WGBH Lectures; WGBH Forum Network; Global Warming: Communicating Science Through Film
My name is Gary Barresi I'm the director and CEO of the Marine Biological Laboratory.
I'm a relative newcomer to this topic of climate change so I have to confess that so please don't ask me any questions asked the panelists. But I was very impressed. So I'm a biophysicist molecular biologist by trade that's my disclaimer. But in coming to the NBL two years ago one of my books that I was reading along route was Jared Diamond's Collapse. And I have to say that impressed me very deeply and it convinced me really that what we're facing at this time in society is the potential disastrous experiment that we're conducting on our planet.
So it could have untold consequences for future generations. And I think it is a terribly important problem for all of us to deal with. So I've tried to learn a little bit about this topic but my panelists know more about this so I'm going to pass the microphone and have each of them introduce themselves and turn.
They very good yeah.
Mandy raftsmen I'm the only person up here probably without a Ph.D. I have an honorary doctorate actually from Pace University versity but it's not even a Ph.D. it's some other group of letters. So I don't even play a scientist on TV.
I write about this stuff I've been writing and and photographing and increasingly videotaping science for 25 years and I'm increasingly convinced that if we're not communicating with moving images and sounds great to these great additional tools besides the printed word you can forget about engaging the next generation. I have two sons one is 10. One is almost 18 and the printed word is still in a part of their universe but even in the Times today we have a story on how people read now or don't read and my younger boy loves manga these Japanese sort of illustrated novels so get words are getting infused with pictures even in books. My older boy forget about it it's all moving images. He would love to be here on Tuesday to talk to the fight club. Screen screenwriter who actually had to write that movie. But Daniel is more into the imagery. My own interest in science largely grew. Well I grew out of a mixture of books I still love books and print but it was because Jacques Cousteau's film filmmaking that drew me into science I grew up in Rhode Island right down the coast here. And you know all all you had to do was put a camera under water and go la la and I was like yeah. That caught my attention. I also read his books but but the films were really what gripped me and made me want to be a marine biologist until I started having to take organic chemistry and. I realized I'd rather write about than do it. So there was not Bisto then there's David Attenborough horse of Richard which is the actor and which is the one again and it's the things you can't quite convey in printed words like Attenborough lying on the beach I wrote years ago about his series of documentaries he did on birds and there he is on a beach in New Zealand covered in seaweed with getting bitten by all these little you know sort of beach bugs and he's crawling there in the darkness he's saying oh here comes the kiwi you know the visual the tactile The emotive The emotive content of words you can't convey in print all are very special. So anything any of us can do and any of you in the room can do to consider when you're communicating science to think about ways to add those elements that you're probably doing the right thing.
That was probably longer than I should have gone and this initial statement but on where do we go.
Scott doany I'm Andy's worst nemesis. I'm a chemist. My background is in a combination of chemistry and oceanography and I spent a lot of time working on the climate problem and various aspects of carbon dioxide and where it ends up in the environment. What happens once it goes into the ocean. And I've been trying the last several years to try to figure out ways of connecting with people on this issue of climate. I too watched a lot of Jacques Cousteau when I was a kid but I don't do things that have pretty animals or coral reefs or most of my work involves numerical models and going out and making rather boring surveys of the ocean. But when you add it up over a long period of time you actually can see the change due to human impact. So I'm still struggling myself of how best to present what I do. So I thought of you know my perspective. You know I would be one of the scientists in the film that Randy was doing sitting there with my table of facts and numbers and arcane factoids not communicating at all with the audience so that's where I'm coming from.
Well yeah. I. Guess. Yeah. I'm a geologist by training and a historian of science. And so as a geologist geology is a very visual science.
