There’s a great new documentary coming out about the controversy surrounding the Texas School Board and their control of textbook content. It’s the new feature documentary, “The Revisionaries.”
To see the trailer for the new feature documentary, “The Revisionaries.” click HERE
A TEXAS-SIZED CONTROVERSY OVER TEXTBOOK CONTENT
Filmmaker Scott Thurman of Texas has a new documentary feature film that he’s been working on for a few years (he contacted me a while back about it) which just won a Special Mention at the Tribeca Film Festival, which is great news. The “star” of his movie, Don McLeroy, head of the creationists efforts in Texas, was a guest on The Colbert Report earlier this week.
Congratulations, Scott! Hopefully they’ll get a distribution deal and you’ll be able to see it at your local theater soon.
April 26th, 2012
You won’t see a prominent scientist publicly discussing personal phone etiquette. Yet.
THE HOMOGENIZATION GENERATION
When I moved from academia to Hollywood at the end of 1993 (nearly 20 years ago, yeeks!), the cultural differences between the two worlds were profound. Today, not as much.
The internet was just getting started back then, almost nobody had cell phones (pagers were the rage), and email was just taking off. Pretty much all “films” were still being shot and edited on actual film, not video.
In the years since, the computer has proven to be an enormous agent of homogenization. When I introduced the first batch of Scripps grad students in oceanography to Final Cut Pro (a widely used video editing program) in 2005, I warned the faculty there might be some problems, but there weren’t. They picked it up in a heartbeat — why wouldn’t they? Its just another program on their Mac laptops. Had I tried to show them how to use a Steenbeck film editing table (where you manually cut the film with a razor blade and tape it together with tape) it would have been days of pain and suffering. Times have changed.
But as similar as the various worlds of science, Hollywood, and everything else in our society have become, there are occasional reminders that the social dynamics have still not quite converged. Here’s a prime example.
I’M NOT TALKING TO YOU!
Check out this item this week from Hollywood super agent Gavin Polone talking about “phone etiquette.” He makes no bones that there are people on his list whom he simply is not speaking to right now and will not return their calls.
Try to picture the day when a prominent scientist — say the Director of NIH or NCI or NASA interviewed in Science — talks about the people whose calls he’s not returning. You know they show the same behavior, but it’s still a different world, but for how long? Again, the lives of top scientists today look much more similar to the lives of top Hollywood moguls today than they did a couple of decades ago.
For better or worse, the world continues to homogenize itself.
April 24th, 2012
Here’s a really nice, fun, creative video with a great sense of lightness and humor about a depressing problem. It isn’t full of instructions on, “What you can do.” But it doesn’t need to be.
MOTIVATION IS ENOUGH. Nice video. Makes you want to learn more. Mission accomplished.
AROUSE (MORE THAN FULFILL)
It’s so hard to get anyone’s attention in today’s world. The KONY 2012 people knew this, and did an impressive job of addressing it. They have succeeded in giving their subject “name recognition” that is worth its weight in gold.
So above is a cute little video about plastic trash on beaches. No, it doesn’t end with a long detailed list of “What You Can Do,” but so what? If you’re one of the people who think you’ve spotted the fatal flaw in people’s efforts because they don’t present their “What You Can Do” laundry list, you’re probably coming at this stuff from too cerebral of a place.
Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth” is dismissed by many as ineffective because it didn’t tell everyone enough at the end of the film what to do to solve the problem; however, that’s not the strength or purpose of film/video as a medium. That’s what websites and written materials and public speakers are for. Films are better off simply as motivational tools, to get people inspired to seek out the resources to guide them into action, rather than trying to bog the film down with a bunch of information.
I don’t know how many times I can say this — film is not an effective informational medium. Use it for motivation.
Towards that end, this is a great video. Mostly motivational, which is fine.
April 20th, 2012
Really unfortunate situation. The best available science recommends digging up the lagoon for “restoration.” A very vocal local faction opposes it and has done an impressive job of “framing” the issue on their terms, labeling the environmental groups as developers by using the “Stop the Bulldozers” slogan. Construction is set to begin on June 1. Opponents are vowing to block the bulldozers by chaining themselves to them. Tick, tick, tick.
JUDGE SPICOLI RULES. There were three surfers who ran in the last election for City Council of Malibu with one of them winning the election. He’s Skylar Peak, 27, great guy and son of the late Dusty Peak whom I interviewed in 2009 about the Marine Protected Area issue around Malibu — a very committed conservationist. (illustration from yesterday’s article in the LA Weekly)
STOP THE BULLDOZERS. BOTH OF THEM.
It’s been a campaign with a great deal of distortion and misinformation. The opponents claim the construction will cause traffic nightmares, the proponents say it will only be a couple of dump trucks making a couple of runs a day — how much traffic will that block?
