When I published my review of Sizzle yesterday, I felt like adding a reluctant-parent-disciplinarian-esque “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” qualifier. Although I felt that Randy Olson’s heart was in the right place, I just didn’t have many positive things to say about his new movie, and I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of writing such a negative review. But, since I had been recruited–like so many others–to participate in this science blogosphere-wide experiment before seeing the movie, I went along grudgingly.
Fortunately for me, various events today have helped ease my guilty conscience. The first was a somewhat Orwellian email sent to the participating bloggers with the subject line “SIZZLE TUESDAY: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”. I’d like to think that this was supposed to be a clever and ironic play on the Bush aircraft carrier landing, but, following from my experience with this movie, all I can really say for certain is who the fuck knows? (Although I really doubt any irony was intended here.) The rest of the email was much more nuanced, but it did claim 27 positive reviews to 18 negatives. That’s pretty optimistic. Browse through the links on the Sizzle Tuesday page, and you might come to a different conclusion.
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?
There’s something to this, in that non-scientists were much more likely to give the movie a favorable review than scientists. But, that’s about it. And, let’s get one thing straight right away: Sizzle is not a funny movie… unless you really like black and gay stereotypes. In that case, you’ll probably think it’s really funny.
Mooney says that we should just watch it again. Well, I did watch the movie twice before I wrote my review. Maybe Mooney was watching a different movie from me. Maybe I just didn’t “get it”. Maybe Mooney needs to concretely explain to me what the movie’s “central point” is, because I must have missed it. I’m a humorless scientist, though, so I might not understand unless his explanation is in the form of a PowerPoint presentation.
I’m not just being facetious. I really would like someone to explain to me what the point of this movie was and who it was aimed at. Because, as I wrote yesterday:
At a time when there is a broad consensus on global warming in the scientific community and to a large extent in the political community outside of the US–and in a year when even the Republican presidential nominee seems somewhat serious about addressing global warming–I don’t know what role there is for a movie like this that an gives inordinate amount of time to skeptics and denialists and just seems to confuse the issues.
If anything, Sizzle can be seen as a commentary on the media and on our scientific communicators. The only people who communicate science effectively in the movie are the actual scientists. Not only does Olson’s fictionalized character in the movie not help the situation, but he actively hinders the transmission of the message from the scientist to the viewer. That’s intentional. But what’s not intentional–as far as I can tell–is that real life Olson has the same effect in making a movie that spends more time with global warming skeptics and denialists than climate scientists and obscures a message that scientists have been doing their best to effectively communicate.
No, I don’t think that the scientists–or even the science bloggers–need to turn a mirror on themselves. The communicators do. The professional communicators. Just as the media has time after time missed the point on a whole range of scientific issues by equating non-scientific objections with legitimate scientific controversy and so confused the public, Sizzle takes a straightforward issue and turns it upside-down, inside-out, and mangles it almost beyond recognition. If this isn’t a commentary on how our media treats global warming and other scientific issues, I’m not sure what it is.
I have a lot of respect for Mooney, and I think that he is a very talented political journalist. On this issue, though, he’s way off base.