Provocative? Well, not everybody agrees with his suggestions. Michael Tobis for example argues the exact opposite: Act like a scientist! Oh, and what to think of this opening sentence of a review of the book:
“I’m going to write this review in the style suggested by Randy Olson. This means that I’m going to use my penis.”
I guess that the reviewer’s interpretation of not being so cerebral.
Anyway, over at The Benshi I ran into this video of Ed Begley Jr. being interviewd on Fox News in the wake of the “climategate” mess. I was cracking up. As Randy said to Ed: He kicked ass. He made some good points along the way as well, though half the interview they were trying to shout each other down, so it was hard to follow. If there would be rice on the table it would have quite literally turned into a foodfight I gather. Begley appeared sincere though, and sincerely angry.
Now the question is, is this the way we ought to communicate? As filmmaker/activist I guess everything goes, and it may be effective indeed (Begley did get his main point across), but I do have a feeling that it’s not effective or even counterproductive in the long run for a scientist to go at it the way Ed Begley does.
OTOH, isn’t it time we get out of the defense (yeah, we made a small mistake; we’ll try to do better next time; please don’t hit us) and tell the public how it is? Call a liar a liar? And a duck a duck? (There’s an excellent analogy hidden behind that ducky title btw.) And then we have people argue the opposite, that scientists should just stick to the science and not be so defensive, let alone offensive. That we should embrace our critics.
I’m of two minds on this one, though many of the pseudo-skeptics in the blogosphere have had a very destructive influence on the science, especially lately. If they have shown by their behavior not to be interested in contributing to the science in a constructive manner, then I don’t see the point in inviting them to the table. In fact, they have been welcome all along, if they chose to play by the scientific rules. They have chosen not to; I don’t see any point in changing the rules to accommodate them. (See for a good explanation of the scientific rules/methods here, starting at slide 39).
2 Arouse and fulfill
7 Ability to listen
So on the scientific side of things, do we have great communicators? Richard Alley was fabulous at the AGU. Tim Lambert did great in his debate with Monckton. I like Naomi Oreskes as a speaker, but that’s to a large degree for what she sais rather than how she sais it. Spencer Weart is great storyteller, at least in written form.
Debates are tough. A scientist will likely get very frustrated about the stream of lies and “truthisms” being spout by the “skeptic” debating opponent. Keeping your cool is a necessary, but darn hard in such a case. OTOH, and as per Olson’s suggestion, not being afraid to invoke and show emotions either. Then the challenge is how to find a balance between the kung-fu style attack modus of Begley and the frustrated shouting of “asshole” by Watson?