Back and forth, back and forth. The environmental groups gave up on their communication efforts, so I had to as well. Now I’m just a spectator, but saddened that the truth hasn’t been communicated well. In fact, this article yesterday by the LA Weekly ends with the Mayor of Malibu saying exactly this — the science has not been communicated. Bummer, brah.
April 16th, 2012
Does anybody remember a time when environmentalists actually did things and had a sense of humor about it? Ocean activist (and I mean GENUINE activist) Peter Brown’s fun new film, “Confessions of an Ecoterrorist,” shows that spirit as he runs through a scrapbook of amazing Sea Shepherd memories.
BACK WHEN ENVIRONMENTALISTS WEREN’T BORING …
The American environmental movement lost the bulk of its heart and soul in the 1980’s (yet another sad byproduct of Reagan’s ravaging of the nation), but if you want a glimpse of how things used to be, you can still see it in the inspired, sometimes zany, antics of Paul Watson and his band of merry sea life defenders, Sea Shepherd. A number of their most inspiring adventures are presented in the new film, “Confessions of an Ecoterrorist,” by Watson’s long time lieutenant and media mastermindererer, Peter Brown.
On Saturday night I attended a local screening of the film where Peter Brown spoke afterwards. He’s one of my new heros.
In 1982, as a producer for NBC, he did a segment about the Iki Island dolphin slaughter where he encountered Sea Shepherd. He became an immediate convert, formed a friendship with their legendary captain, Paul Watson, and the rest is history as he alternated years of ocean activism (and in the case of Sea Shepherd the word “activism” means a lot more than just writing blog posts) while continuing to produce major television shows (like the most popular show on TV, “Real People” for 4 seasons, and “Entertainment Tonight“).
All of which made him a highly qualified environmental warrior for today — one with inside knowledge and connections in the media/entertainment world. As he says throughout the film, “our cameras are our guns.” No environmental organization understands mass media as well as Sea Shepherd.
So if you loved or even liked, “Whale Wars,” (personally I loved it) you’ll really enjoy this film. Actually, I might go so far as to say it’s better than watching, “Whale Wars,” primarily because it doesn’t quite take itself as seriously. Peter Brown is the host, and at first it seems to start off with corny jokes, but after a while, a lot of the jokes are not only funny (he had the crowd roaring and cheering), the humor becomes poignant and hits a crescendo when the Ecuadoran Navy in the Galapagos Islands gets so spooked they end up accidentally leaving behind a crew member on the Sea Shepherd ship, standing forlorn on the deck in his white uniform after his ship has forgotten him.
oh my gooodness
SAVVY MEDIA VETERANS AT WORK
The film is not only fun, it actually makes you feel good that there are still people in this world who are more interested in doing things, rather than just raising funding from foundations and talking about doing things. Paul Watson and the entire Sea Shepherd crowd are ball busters. And they have so many accomplishments to show for all their efforts, as Brown makes clear in the film (and he doesn’t even go into the major victory they scored recently against the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean — I guess because he got “voted off the ship” on that expedition).
When I talk about the right way to communicate to the public for environmental issues, most of what I’m talking about is what these folks embody. They know how to use humor and emotion in a likeable manner. They not only tell great stories, they still actually produce their own great stories. And most important of all, they’re a bunch of feeling, thinking, laughing human beings. They deserve every ounce of support they get, and as Peter pointed out repeatedly, despite all their high seas hijinx, they’ve never lost a person or even had a major injury. Which is not something the whaling industry can claim.
Yesterday morning at Villanova I was greeted by this brilliant piece of graffiti. The movie is 6 years old. Nobody ever quite looked at it this way.
Too good for words.
April 6th, 2012
All that fear and hatred in 2005 and for what? Couldn’t everyone tell it was an inept movement that was doomed to beat itself to pieces like the flagellae they so worshipped as examples of perfect design? I never understood the panic element. Whatever. Intelligent Designer and former momentary celebrity Dr. Michael Behe of Lehigh University will be joining the post-screening panel discussion of my movie, “Flock of Dodos” next Thursday at Villanova University. This graph kinda tells their sad story.
THE MEDIA WORLD GIVETH, AND THE MEDIA WORLD TAKETH AWAY. Here’s a Google Analytics search on “intelligent design.” Yeeks. They had a good run, until a party pooping judge in Dover, Pa. took a sledge hammer to their entire existence in December, 2005. After that you can see they kinda flat lined.
AN IRREDUCIBLY COMPLEX COLLAPSE
It was such a fun party for them. While it lasted. On August 7, 2005 they scored the cover of TIME Magazine with a huge feature article that painted the picture of a movement that was setting the world on fire. The only problem is what happens to things that are on fire — they eventually burn out. Especially when they explode first, as was the case in December of that year with the Dover Trial. Ouch.
