It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Oh, That'll Work

Head spinning, as on most mornings, with the bizarreness of the world I awaken to. I suddenly have two new items I need to share with y'all. Here's the first, for a Bastille Day lagniappe:

While IPCC is being flamed for trying to limit contact with journalists to people with the skills to manage the out of control press, for instance by Revkin at Dot Earth "
But any instinct to pull back after being burned by the news process is mistaken, to my mind. As I explained to a roomful of researchers at the National Academy of Sciences last year, in a world of expanding communication options and shrinking specialized media, scientists and their institutions need to help foster clear and open communication more than ever. Clampdowns on press access almost always backfire.
and Charlie Petit at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker :
Now the IPCC is in the bunker mentality game, telling scientists working on its next round of reports to “keep the press at a distance.” Oh, that’ll work. A better bet is that at best it would only increase the ignorance and deviltry quotient of the news. It only gives a more solid reason to believe the UN-sponsored climate investigation, despite the underlying solid foundations of its summary reports, is tone-deaf to how the world outside the academy works. It is a replay writ large of the mentality behind those carping, whining, self-pitying, bar-talking (and ultimately empty) e-mails among climate scientists that triggered so-called climategate. But instead of keeping its anger at press and bloggers and all other ignorati to itself, as the e-mailers thought they were doing, IPCC has taken its defensive crouch public.
Meanwhile, Sarah Palin (an attractive and charming religious fanatic and narcissist, likely of less than median intelligence) looks prepared to make a plausible run for the US presidency by avoiding contact with the press altogether, and the trend spreads (h/t Patrick Appel at the indispensible Daily Dish)

Michelle Cottle in The New Republic:

In the midst of this aggressive visibility, however, Palin keeps a tight grip on her time in the public eye. She rarely sits down with non-conservative interviewers and eschews mix-’em-up formats pitting her viewpoint against that of a more liberal counterpart.

....It’s an unconventional media strategy, to be sure....Yet it’s hard to deny that Palin’s p.r. approach has not only succeeded but succeeded brilliantly. How? The most obvious element at work here is that Palin operates not as a politician but as a celebrity. “Most politicians can’t get on the cover of People,” sighs another GOP campaign veteran. “She’s on the cover almost every week.”

Kevin Drum in Mother Jones:

The other example who comes to mind (since I live in California), is Meg Whitman, who just ran a high-profile primary campaign in a big state with virtually no interaction with the mainstream press. She gave speeches, she ran ads (boy did she run ads), and she spoke to friendly reporters occasionally, but that was about it. And guess what? It worked. She proved that you really don't need the press anymore to run a successful campaign. ... I'm putting my money on the Palin-ization of politics. Partly this is because the mainstream press is dying anyway, and partly it's because Palin and others are demonstrating that you really don't need conventional press coverage to win.
So which is it? Is it the age of openness, or the age of closedness? Or does it depend whether Rupert Murdoch likes you?

It seems to me that the press selectively goes after people with some authority but a small constituency, whether they deserve it or not, and takes a hands off attitude toward people who who have a substantial following, whether they deserve it or not.

Oh, that'll work.


jstults said...

"So which is it?"

It's the age of appearing to be open while being rather closed (emphasis added):
At a Dominican Republic conference in January, Dunn - a former team member of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the wife of Obama's personal attorney Robert Bauer - discussed the "absolute control" the campaign exerted over Obama's mainstream media image. The tactic, she says, allowed the campaign to maneuver the candidate's persona away from media questioning.

"One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters," said Dunn, referring to media packages by Obama's chief campaign manager David Plouffe. "We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said, as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much - we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it," she said.

White House Official Admits Obama Campaign "Absolutely Controlled" Media Image, Slams Fox News

You can call me Elle. said...

This is going to come across as completely superficial, but aren't there any Hot and Not Too Smart climatologists? Because what Palin does is distract with sex; her base responds to her on that level. I assert that preventing global warming would appeal more to the masses if the Concerned Scientists put a model in a lab coat and nothing else on a billboard somewhere. Seriously. This is all people care about anymore. Make some kind of ridiculous YouTube video with scientists getting kicked in the groin, or a porn parody "Vicki found things were getting warmer, much too warm to keep her sweater on." People want even science to be the equivalent of an Axe deodorant spray ad. Just sayin'. Couldn't really hurt, could it? Hire a PR firm, stat.

