FOSEP Bookclub “Don’t be Such a Scientist” by Randy Olson


FOSEP held its second book club last night after reading Randy Olson’s “Don’t be Such a Scientist—Talking Substance in an age of Style.” To give a little background, Randy Olson was a professor studying oceanography when he left his tenured faculty position to try to make it big in Hollywood.  No joke.  His goal was to become a better story teller and by all measures, Hollywood affects a bigger audience than basically any other media, so Randy chose to tell his science stories with film. Since his dramatic career change Randy has produced two full length science movies—Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus, and Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy.

The book lays out what Dr. Olson learned from Hollywood about how to tell a good story.  He says that even though science lends itself to the story format (introduction, tension or conflict—the mystery the scientist is trying to solve—followed by resolution) scientists in general are pretty terrible at telling their stories to non-scientists. The key point is to balance substance and style.  Scientists are really good at the substance part, but not so good at the style part. And no matter how good your science is, if the audience sleeps through your presentation or changes the channel, it is as if you never delivered your message in the first place.

The next FOSEP book club selection is “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives” by Michael Specter. Coincidentally, Michael Specter is speaking at UW tomorrow night, Tuesday November 17th, 7pm on the UW campus, Kane Hall 110.

You’ll be hearing about the next book club meeting via email. If you are interested, please join us!