21 January 2011

This blog don’t have a video: The many niches of science communication

Sometimes, I’ve thought about making videos for this blog. I haven’t done so, partly because I could never compete with her:

This is my blogging buddy (and fellow crayfish mafioso!) Carin Bondar. She’s been making a series of short videos called Biomusings. She also did a short film that won an award for the Canadian Discovery Channel’s “Film Snacks” competition. Part of the reason they’re so good is that Carin’s personality comes through the screen, like it does in the picture here.

And there’s also that Carin is beautiful.

I was going to say “photogenic,” but let’s not mince words. It’s obvious. When I showed Carin’s web site to one of my students, she immediately said, “Awwww, she’s really pretty.” And that helps in video; it’s a visual medium. I enjoy Carin’s blog, but I am willing to bet that she will have more success with her videos.

Previously, I argued that the pursuit of likeability and media savoir faire was often at odds with authenticity. In his latest edition of The Benshi, Randy Olson grapples with this question.

Someone talked about the importance of media training to make scientists better communicators, but eventually Rikke interrupted and said she wasn’t certain that it’s a good thing for all scientists, that she doesn’t want it herself, and that she would hate to see some “communicator” come along and start changing what someone like Dr. Jobling does. ...

What Rikke was saying was, “Don’t mess with our reality.” What media trainers say is, “You need to conform your reality to the rules of storytelling.” And she replies, “I don’t want to conform to your rules because if I do I will start to change the reality of who I am, and if I do that, I just become another boring drone.”

She is so right. And so are the media trainers.

I think there is a way to cut this Gordian knot. A wonderful thing about science communication today is that there are more than 31 flavours. There is more than enough room for people to specialize. Some people will be brilliant storytellers. Some will nail television interviews. And some... well, some people should just let others talk about their work.

Me? I probably wouldn’t be very good on screen. I won’t cut my hair. I won’t wear a tie. I have a great face for radio, as the old joke goes.

But despite using that old joke, I haven’t yet figured out how to do radio right. I was on radio a couple of times last year. I was okay, but on reflection, I could have done better.

On the other hand, I’m pretty happy with my writing. When I’m on the ball, I can give a good presentation.

So I’ll let Carin and Joanne do the videos that they’re so good at. I’ll try to find my own way, and to carve out my own niche in science communication.

Find what you are, and be that.

Picture of Dr. Bondar by Lou FCD on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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