Are Scientists or Moviemakers the Bigger Dodos?

Scientist-turned-filmmaker Randy Olson says that academics must be more like Hollywood in how they share their love for science

Marine biology professor-turned-Hollywood filmmaker Randy Olson contends that people missed the message in his first two films because film is not their language. (Emmett Schmotkin)

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Oh yes, I definitely do.

So, who are the dodos?

I think for starters, everybody in our society today is a bunch of dodos. We’ve gotten so overloaded with information that there’s no way that anyone can be that smart. Show me the best scholar and the greatest intellect, and I’ll show you a person who’s probably totally clueless on pop culture. And vice versa. There’s such a breadth of information that we’re all clueless at one level or another. The irony of the movie is that most people when they saw the title assumed that it was referring to creationists and intelligent designers. And that it was an insulting or pejorative title. But in fact, once you watch the movie it’s basically hinting that it’s quite possible that these heavily educated intellectuals could be just as big of dodos.

Your second film, Sizzle, about global warming, received some mixed reviews, right?

Well, the reviews were not mixed in the entertainment world, but the reviews were mixed in the science world. It’s important to point out the distinction. We show the movie to broad audiences. Everybody laughs and has a good time with it. But there was a significant number in the science crowd, particularly science bloggers, who were infuriated by the movie. They felt that the proper type of movie to make is an Al Gore type of movie that is packed full of information. My feeling is that that is simply reflective of scientists’ lack of understanding of the way in which to use film. Film is not a particularly effective educational medium. It is an incredibly powerful motivational medium. It’s a great way to reach inside of people’s hearts and their guts and everything else. But it’s not a good medium to pack full of information.

So, your films are more about getting people interested rather than actually educating them on that topic?

Absolutely. I’m not interested in education. I’m interested in motivation and trying to light a fire inside of people to make them want to learn a few things about what they just got interested in.

And scientists don’t get that?

I tried to make a movie that was in a voice that younger, less committed audiences might be willing to listen to. And that is simply not the same audience as the scientists. If you make a film in French and all the Greek people get mad because they couldn’t understand it. Is that because you didn’t make the right film? That wasn’t the intended audience.

How do you respond to people who say you’re “dumbing down” science?


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