Time for two examples of largely unintended arrogance from scientists.

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’RE SAYING, IT’S HOW YOU’RE SAYING IT. The poker scene in “Flock of Dodos” and the title of an essay illustrate how, whether they mean to or not, scientists can come off as arrogant sometimes.

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“WHY ARE THE SCIENTISTS SO ARROGANT?” – Kansas high schooler at “Flock of Dodos” premiere, 2006

In February, 2006 we held the first public screening of “Flock of Dodos,” at a sold out 350 seat theater in the suburbs of Kansas City. One group who showed up that snowy night was a dozen or so high school seniors along with their teacher. I was eager to hear what their response was to the movie. When it was over I heard from a friend who spoke with them. They enjoyed the movie but they found the group of evolutionary biologists at the poker table to be “arrogant.”

That was the word they used. Which hurt a little given that I was one of the scientists in that scene. Had you asked me the day before how I thought the public would perceive the scientists in the poker scene I might have said, “argumentative” or even “eggheadedly foolish,” but I never would have thought of arrogance as the key descriptor. Yet over the years in listening to the feedback it’s very clear most non-scientists view them that way.

And now that I’ve viewed the movie a few hundred times, I do as well. Everyone at the poker table comes off as arrogant, including myself. We are all supremely confident in our pronouncements. Not just in the substance of what we say, but just in the way we say it. I’m not sure any of us intended to be arrogant. There’s an endless tendency of scientists to be a little short on the self-awareness thing.

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WHY DOES THE CLIMATE ESSAYIST HAVE AN ARROGANT TITLE?

Similarly, and unfortunately, last week it was my turn for Round 2 in the Roundtable Discussion I’m taking part in on the website of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists with two top climate folks, Roger Pielke, Jr. of University of Colorado and Robert Socolow of Princeton addressing the issue of, “The Political Distortion of Science.” I really liked both of their first round essays — Pielke talking about the importance of fairness and honesty in dealing with controversial science topics, Socolow talking about how science is not just another profession — it is a specific means of inquiry.

So for my second round I was all set to rave about these two essays when I spotted the title of Socolow’s second essay, the second half of which consists of the phrase, “Science as a superior way of knowing.” Suddenly the sweet music of agreement ended with a record scratch as I uttered the words, “oh, my.” It’s a shame because his essay isn’t all that arrogant, but the title is simply unacceptable if you’re concerned about the public perception of science. You can’t tell the public, “we have a SUPERIOR way of knowing.” You just can’t.

Anyhow, I offer up my analysis of his title with my second round essay. And just like those of us at the poker table in Dodos, I don’t think he intended it to be arrogant. It’s just difficult sometimes to put yourself in the position of people who have no connection to the world of Ph.D.’s. They speak a different (more common) language.

BTW –  check out this story today of another Kansas high school kid — this one is standing up to the whole wacky school system there — yay!

The movie is going to be shown next month at the COP17 climate meetings in Durban, South Africa so it’s time for a new trailer.

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THE MOVIE THE SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNITIES DIDN’T WANT YOU TO SEE because the scientist-turned-filmmaker in it is a doofus and the movie is riddled with climate skeptics (oh my!)

DUDE, WHERE’S MY CLIMATE STRATEGY

Sadly, my movie, “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” is as relevant today as it was in 2008 when it premiered at the Outfest Gay and Lesbian Film Festival on the west coast followed by the Woods Hole Film Festival on the east coast. For a while, in the beginning, it actually was a little bit out of synch given the policy that “An Inconvenient Truth” had established of not engaging with climate skeptics because “there is no debate about global warming.”

Well, that strategy didn’t work. I already knew it wouldn’t in 2007 from what I had seen of the evolution community — evolutionists who had tried to go with the “evolution is a fact” tactic in dealing with anti-evolutionists fared poorly. Reality is irrelevant. All that matters with the public is perception — and for both of these topics (evolution and global warming) the perception is that there’s a major debate raging.

