February 11th, 2011
What are words for, when no one listens any more? And why do I bother writing editorials? Probably the same reason I feel the need to get exercise. Just part of keeping active. In 2002 I published my OpEd on “shifting baselines,” in the LA Times. That piece had an enormous impact — reprinted on dozens of websites, several magazines and three college textbooks. It launched our entire Shifting Baselines project and was widely talked about. But that was a different world. There were NO BLOGS back then. Blogging began to emerge in the environmental world towards the end of 2003. I started my initial Shifting Baselines blog in 2004 and went to the Surfrider 20th Anniversary Conference in 2005 and they were just starting to open up blogs for their chapters.
Today blogs are ubiquitous, which has meant several things. For every one editorial published in the NY Times there are probably now at least 100 comparable pieces posted on blogs for whatever the topic might be. At the same time newspaper readership is plummeting. The net result is that instead of being a society where we agree upon there being only a few leaders who are carefully selected (my LA Times piece had to be chosen by a team of editors, and several earlier pieces I had submitted there and elsewhere never saw the light of day), we are now a society where “everyone is a leader!” by running their own blog. Yay! Oh, and also every kid who plays soccer ends up with a room full of trophies, no matter how lousy he or she is. Yay! America! To some extent this is what Tom Friedman was referring to in his book, “The World is Flat.”
Bottom line, it’s all turned cacophonous. This is no more evident anywhere than on the Huffington Post, which seems like a room at the insane asylum where hordes of patients are wailing about their problems. Or maybe more like the wall of prophets as brought to life in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Whadevah. Here’s my latest public axe grinding.
“HOPE IS FOR ENVIRONMENTALISTS, TRUST IS FOR SCIENTISTS”
Solutions is a new publication that looks pretty interesting. My former co-blogger Jennifer Jacquet (lead author of the the Opinion piece in Nature last year that kicked the legs out from under the Marine Stewardship Council and was selected by Nature as one of their top six Opinion pieces of the year) along with my Shifting Baselines co-founder Jeremy Jackson and my diplomatic hero Nancy Knowlton organized a special volume on the oceans. Jeremy and Nancy have become keen on their “Beyond the Obituary” theme for the oceans — meaning, “Enough with the tales of devastation and demise, let’s hear about the things that are actually working in the conservation world,” and thus the special volume of “Solutions” — the perfect place for their message.
My editorial was prompted by my concern over the blurring of the line between scientists and activists, and more importantly the idea that scientists shouldn’t spend so much time trotting out attention-getting predictions, but rather should invest more in making certain the public realizes how much success they have had in the past. It’s about building public trust, not using fear-based alarmism which we know the media world feeds on. It’s a whole mindset of investing in the long term rather than cashing in for the short term.
Also, be sure to take a look at the Perspectives piece by my buddy Dave Wilmot, founder and head of Ocean Champions. I have been a huge and long time supporter of his organization, and shot their promo video for them in 2009. In 2002 with Shifting Baselines we set out to do some novel communications work. About the same time we began our project, he and Jack Sterne launched Ocean Champions as an effort to do similar novel work for the political side of ocean conservation.
“CREATING EXCELLENCE VERSUS FOSTERING IT”
My visit to Norway made a very big impression on me. There are dozens of reasons why I left my tenured professorship in 1994 and moved to Hollywood. But going over there and working with bright students who truly respect and trust instructors shocked me into realizing how tired I got of dealing with students full of attitude. Similarly, last Friday I attended an all day workshop by the National Academy of Sciences “Science and Entertainment Exchange” focusing on science education. They opened the event by showing a film clip which reported that today’s science and math students in the U.S. are way down the list among other countries in every variable except one — American students THINK they are the best in the world.