothing to do with framing, by the way. Framing is a methodology of analyzing and effecting communication. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Randy use the term “framing”. (now watch, he’ll probably use it this PM on the NPR Talk of the Nation show he’s doing!!!!!)

    I absolutely believe that PZ Myers was not being hypercritical. I know he was not. I think he just didn’t like the movie. Presumably because he studies EvoDevo and that ruin’s one’s ability to appreciate movies set in California.

    Kate: Did you see the connection between Sizzle and Altman’s entire career? Brilliant.

  42. #42 Joel
    July 17, 2008

    I haven’t seen the film, so I cannot really comment much about it.

    What I would like to comment about is the idea that we should tolerate the stereotypes. I say, screw that and just because the people making them are black, gay and a women doesn’t make them any more acceptable than if the stereotypes were coming from some idiot bigot.

  43. #43 idlemind
    July 18, 2008

    Some of this reminds me of those who defended Michelle Malkin by saying that she couldn’t possibly be racist for defending the internment of Japanese-Americans since she’s Asian herself. It’s the epitome of naiveté to assume that it’s not possible for someone to show prejudice against a group of people because they superficially physically resemble them. The world isn’t divided into four or five groups of people, each with uniform views.

  44. #44 ponderingfool
    July 18, 2008

    And so I’d like to make a suggestion: Could it be that, for some of these hypercritical bloggers, Randy Olson’s documentarian character in Sizzle is really their reflection in the mirror? After all, the character is basically a caricature of someone who repeatedly demands facts, facts, facts, and can’t relate to non-scientists, have a good laugh, enjoy a good story.
    *************************
    Who is this movie for? Obviously I have not seen it since it has not been released.

    From some of what has been written it is a critique of scientists (at least those that study global warming) in terms of how they communicate the knowledge and predictions generated from their science.

    It also from what I can tell reading all the reviews presents in a humorous (or not depending on who you are) manner why a person should care about climate change.

    It was handed out to a slew of science bloggers (scientists, philosophers of science, science policy wonks, science writers), people who are scientifically well educated. If the movie was to get them to respond in a major way to change their approach, then based on the reviews the movie was not very successful. If they “did not get it” then well the movie failed to communicate to them.

    If it is a film for the general public (or the ones who would go see a documentary) to get them to care more about global warming why send it the science bloggers? Why have the critique of the communication of science?

    From the sound of it the movie tries to be too many things and ends up not doing any of them particularly well. The problem with satire if it is not done well it tends to fall into stereotyping which is what many are responding to would be my guess (though as I said, I haven’t seen it, just responding to the myriad of opinions out there).

  45. #45 amk
    July 18, 2008

    Send a screener copy to movie reviewers, such as James Berardinelli or Jim Emerson, and see how they assess the film.

  46. #46 Josh Rosenau
    July 18, 2008

    In my review, I didn’t mention the race/gay angle because it wasn’t a big deal, but it did bug me as I watched the movie. It distracted me from the movie’s point, and I don’t know what was gained by doing that. It made the whole thing seem half-assed. Far from the movie’s greatest flaw, but not worth dismissing so casually.

  47. #47 Orac
    July 18, 2008

    I haven’t seen the movie, but here’s my “meta-take” on the whole kerfluffle as an outsider, along with a bit of a challenge to the great science communicators:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/07/a_real_challenge_for_science_communication.php

  48. #48 cashmoney
    July 18, 2008

    But, if a pasty white middle class lab rat tells me that there are racial stereotpyes in a movie, so it is a bad movie, and one of the screenplay writers and a couple of the key actors are experienced performers/writers/directors and happen to be black (African and/or African american) then I might question the the degree to which I take Pasty White Lab Rat seriously.

    So if I a parsing your confused writing properly, we should be ignoring you as a Pasty White Blogger, Greg?

  49. #49 windy
    July 19, 2008

    OK, I understand wanting to play off stereotypes, but Chris suggests on Science Progress that the movie goes further and provides

    a little-heard African-American and gay perspective on climate change, and thereby further dramatized the incredibly vast gap between how scientists think about the issue and how ordinary people do.

    Is there a perspective on climate change that’s particular to African-Americans or gays? Perhaps you can argue that the Katrina survivors provide the first one but what about the second one?

  50. #50 James Hrynyshyn
    July 19, 2008

    Allow me to belatedly pile on poor Chris.

    “doesn’t the fact that many science bloggers are slamming it–and misunderstanding it–simply validate the film’s central point?”

    So, if we liked the film, the film’s thesis is sound, and if we slammed it, the film’s thesis is sound.

    I just thought it was a poorly done film.
    http://scienceblogs.com/islandofdoubt/2008/07/sizzle_a_review.php

  51. #51 Wes
    July 22, 2008

    Is there a perspective on climate change that’s particular to African-Americans or gays? Perhaps you can argue that the Katrina survivors provide the first one but what about the second one?

    Posted by: windy | July 19, 2008 4:16 PM

    Well… Fundamentalist TV preachers have a tendency to blame destructive weather events on gays. I guess that’s a perspective of sorts.

  52. #52 windy
    July 22, 2008

    Wes: :)

    That was a serious question, Chris, by the way.