We don't often talk about how we were the visual ones and talk about how we had visual language and everything in geology was pictures and that in fact sometimes with all the pictures I took a class once in mining engineering we called the dump trucks and coloring. So for me communication through visuals has always been part of my training in my education. But I came to this climate issue not so much being concerned about the power of visuals but just about the whole issue of communication as overall because one of the things that I began to realize as I was doing historical research on the history of oceanography and its connection to the emergence of climate questions in terms of coupled ocean atmosphere issues was the enormous disconnect between the way in which scientists were talking among themselves about the climate issue and the way it was being communicated and discussed in the mass media. And it was that disconnect that got me involved in this issue. And so I started thinking more also about the causes of that disconnect. And as a historian one of the things that I've noticed very very strongly is how much less scientists communicate to the public now than they did 80 90 or 100 years ago. Because in the early part of the century which I studied as part of my early career I worked a lot on our scientists in the early 20th century. It was routine it was common it was completely normal for scientists leading scientists to write popular books write popular articles do pieces for Scientific American the scientific monthly Popular Mechanics all these sorts of journals and even do radio shows. And one thing that struck me really forced when I was writing on history of plate tectonics was that in the 1920s a man by the name of William Bowie who was the head of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey used to do a weekly radio show on geodesy. Now most people would think geodesy is the most boring topic on the history of the planet. Right. I mean there is nothing more boring than geodesy I apologize for throwing in geodes in this audience.
And please stop me if you need me explain what geodesy is. But then he did a radio show on it.
OK so geodesy is the study of the shape of the earth and made it particularly the shape of the polar flattening. And it's crucial for making accurate maps so it is a very important issue in the early 20th century when lots of people were worried about maps for railroads and mining claims in petroleum exploration stuff like that.
So he did this weekly radio show on geodesy. You know I thought that's so interesting because nowadays a lot of scientists would say well you know what I do it's really boring it's boring numerical modeling you know there's no way to communicate this that can't really make this sexy. But when we made geodesy sexy So how did he do that.
You know so I think part of it is also a story about our relationship as a scientific community to the culture that we live in and the assumptions and expectations that we bring to the table about what we can and can communicate. And I think if we could open up a conversation about that about why the scientific community stopped when we know why they stopped doing radio shows. Why that kind of outreach became less common in the latter half of the 20th century. I think that would help us to think about how we could reopen it and get the scientific community more directly engaged.
What a perfect lead into these comments for me. So I'm Randy also I made the film last night sizzle and following on what you just said. Actually one of the things I've always been fond of talking about is Louis Agassi in the 1850s was a curator at the museum created the museum compare zoology at Harvard and used to give lectures on the Cambridge common to four and 500 people for three hours on a hot Saturday afternoon in the summer talking about fish taxonomy and four or five hundred people this is his job to say exactly.
And you know I think it was an era where people had very little information in their heads and. The information was in short supply and they craved for stimulation and they would YOU know anything but here's some information they would sit there and listen to fish taxonomy Wow that's great. The audience has changed over the ages and that's the challenge is figuring out the ways in which the audience has changed and the constraints that you have to deal with in that. And that's the challenge for the science community because it's no longer the situation you can just stand up there and speak the facts and that people are willing to come to you and work within your your style. And one of the difficulties in all this is the most powerful still traditional way of reaching broad audiences is through storytelling and storytelling. At one in the spectrum of the opposition from scientists because storytelling and balls bending and weaving facts around to create a good story. Science involves just getting the facts out there regardless of whether it's a good story or not. And those two are in constant conflict and that's a lot of the dilemma you face. A lot of what you can see in the contrast between the two climate movies that that Laurie David produced the Al Gore movie versus the HBO movie too hot not to handle for the HBO movie was full of scientists didn't tell much of a story didn't grab those human elements. Nobody ever watched hardly the Al Gore movie went ahead and molded things a bit more told more of a personal story and reached a much bigger audience so it's an endless dilemma in terms of dealing with that spectrum. Just a couple of quick introductory comments.
First off this person here who's the star of the movie she she's so much fun to work with and what's really great is that like this is Zoe I think of it with a lot of the skeptics. It's like they're vampires and she's like a cross that you hold up to them.
All you have to do is mention her name and they are not rescue and I swear it's that bad and some of them they just like her so much because she stood up to them particularly with the two essays that she's had in science that just really kind of became the the strongest I think in clearest statements about the consensus and things of that sort. And then secondly when John Goldman and I first started organizing this event of having my movie last night I suggested the great panel scutcheon and the one guy really thought would be wonderful to get here is Andy Revkin because he's really one of the greatest communicators of global warming issues right now. And in my perspective he seems to be sort of matches I think somewhat with the movie which is the way I see the movie is there's three voices in the movie. There is at one extreme the skeptics at the other extreme the environmentalists and in the middle are the scientists and they're just trying to get the facts out there. And there's two ends of the spectrum are grabbing on everything that they say and pulling it in one direction or the other according to their agendas and of the different people that I've followed and journalists things like that. It seems to me that Andy's done a really good job of just trying to find the truth without any sort of agenda attached to it.
