The Sciences

"Will You Shut Up Just a Second?" "Will You Stop Shouting?": Hard Lessons in Science Communication

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyAug 18, 2010 2:53 PM

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The Scripps "Communication Week" continued yesterday with a screening of Randy Olson's

Sizzle

(my review here) and a discussion between Randy and myself about the pitfalls of climate science communication. There was much focus on "ClimateGate," and vigorous agreement about the unfortunate but also undeniable effectiveness of climate skepticism howitzer Marc Morano. On that front, Randy cited a BBC clip featuring Morano that I'd never seen before, but that truly makes the point. In the interview, Morano successfully baits a British scientist, Andrew Watson, into making a fundamental media mistake--getting angry. Over the course of the 6 minute debate (it starts at about minute 3:20 in the video below), Watson grows increasingly annoyed with Morano--rolling his eyes, saying things like, "Will you shut up just a second?" and "Will you stop shouting?" And then something happens at the very end that is, well, pretty stunning. I won't spoil the surprise, so watch the video: For the most part, when talking about science communication I like to stay positive and highlight examples of things that are successful--examples like that Phil Plait clip. But sometimes, it is also important to highlight the unsuccessful--and this is a very clear example of it. At Scripps, Randy pointed out that Morano has since been able to use this BBC episode to his advantage. And thus he scores twice: 1) he wins the live TV "debate"; 2) he gets an outrageous quote that he can use to reinforce his attacks on those nasty climate scientists, and to paint "skeptics" like himself as the victim. At first, your gut instinct may be to get ticked off about Morano and what he says. But I think it's ultimately wiser to try to understand how he works, and why he succeeds.

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