The science community finally kinda got this point in 2009 when they had their posteriors handed to them with ClimateGate. That unfortunate event was the best thing that ever happened to my movie. It left me wanting to say, “See … I told you there really is a debate.”

Since then I’ve had probably 50 screenings of “Sizzle.” No one ever again questioned why I included skeptics in the movie. And last week I gave my big talk at the WWF symposium titled, “Dude, where’s my climate movement?” (which they say will be posted next week) I was braced for someone, anyone, to tear into me saying, “You’re saying the climate movement is a failure, that’s not so.” But that didn’t happen. Instead ALL the comments were along the lines of, “Can you believe how bad we’ve failed?”

One nice thing is that they are showing, “Sizzle,” in Durban, South Africa at the next “Conference of the Parties” (COP 17) which is the on-going series of U.N. sponsored meetings of everyone combatting global warming. Glad they’re showing it. Glad I don’t have to sit in a plane for 40 hours burning up fossil fuels to be there.

We’ve selected the 10 videos we will be analyzing at the AGU S Factor Workshop

Being chosen for this event means absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing. There will be no winners announced, no acceptance speeches, only a lot of discussion of what’s good and what needs work in each video.

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See you in San Francisco, Tuesday evening, 7:00 p.m., December 6 at the San Francisco Convention Center!

LIVE WEBCAST: My talk at the WWF 50th Anniversary symposium this Thursday, Nov. 17

“DUDE, WHERE’S MY CLIMATE MOVEMENT?” This is the title and focus of my talk.

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This is not going to be a happy talk. Today’s climate movement in the U.S. is a national tragedy. So much money. So little to show. And it’s not just me saying this. A month ago Elisabeth Rosenthal had a feature article in the Sunday NY Times titled, “Where Did Global Warming Go?

People have begun itemizing the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent for a movement with declining popularity, no legislation passed, and no clear leadership. All of which leads to my title, “Dude, Where’s My Climate Movement?” which I know a lot of hard working people aren’t going to appreciate. But I work hard, too. So there.

Tune in on Thursday for the webcast of the entire day. My talk is in the afternoon, followed by a panel discussion with the three of us in our session. Here’s the link, which already has bars and tone, so you know they’re ready and waiting.

My talk will start a little after 4:00 p.m. E.S.T.  Here’s the entire schedule.

What would you do if 10,000 people circled your house? Obama clearly heard their message.

Four days after the big Tar Sands Pipeline protest, the State Department announced they will look for a different route for the pipeline through the U.S. — postponing the issue until after 2012. Who says protests don’t work?

Thank goodness for the revival of public protesting

THE FINGER IS MIGHTIER THAN THE WORD.  Not sure what this slogan says, but we get the message about the pipeline.
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So there I was on Sunday afternoon, having dropped my mother off at Dulles airport, taking a taxi back to my hotel in D.C., quietly reading a book in the back seat, suddenly realizing we were stuck in stand still traffic with the cab driver apologizing.  I looked up, annoyed, then suddenly had this enormous realization — we had driven right into the MIDDLE of the Tar Sands/Pipeline Protest!!!
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I had just read the EXCELLENT article from Abe Streep in Outside magazine last week about Tim DeChristopher which ended by telling about how his followers would all be taking part in the big protest in D.C. on Nov. 6.  In a flash it hit me — THIS is the protest!
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We drove for about 10 blocks right in front of the protesters who had formed a big circle around the White House.  I pulled out my iPhone and took these snapshots as we cruised along with the protesters chanting and singing.  It was the best thing I’ve seen since attending No Nukes day in D.C. in the spring of 1979!  And yes, I suppose I should have been out on the streets with them, but we can all only do so much.  I’m running a free communications workshop for L.A. environmental activists on Wednesday so that’s my good deed for the week that hopefully earns the me right to only be a cheerleader for this event.
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It was truly inspiring, and kudos to Bill McKibben and friends for actually DOING stuff!
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And by the way, EVERY protest needs a guy in pink with a lasso.