Michael Tobis said...

Outsiders keep saying that.

I realize Elle is being facetious, but we keep getting that advice. But there is no institution that represents scientists that is in a position to spend money on PR.

What's more, when PR is engaged by third parties, it seems to do more harm than good, because PR agencies don't understand the product they are selling any better than the public does.

Steve L said...

Porn stars still haven't made it in politics (although wrestlers and actors have) -- so it's got to be more than just sex. Maybe sex and some tangential claim to sharing the same morality as the average voter.
Contrary to mt, I think PR people don't need to know what they're selling ("We need to act to reduce emissions") -- they need to know to whom they're selling. Unfortunately, the populace comprises a higher proportion of people who will be relatively open to the PR message the other guys are pushing ("You should emit all you want"). This is, afterall, the reason we want emissions to be expensive (so that people will want to emit less).

Michael Tobis said...

I personally would rather sell the idea that science is a good thing, and let the emissions reductions come as a consequence.

mothincarnate said...

I have to agree with jstults.
It seems to be a very politically motivated age; where appearance is greater than truth.
I remember in the late '90's everyone was talking about how journalism was a dying art. Every joe on the street was buying a camera phone and posting blogs. No longer was it up to the journo-sleuth to work it out and write a witty piece, but it was now people's news.
And look at what the pop-media has become to stay afloat; lies and sensationalism solely to sell a paper. Truth is near irrelevant if a web of lies can be spun that sounds like juicy gossip and takes long enough to unravel for people to have moved on.
Things like climate change and the environment cop it bad because for the most, the target is faceless or at best a little known researcher in some obscure pocket of the world. How often do they just let it slide by or face great efforts to clear their name - all based on a ridiculous set of lies? It's absolutely horrible.
It's worse when it truly faceless. Yesterday I published a piece regarding Andrew Bolts attack on conservation efforts regarding a moth species in Victoria, Aust. His method was through attacking the dodo. In both cases the bloke proves ignorance of ecology. A first year biology student could have blown his article out of the water and yet such irresponsible behaviour is endorsed by a major Aust paper..
It is an age of closed minded ignorance, but one that wears a new suit and tries to refer to literature. Monckton would be a good icon.

Martin said...

Michael, I would agree with jstults that the 'trick' is to project the appearance of openness while totally controlling the message. Of course the IPCC is limited by being a public body, but the should at least have a competent media branch and media training for all scientists likely to be interviewed. The first rule being: don't ever agree to be interviewed by a journo you don't trust!

About there not being money for doing proper PR for science and scientists, well, that money will just have to be found if we don't want to spend decades in a permanent enactment of Climategate. Someone has to speak for science, with conviction and convincingly. If that means training a corps of people who are on top of both the science and the art of PR, then so be it. Mainstream journalism is apparently not available for our use so we have to learn do it ourselves.

The meta-question however is, is mankind worth saving (if that's what we're doing; I don't see how short of nuclear war, humanity as a species would be at risk, any more than rats or cockroaches; but that's an aside).

Heck, I don't even actually like humans -- less and less in fact the better I get to know them. Monkeys in suits. IMHO survival isn't a human right or an entitlement; it has to be earned. If we as scientists 'trick' humanity into surviving, by means of slick PR rather than just telling it like it is, we're giving the game away for no good reason. I say, let reality assert itself; other species will be grateful in the longer term.

What is close to my heart is the fate of the science community, folks like me, who are getting a rotten deal. But for the grace of $DEITY, it would be me contemplating suicide in place of Phil Jones.

And we have plenty to offer. Hey, we did Hiroshima (exploded as promised, didn't it?). We did Sputnik and Tranquillity Base. The double helix, the human genome, the Model T and the Walkman. We can do climate-mediated systemic collapse too, and the more spectacular, the more scope for impressively predicting ("projecting") gory details. Hi Dr Strangelove... perhaps this time the lesson will stick.

Ramblings... tell me that I'm wrong.