And I think that's the lot of the challenge and that's what I hope this kind of the purpose of the movie.
So one quick thought on the movie by the way I'm not a reviewer and all that stuff and whatever you think it's it's just fascinating amalgam of forms. I still I'm trying to figure it out in my own head.
But if we're not experimenting and you know Randy has done a brave experiment here in a mash up of different ways of telling that story and that if we're not experimenting in that way then there's real trouble. And that's what's valuable about perspectives like friends.
So we want to have a dialogue about the movie and about communicating science could I check for a moment how many of those in the audience have actually seen the movie. All right. Excellent. OK. So many people have seen the movie terrific and there are many in the audience know a lot about the science and we can talk about the science and any topic is really fair game here but we would like to focus on the movie itself and on ways of communicating the science. I think that's really the major point of this panel discussion. I wonder if we could begin Randi with you saying a little bit more about your motivations and thoughts in making the movie and perhaps relating your thoughts to the kinds of movies that is that Michael Moore has made or is it Roger Moore now is it the book is it's one of those more sides I think is Michael Moore and in making other movies could you could you give us some of your thoughts on what you are trying to accomplish here.
Sure. I think you know one of the first important things about making films is you come to see that you have a voice a distinctive voice.
And I was a marine biologist and a professor at the University of New Hampshire in 94 I had tenure and then got so deeply into filmmaking and storytelling through films that I finally decided to leave my academic career go to film school at USC and one of the fascinating things in our first semester there was the introductory course we had everybody made five of these little five minute Super 8 films and about the and every Wednesday and there were 15 students in the class every Wednesday five of them which show their little film that we can they were all really crummy and cheap and you spliced together in your living room table. But in about the third week it was the fourth week the instructor had everybody chop off the introductory credits of the film so you can see who made it and throw Minal been. And then they shirks showed them and then everybody had to guess who made the film. And by the third or fourth film you didn't need to know who made it.
The voices were coming so clear even if somebody who had been making horror films decided to make a romance film you could tell it that was you know a Tommy film or that was a fancy film or whatever. You hear these voices through film and as a filmmaker you slowly but surely begin to realize this is my voice and you can take a look at the films that I've made all the way back to.
I did a music video about barnacle sex was Professor that at that age that is still on YouTube is still very popular with college professors and is probably the best thing I've ever done. So minute music video that we got a jazz singer and can't thing this jazz song about this sexual and downlow barnacles.
So but if you look at the elements of the voice there it's the use of humor and color and music and.
And then also a little bit of substance in terms of there actually being a little bit of science in there and that those basic characteristics are still my voice today. And so kind of I really jumped out in terms of that voice. Two years ago the feature I did Flock of Dodos though is about the evolution intelligent design controversy and that one was funny and had some sincerity to it. And in fact we did a test screening of it with about 40 friends in Hollywood.