Communication is about substance AND style. Here’s yet another TV debate with Marc Morano. This time his opponent is so soft and friendly that you can’t help but think none of these issues are very important any more. Which I don’t think is quite true given yesterday’s grim news on carbon emissions.

YOU EGG-FACED SCIENTISTS. Marc Morano provides his litany of examples of “global warming distortion” (ways he feels the science and environmental communities have misled the public) underscoring it with an, “Everything from …” itemization. Which is fine — it’s what he does. But when his opponent just gives a polite smile (that even the commentator noted) and nothing more than a limp prediction of “what could happen” it sends a signal to the viewer that Morano is maybe right, and more importantly, it isn’t that big of a deal. This is where style matters. Television is a superficial/visual medium. If you violently disagree with what you’re hearing, you kinda need to do something that somehow sends the signal of violent disagreement, albeit in a likeable manner, which can actually be done while still smiling. It just needs different casting — someone who can send the correct emotional, as well as intellectual, signal. There’s a reason why you wouldn’t want to have a robot be your spokesperson in a debate.

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WHAT WOULD JOE DO

The subtitle of my book is “Talking Substance in an Age of STYLE.” That last word is the hard part. It’s difficult dealing with BOTH channels of communication (substance AND style).

This was sort of my entry point in 2005 when I was first drawn into the topic of the attacks on evolution. Scientist friends of mine told me about evolution debates they were taking part in where they would lay out all the facts of evolution (the SUBSTANCE) only to find the audience siding with their opponent simply because they liked the opponent more, saying things like, “he was friendlier, less know-it-all, more polite, funnier.” These are all elements of STYLE and they bring with them information that can be just as powerful as the facts being presented.

So when you put up a warm, friendly, easy going guy like Dr. Robert Mendelsohn of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, you’re kind of over-compensating. Yes, he’s far more likeable than the typical angry scientist and likely to at least score better than British scientist Robert Watson (who ended his debate with Morano by saying, “What an asshole!”), but now the problem is that the signal coming out says that this stuff just isn’t that big of a deal — if it was you’d see him getting a little more worked up.

Yes, I know you hate watching people get enraged on news shows. But most (less intellectual) people not only like it, they need it for them to get a clear signal of what’s going on. They can’t process all the words being said. They need an additional emotional element that tells them this guy disagrees with that guy. And this is where Joe Romm comes in. Say what you want about the guy, one thing is certain — he sends a very clear, monumentally consistent signal about the seriousness of global warming (which is why his blog is so popular). He might not win a TV debate on likeability (nor would I, some of us don’t look like Brad Pitt), but he definitely would not let an audience walk away thinking, “I guess what Morano’s saying is mostly right.” Definitely not.

Al Gore’s movie was subtitled, “The Most Terrifying Movie You Will Ever See.” Is that still the situation? Mendelsohn seemed to say that it is when he talked about a “freight train.” And this week there are reports of, “The biggest jump EVER in global warming gases.” Sounds to me like the people in the know still think it is that serious.

So if it is, then it simply has to be communicated firmly through BOTH channels. Which means, hate to say it, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

The prestigious and esteemed Bulletin of Atomic Scientists — a journal that published the writings of Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer — decided to lower their standards and have me join a Roundtable Discussion on “The Political Distortion of Science.”

BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS.  Rick Perry’s climate science defying comments in an early Republican Presidential debate prompted the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to invite Roger Pielke, Jr., Robert Socolow and me to weigh in on “The Political Distortion of Science.”for the m

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THE NON-DEFENSE OF SCIENCE

A couple of months ago, primarily in response to Rick Perry’s ridiculous comments about climate science, I was invited to join a Roundtable Discussion on the topic of, “The Political Distortion of Science,” by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. It’s a publication I’ve known about for a long time because of their famous “Doomsday Clock,” which is a great and powerful simple representation of how close we are to global thermonuclear warfare. In the 1980′s, when we had a blustery actor as our President, the clock became a major media item, moving minute by minute closer to midnight as Reagan talked tough with the Soviets.

