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The Sciences

Randy Olson's Forthcoming Book: Don't Be Such a Scientist

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyMay 30, 2009 9:59 PM


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Olson, a scientist and filmmaker whose work we much admire, has a book coming out in September that dovetails with many of the things we've also been saying about the problem of science communication. It has this provocative title: Don't Be Such a Scientist:Talking Substance in an Age of Style. A book website has just gone up, and the table of contents are thusly described:

Introduction - The need for a new approach to science communication in an age of information overload. In the words of communication theorist Richard Lanham ("The Economics of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information," 2007), "style and substance, and our expectations for them, have changed places." It's not about "dumbing down," it's about using style as a means of communicating substance. Chapter 1 - Don't Be So Cerebral - The need to draw on other organs of the body than just the brain.

Chapter 2 - Don't Be So Literal Minded - The need to arouse before fulfilling

Chapter 3 - Don't Be Such a Poor Storyteller - The need to tell a good story while still maintaining accuracy

Chapter 4 - Don't Be So Unlikeable - The need to appreciate the dynamics of a negating profession in a society that prefers affirmation.

Chapter 5 - Be the Voice of Science - Carl Sagan exemplified each of these admonitions -- able to act as much as think, willing to innovate in the communication of science, a great storyteller, and hugely likeable. With todays advancements in communication such as blogs and videos, scientists no longer need to sit and wait to be discovered by journalists. Today, they themselves can reach the mass audience through the internet. They can indeed be the voice of science.

All of which strikes me as very good advice if you want to communicate science to non-scientists...although also bound to be controversial. Anyway, just as with ours, we recommend that you preorder Olson's book

. There seems to be a new wave of literature coming out about the importance of science communication, and the many incorrect assumptions that have until now impaired its effectiveness. And if there's anyone riding that wave, it's the Hollywood filmmaker and surfer Olson....

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