"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, February 7, 2009

sans entertainment, nobody cares about jellyfish swarms

Another great contribution from the O'Reilly Radar site, this one by Michael Jensen.

I am very interested in the little sidelight about scientific publishing. The very peculiar behavior of career scientists vs critical hobbyists revealed in the Climate Audit vs RealClimate rivalry, one where the RC folks seem to frequently miss the boat and miss how they are missing the boat, ties into the very peculiar incentive system built into science. The people who function best within this environment are determined partially by scientific talent and partially by a talent in thriving under the peculiar incentives. Their odd behavior is easily recast by the opposition as malign, alas.

But the article is rich in interesting ideas in many ways. I wanted to share this snippet with you in particular. I'm not sure what to say about it but it's worth thinking about:
For more than a year, my friend Jim and I have been documenting and recording stories on the great unravelling of our livable world, and trying to build entertainment into it.

Climate chaos is a thread, just as is ocean acidification, and overfishing, and amphibian die-off, and pharma-laced water supplies, and giant dead zones, and the toxic plastic gumbo twice the size of Texas gyring in the Pacific. It's the heavy metals we've been spewing willy-nilly out of coal plants, the persistent toxic runoff from our cities and farms, and the debt of poison we're bequeathing to our children.

*These* are the problems that truly must be addressed. *These* are the problems that are "stuff that Really Matters." Our little project is a stab at trying to nudge some momentum of awareness of these really serious issues.

We've been trying to work out ways of making the news entertaining, even funny; we've added a weekly Pre-Apocalypse News and Info Quiz, a collection of paper-free crossword puzzles, and we try to find a punchline to each story we record.

We do this because without entertainment, nobody wants to know about the jellyfish swarms, the orcas and other mammals sickening from eating salmon poisoned with PCBs and flame retardant, the collapse of little brown bats in the Northeast, and the precipitous loss of biomass from the oceans.

Isn't apocalypse fun? Yay!


guthrie said...

Whatever happened to being interested in the world because it is intrinsically interesting? Am I such a mutant that I read about lots of topics, and want to know how things work and what affects our life on this planet?

As for scientists, I think a common thread amongst most of them of my acquaintance (I did a chemistry degree) do have this interest, and we have great fun discussing how we found something out, and what other people have found out about how things work.

From this mindset it is very hard to see how you have to make anything entertaining, since the world is intrinsically entertaining to a great many of us, no effort necessary to package it with whatever sales tactics are popular today.

Michael Tobis said...

I'm with you on this one, Guthrie.

On the other hand, people want hope, not gloom. I don't think candy coated gloom helps. I think there has to be a best or at least least-awful way out of here and we have to find it.

Part of that has to be getting people to pay attention to the bad news.

Anonymous said...

In the current climate, only losers are interested in the real world.
You get successful in life by being successful in human relations by knowing how to play humans.
Style and buzz matters, not content.

Dano said...

I appreciate guthrie's lament, but sadly the fraction of the populace that shares this fascination is not large enough to carry an election. That's how it is, and the GF and I have this conversation about every two weeks. Nonetheless,

One can also read Desdemona Despair for the same news without the Grist-type humor, just the facts, ma'am.



Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, MT.

"Getting people to pay attention to the bad news" is exactly what we're striving to do. I don't know if what we're doing is the best way, but it's the only successful way we've devised, at least for me and Jim, the two authors of apocadocs.com.

We need *lots* more people out there mobilizing, alerting, talking this stuff up. It's not just the heat, it's the effing *humidity*.

'Doc Michael

Anonymous said...

Dano -- thanks so much for the link to Desdemona Despair!

We hadn't run across it -- lots of great overlap (if you'd call it "great.")

Michael Tobis said...

Hey, y'all are first in my blogroll, now, thanks to the alphabet and all.

guthrie said...

Hope is a good thing.
Hope is what we have. It is perfectly possible for us to avoid the worst effects of global warming, at the same time as fixing quite a few other problems.
I am completely hopeful that we could do so.

But people don't seem to like change forced on them by circumstances, and too many people will lose some of their position of power if these changes are carried out. Power is the important thing, and in advocating something other than the status quo we run directly into the current power holders. The danger will be it becoming a struggle between current power holders and those who hope to gain power by changing things.

Hank Roberts said...

> oceans

Good find. Direct link:

"... Generally it takes about 10-15 years from the discovery of a fish population of large fish, for it to be reduced by a factor of 10 and less to a smaller amount. But the factor of 10 within 10-15 years! And so we have in a sense, set up a machine which from the center which was in North America, Northern Europe especially, and in the North Pacific around Japan, the first industrialized country, spreads like concentric rings. We can show this, in fact, in the form of graphs. Spreads like a ring, and it reduced the biomass of fish by a factor of 10 within about 10 years.

The book shows this for the North Atlantic, from the ‘50s to the present. We show maps, what we call biomass, the amount of fish anytime in the sea, is shown to decline. All our analysis is very conservative so every time there was a choice of assumptions, we made the more conservative assumptions so we don’t exaggerate. So we ended up with a decline of a factor by 6 from the beginning of the 20th Century to the end, that we reduced the biomass by a factor of six. Actually, it’s far more ...."

Hank Roberts said...

> http://www.apocadocs.com

Good (ouch! wince!) site.
You know Dano, and Bi, and Eli, I trust?

Word verification:

Not bad, not bad, maybe there's hope for distributed AI yet ...