Joining the Roundtable are climate policy analysts Roger Pielke Jr. and Robert Socolow — impressive company for a guy like me who makes global warming comedies and movies about dodos. I know Roger and am a fan of his. I had a great time speaking in his graduate course last year at University of Colorado then was on a panel discussion with him at the Arctic Workshop in Winter Park. I haven’t met Robert Socolow, but certainly know his very important work along with Stephen Pacala on the “climate wedges“approach to solving our climate problems.

The Bulletin just completed posting our first round of essays and after reading what the other two wrote, I’m a little concerned this is going to turn out to be more of an agreement session than any sort of debate. At least for this first round all I can think to do is second pretty much all of what the other two guys have said. Roger talks about the importance of fairness and honesty in winning the trust of the public — I couldn’t agree more. And Robert discusses the importance of not letting science be talked about as “just another point of view.” That strikes a deep chord with me — there was an editorial written in my community by a local newspaper editor in relation to an environmental issue in which the editor argued that today, “scientists are no different from lawyers.” Grrrr … It still sticks in my craw. Just isn’t true. And Socolow does a nice job of explaining why.

Anyhow, if you get the chance I recommend you read all three essays, then stay tuned as there will be two further rounds in which we get to comment on what each other has said (though I just gave away what my first response is likely to be).

#168) The Hollywood Bitch Slap!

November 2nd, 2011

Listen my children and yee shall hear … the voice of Hollywood, emanating from deeeep in its bowels …

DREAM BREAKER. I get a lot of emails from science folks pitching their ideas to me for big Hollywood projects (as if I’m the right guy to talk to) or asking advice on how to turn their screenplay into a movie. I try to be nicer than the bastards who stomped on my dreams 20 years ago. But that said … Rodney was right (see below). And if you have any doubts, just read what this agent wrote to me last week. (but also keep in mind that after 20 years I’m still smiling — just look at the Oprah spot)

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IT’S A ROTTEN PLACE

The first year I was studying acting, one of the women in my class was cast in a movie with Rodney Dangerfield. I visited her on the set a bunch of times, filming just north of Los Angeles. Rodney (who would arrive stoned in his limo every morning and spend most of the day in his bathrobe with dark socks and street shoes) took a liking to her. In between takes he would wander over to her and say, “Get out now, kid, it’s a ROTTEN business!”

Truer words were never spoken. I’ve spent 20 years with one foot in Hollywood and one foot still in academia. It’s that second foot that enabled me to still laugh about all the rejection last spring when I filmed this little “Everyday Visionaries” spot for the Oprah Winfrey Network show, “Visionaries: Inside the Creative Mind.” They aired my spot this past Sunday night in the middle of the really, really good hour long segment they did about James Cameron. I strongly recommend you watch the entire show, as well as the previous episode about fashion designer Tom Ford which was equally outstanding.

But the best piece of commentary I’ve read in the past week comes from inside the belly of the beast — from a major Hollywood agent friend of mine who has been an agent with one of “the Big Three” agencies for more than a decade. I wrote to him last week pitching the idea of a biopic about an adventurer friend who has an amazing life story. Here’s what he wrote back (typos and all). It may seem dark and cynical. In fact, it IS dark and cynical. But if you’re one of those people (like I was 20 years ago) who often thinks, “Hollywood should do a movie about …” here’s the harsh, cold, ugly, unvarnished truth for you. Beware.

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Its like, there are so many stories out there that could go a thousand different ways, mostly they turn into a boring bio pics. that lose money. So to invest the money studios do, they want someone who they know can deliver (aaron Sorkin and David Fincher) and even then they tend to want it to be about Steve Jobs, which is the hot assignment right now or in the prior case Facebook.

