January 19th, 2011
Where there is “bo-ho-horedom,” there is poor communication at work. A Hippocratic oath is needed that says there are no boring subjects, only failed communicators.
FROSTED FLICKS. A group of hearty souls sit in beanbag chairs in 25 degree weather for an outdoor screening beneath the moon at the Tromso International Film Festival (where “Sizzle” is screening twice). Needless to say, I asked that my movie be shown at the indoor cinema.
I’m in the wonderful, wonderful winter wonderland of Tromso, Norway this week for a non-stop, 10 day marathon which, if the next 9 days are anything like the first one (we closed the pub down at 3 a.m. this morning), it’s going to be exhausting.
The people here are sooooooooo nice. And happy. And positive. And agreeable. Which is the perfect set-up for an obnoxious Yank from Hollywood to come in and spoil paradise by calling everything bo-ho-ho-ring. Which is sort of what I did yesterday on the opening panel discussion of the first event here — a 3 day conference of Nordic science communicators.
We had a panel discussion. Everyone was so nice and agreeable. But towards the end one fellow said, “I think we do have to accept that there are certain topics in science that simply cannot be communicated to the public.” Which prompted me to overturn the peaceful aura in the final wrap-up by saying, “I’m sorry, but I 100% disagree with that statement.”
Which has led me to this thought. If, for communicators, there were to be something equivalent to the Hippocratic oath, I would recommend it be:
“THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BORING SUBJECT, ONLY FAILED COMMUNICATORS.”
I think I’m drawing this from a quote a high school girlfriend once told me: “There’s no such thing as frigid women, only clumsy guys.” I haaaated that expression. I think it irritates me on a philosophical level because it is unfalsifiable. It’s basically saying, “There is a solution, you just haven’t found it yet.” Grrrr …
But now I find myself applying the same thinking to communication. And I think that this is my eternally optimistic answer to the obnoxious thing I said on Andy Revkin’s blog about global warming being “bo-ho-ho-ring.” The part I didn’t add was, “But it doesn’t have to be.”
At any rate, my taking exception caused the panel discussion to end on kind of a sour note (leave it to me). These Scandinavian people are such conflict-avoiders. They are so sweet. At the reception, people told me that what I said was funny — that their panels ALWAYS end with everyone in complete agreement on the topic. But they also agreed with my statement.
No one should say, “Well, some topics are boring and can’t be communicated.” You only need two things — resources (time, energy, money) and creativity. And that’s the fundamental problem with science communication: the science world is unwilling to provide the needed resources and doesn’t take any interest in creativity/novelty/innovation. Which adds up to a lethal combination that’s the main reason science communication is so bad. And the main reason a topic like global warming ends up being seen as boring.