Interestingly, in August, 2005 I was set to interview Stephen Jay Gould’s widow, Rhonda Shearer, but she decided to cancel the interview, saying that, “Steve always said there’s no point engaging with these people, it will all be settled in court.” She was right. I didn’t know then the Dover ruling would prove to be so dramatic, but it has been. They got their spine snapped. They’ve been directionless on the topic of intelligent design (though of course still scurrying around, attempting their anti-evolution hijinx at every textbook ruling opportunity).
DR. MICHAEL BEHE ON VILLANOVA DODOS PANEL NEXT THURSDAY
Late next week I’ll be at Villanova University with yet another Sizzling Dodos visit. We’re screening Dodos on Thursday night and Sizzle on Friday afternoon. The Dodos post-screening panel discussion will be Dr. Michael Behe of Lehigh University, Faye Flam (science journalist from Philadelphia Inquirer), Dr. Aaron Bauer (Villanova evolutionary biologist) and myself.
This will be the first time Dr. Behe will attend a screening of the movie, and my first time seeing him since our lengthy two hour interview on a hot summer day at Lehigh University in August of 2005 — right at the height of the intelligent design fury. He was a good sport to take part in the movie, and he’s a good sport to attend this event. And I will never quite understand why so much hatred and bile was spewed at him by evolutionists. A lot of them should be ashamed of themselves for it. For me personally, I received far more hatred from scientists than from the bungling kooks behind the intelligent design movement.
DODOS IN PHILLY NEXT THURSDAY NIGHT with a panel discussion featuring intelligent designer Dr. Michael Behe.
April 4th, 2012
Don’t dismiss the Kony 2012 campaign as a “flash in the pan” until you’ve given plenty of thought to the power of name recognition (and how hard it is to quantify)
FLASH IN THE PAN? NOT SO FAST. Everyone was quick to dismiss the KONY 2012 campaign based on the almighty “metrics” like this one from Google Analytics that shows a flurry of attention and what appears to be a loss of interest. But “name recognition” has a much longer effect and is hard to quantify. Think of this graph as being like a graph of “infection exposure” for a disease that makes you aware of the name Kony. A whole bunch of people were exposed quickly, and I mean a WHOLE bunch. More importantly, people need to be exposed only once to learn the name (which is extremely important in today’s noisy world), so if you think of this as a graph of exposure, you don’t need the level of activity to stay at a plateau. Just hitting the key crowd once is sufficient.
THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH “METRICS-OBSESSED” ENVIRONMENTALISTS
From the very start of our Shifting Baselines Ocean Media Project in 2002 I began hearing from environmental folks the proud and defiant question of, “So where’s yer metrics, dude?” It’s a question that’s both reasonable AND the source of the movement’s colossal failures to communicate these days.
What this means is that we’re not going to believe any thing you say is gonna work, or anything you did has worked, unless you show us hard, cold numbers. Which is the definition of “gutless” meaning you have no gut instincts whatsoever, you only know how to look at data and draw the same conclusion that anyone else would.
As soon as you develop this philosophy you’re pretty much doomed.
ZOMBIES WITHOUT METRICS
I’ve raved a lot in the past half year about the CDC’s awesome Zombie Disaster Preparedness Campaign. It sprung to life last May from a GUT INSTINCT. Not from metrics. Not from data. Just from three very cool people who had this powerful revelation that to motivate a certain part of the public to take an interest in the topic of disaster preparedness, literal mindedness (i.e. beating people over the head with the simple facts) had limited effectiveness, but there existed this extremely non-literal way to approach the problem (to match it with the idea of preparing for a zombie attack) that was explosive.
But as soon as they created their media attention mushroom cloud (they scored over $3 million free media coverage off a budget of $87), the metrics-obsessed sharks began circling. I’ve gotten a taste for what they’ve encountered when I’ve presented their amazing story in my talks. Almost every time, there is some proudly, defiantly skeptical person in the audience who asks, “Yes, but do they have ANY data to show that their project has actually changed anyone’s behavior?”
Well. There’s the old Dylan line, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” That’s about all I can think to say in response to that question. If you’re out in your driveway with branches from trees to the west of you flying at you at high speed, you really don’t need “the metrics” to be able to say the wind is blowing from the west. And when you score $3 million in media exposure it’s not “hot air” as many like to say. In today’s world, “attention” is THE currency (just read Richard Lanham’s book, “The Economics of Attention”).