If you have a lights out script that blows people’s mind, that isn’t about a subject with a failing track record(IE the middle east wars.) you may have a shot there too, but people better totally flip.

127 hours btw only grossed $60mil world wide. Not a lot for a global release
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grossed $50 mil world wide. Even less.

Its fine and well people in LA and NY like to talk about these movies over cocktails but in a world where it costs a mint just to market these pictures, they financially are damn tough.

If they are getting into something like that, they want it to be Social network that did $225M WW.

I shit you not, baring guys like [James] Cameron of which there are about 5-10 people with anywhere near that juice, almost every project is freaking existing IP driven stuff. Meaning Robocop remake, Fast and the furious 6, Transformers 4, Ouiji (based on the board game), Battleship (also based on the board game), Highlander remake, 2 snow white movies, Cinderella, a 300 sequel about Xerses, The Man from Uncle remake, Cannon ball run remake, The secret life of walter mitty remake. You would fucking laugh and then never try again in Hollywood if you saw the grid list of stuff out there, sometimes we just laugh.

We are along way from the 70′s and Chinatown. A long long way.

I’ll be giving a talk about the climate movement that will probably not win me any friends

The World Wildlife Fund turns 50 this year which they are celebrating with a symposium on conservation science. They’ve made the potentially embarrassing decision to invite me to speak about communicating environmental issues and I’ve decided to focus on climate. Yeeks!

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DUDE, WHERE’S MY CLIMATE MOVEMENT?

In 2004 the World Wildlife Fund sponsored a star-studded event that I put together at Raleigh Studios which we called simply Hollywood Ocean Night. It was a tremendous evening featuring celebrities in the audience including Dustin Hoffman and Ben Stiller (they were in the middle of shooting “Meet the Fockers“). There were just two speakers for the evening — the extremely charismatic pair of Dr. Jeremy Jackson (my Shifting Baselines co-founder who had also become a board member for WWF) and Dr. Daniel Pauly who is pretty much the greatest fisheries biologist alive today. Together they charmed and seduced the crowd with two short talks then a panel discussion during which Ben Stiller painfully asked whether we really need to give up eating shrimp (the simple answer 7 years later is nope, everybody’s plundering the oceans these days so don’t worry about it).

The talks were followed by a sustainable seafood reception. We also debuted 4 short films I wrote and directed with the Groundlings Improv Comedy Theater including the popular “No Seafood Grille 2050” (starring Wendi McLendon-Covey of “Reno 911!” and Mitch Silpa of my movie, “Sizzle“) and the “Senate Hearing on Coral Bleaching” (starring current comedy superstar Melissa McCarthy and her and “Bridesmaids” co-star, husband Ben Falcone) It was great night which was captured in this 5 minute video.

One of the most amazing and memorable aspects of the evening was that it turned out to be a living demonstration of the 4th chapter of my book, “Don’t Be So Unlikeable.” People ALWAYS bitch about “you can’t hit the audience with gloom and doom.” WRONG again. Jeremy and Daniel that night presented NOTHING but bad news, gloomy and doomy as possible. BUT … they delivered it with so much style, wit, humor, friendliness and we wrapped it all in an elegant package that EVERYONE thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I remember talking to people at the end as they were leaving, all with big smiles as they raved about what a great event it was. And even asked a few, “do you realize the entire event was nothing but bad news?” They just said, “yeah, what a bummer, it’s given me a lot to think about,” then left with smiles. That’s how you do it. Package the bad news in a likeable package and people won’t mind listening to it at all. (as opposed to having some overbearing Debbie Downer browbeating the audience about what “you people” have done).

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CAREFUL WHAT YOU DIDN’T WISH FOR

So now they’ve asked me to speak at their big 50th Anniversary celebration on Nov. 17 which will be held at National Geographic’s headquarters. It’s open to the public, but you need to make an RSVP. And as for what I’ll be talking about … well, just look at my title — the schedule is here.