AL GORE HAD NO METRICS
A couple years ago at a workshop in D.C. I made mention of the courage of Al Gore and his group (despite all my specific criticisms of the movie itself) in stepping up and providing what is still the only clear and prominent voice of leadership for the issue of global warming (though Bill McKibben is slowly approaching a similar level of recognition). When I finished my comments one of Gore’s top people pulled me aside, thanked me for the words, and said it was absolutely true — there were no metrics that drove Al Gore, Laurie David and Lawrence Bender to make that movie — only a clear gut instinct that this was an important issue that the climate science world was failing to communicate to the general public.
And of course there’s the example I mentioned in my book of Ken Auletta’s great New Yorker article titled, “The New Pitch: Do Ads Still Work” in 2005. He talked about the hopelessness of metrics in an increasingly fragmented and narrow advertising world, then cited the example of Aflac as proof. Their quacking duck campaign arose not from mountains of polling data and surveys, but rather just from an executive with a powerful gut instinct to have some fun with the name of their company sounding like a duck. The rest was history as they doubled their business in four years without changing a thing other than the one ad campaign.
The climate movement is short on gut instinct, long on metrics obsession. That’s a bad combination. They should be watching and learning all they can from the KONY 2012 campaign. If you’re talking about it as a “flash in the pan,” you’re failing to appreciate the power of establishing name recognition in today’s attention-driven world.
It’s the things you can’t quantify (or can’t afford to take time to quantify) that matter most in the end.
As part of my visit to Vancouver last week I got to attend a good old fashioned hippie dippie anti-oil pipeline rally that was really outstanding and even kinda moving. It’s great to see people are still able to step away from their keyboards and actually assemble in public. Plus Bill McKibben is awesome.
SHOW STOPPER. She’s half 11 year old, half Joan Baez reborn. We had to leave before Ta’Kaiya Blaney sang, but everyone who was there talked about her performance for the next two days, making me worry they were over-hyping it. But when I finally saw this video, I could see they weren’t — she’s truly amazing.
GOOD OLD FASHIONED PUBLIC PROTEST
I was in Vancouver last week to speak to the wonderful folks at Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, and University of Victoria. I think I get more out of the visits than do the people who actually invite me. Each one is like a tutorial that ends up with my iPhone being packed full of new things to read and films to watch and interesting quotes and all sorts of other things.
For this visit, my host Anne Salomon (who gave a tremendous talk last November at the WWF 50th anniversary symposium I took part in) led me down to the Vancouver Public Library in the light rain. The night before we had dinner with SFU economics professor Mark Jaccard who is a major veteran in the struggle to keep Canada carbon conscious and keep the oil companies in check. He was slated to speak for 3 minutes at the big rally and was nervous having never done such a thing before.
I gave him a bunch of advice, to the best of my communications ability, but in the end, I think I probably just scrambled his brain at the last minute. He ended up doing fine, but only with the second half of his talk — not with the first half, which was the part I had offered advice on.
SFU economics professor Mark Jaccard (you can faintly see him just to the right of the orange sign in the center — in brown jacket holding papers) fires the crowd up, recovering from a stumbling start, but then working towards an excellent crescendo.
BILL MCKIBBEN – Mister 350 himself slipped across the border to fire up the crowd. His comments were very blunt and very good as he simply told them you cannot trust the oil companies — no two ways about it. Bravo.
A STAR IS BORN
Actually, Mark’s “performance” made me think of the classic scene of Barbra Streisand in the old movie, “A Star is Born” where she makes her singing debut, starting nervously, fumbling for the words as the crowd starts to boo her, but then she finds her groove and by the end is kicking ass with the audience going wild.
Same thing happened for Mark. He began by saying, “I’ve got some good news and bad news — the bad news is I’m a professor and you have to listen to me. The good news is they’re only letting me have three minutes.” There were scattered chuckles, then his next few lines were kinda boring and made you think, “ugh, he really is a professor.”
But then halfway through he shifted gears with the fairly shocking statement that, “I can see what the future holds, and am afraid its looking like violent protest is going to be inevitable.” Which was a rather non-professorial thing to say. And woke up the crowd as he transitioned into sort of mob-speak, changing from full sentences into short, punchy phrases that began to evoke cheers of “oh yeah!” and “you got it!” which continued to build and by the end he had the entire crowd chanting and cheering for him. Which was awesome!
BILL MCKIBBEN ROCKS
Best of all was Bill McKibben. In my WWF talk last fall I railed against the overly cerebral orientation of the climate movement. He’s cultivated the one strongly more visceral element with his 350.org movement. They put on the impressive Tar Sands demonstration in D.C. last fall (which I stumbled into), and he was inspiring again at this rally.
But then we had to go because I had a talk to give at SFU, so we couldn’t stay for Takaiya, but probably just as well as I probably would have gotten all emotional. I can only take so much of rallies like that without getting nostalgic for the 60’s and 70’s. Regardless, it was a great sight to see.