And when it was over with I was listen all the feedback and almost. And these were all very smart friends of mine almost everything they had to say was We want to know more. Well you know we want to know more about Charles. Charles Darwin was when you put a tutorial on there about the difference between a fact and a theory. Can you tell us more about all these different informational things. But what I've learned by then is that film it's not a very good informational medium but it's really good with the emotional elements and so it's a great thing to get people inspired on something but not to try and give them the facts. And as a result I came up with what I came to called the HST strategy which was humor sincerity and drama. And so I ignored all these requests for more information and instead tried to just accentuate what we had in the movie for humor sincerity and drama. Those were and the humor was in the form of dancing Dodo's and things like that sincerity is in the form my mother and a tribute to Stephen Jay Gould in the movie and drama where the conflicts that I had the confrontations with the intelligent designers. So when it came time for this movie that was still the mindset I had. And in fact we were unable to get a theatrical distributor for Flock of Dodos because they said it was just too informational even still and this is the divide is that I go out with this movie and a bunch of evolutionists said they were deeply disappointed by the movie it just they had hoped it was going to have all the facts of evolution and really you know make the case and then you turn around distributors and they say it's too informational and you find yourself caught in that Gulf. So this one I just said from the outset to my science friends I'm really sorry but this time around we're going to pull the information back even further and really go for the humor and really go for some drama. And that's what we've ended up with and it seems to be working. I mean to begin with we've been accepted into two gay and lesbian film festivals that don't have any sort of environmental or science agenda. So we've already reached a broader audience that way. And then also what I'm hearing even from last night. Never people had kids that were like anywhere from 12 to 15 that they really enjoyed it. So it's reaching a different sort of audience and I think I said that last night you know I'm sorry to the scientist but you are not the target demographic for this movie. We need to do this and he's saying you know what ideally what would have been great had they had the resources for the Al Gore movie to come out and then be followed by 10 different sorts of crazy movies that were geared at other demographics to reach that message with other voices. Because the Gore movie is great but it's still got that clear voice in it that is very limited and none of my friends in Kansas respond to Al Gore in his voice and they never will. And so that's the challenge that you face in diversifying the message.
Now you get on the human element you have these guys at least the crew that is always intervening and making comments when they should be doing their job. Did you try consciously perhaps on some of the roots in Shakespeare for example. You know like the Jesters or the grave diggers and Hamlet you know this is a humorous element contrasting with the theme the craziness of the of the plot.
You know one of the things that I learned and so I've written a book that's coming out next spring called Don't Be Such A scientist an island press just concluded the deal. So it's going to be coming out in their spring cycle and it is the story of my journey leaving academia as this heavily educated academic moving to Hollywood. And the most important thing that happened to me I went to film school but much more important was a friend of mine got me into an acting program a two year Meisner program in Santa Monica with this horrible Nazi woman that taught the course and scream her lungs out and then picked me out of the group of there was like 25 of these kids are all in their early 20s and I was 38 and academic and she just targeted me and really beat on me to overcome my personal arrogance and prejudice to believe that because I was so educated I knew more than everybody else in the room. I know how to communicate and it's very difficult to accept the idea that after all this education you've actually handicapped yourself as a communicator. But that's a lot of what this book is about and it's about becoming overly cerebral. And you get so caught up in the information you don't understand that the broader audience doesn't communicate to that channel and you've got to reach into these other elements to try and broaden it out. And that's it's counterintuitive I think for for the academics.
The one thing that strikes me about what Randi just said is I've written about the sociology of climate and what we learn what we absorb or we don't absorb what we reject what we question and why and when you do. And the most depressing for a lot of scary things about global warming. The most depressing science of all is the sociology of it. It's we the Pew Center for the public and the press did a series of surveys last couple of years and they found that if you're a Republican and you have a college degree or a Republican without a college degree one of the more educated Republicans is more skeptical about global warming than the less educated Republican the more educated Democrat is more believing and worry about global warming than the less educated Democrat. So we are we we're in these silos and if you're out there and you're you have a master's degree or a Ph.D. and you're Republican or you're a businessman you're actually just grabbing that much more aggressively at the facts quote unquote that suit your predisposition. So the idea that you're going to battling documentaries that just said well let's just give them some more facts that that's going to be the thing that tips people's values about how they treat environmental risk is just kind of wishful thinking. The soft sciences the soft aspects of this matter hugely in the way people just go to my blog and put in the word sociology and you'll see some of the studies it's really interesting.
Let's put it that way. And so I'm seeing on the ground exactly what you're talking about namely that we've had a number of test screenings with some some groups of scientists at a few universities. And what's happened a number of times is when it's all over with some scientists who said you know great movie really enjoyed but could you just do one thing for us. Could you put a big statement at the end. The movie says there's no disagreement about global warming.
You know there's. Oh my goodness yeah repeatedly and I say you know that's kind of woven through the text of the movie.
But a lot of what this divide is about is the difference between substance and style. And academics and scientists that communicate primarily through substance they want things to be written they want the information there and the broader audience has an ability to just hear messages through style. And that's a lot of what I've tried to do with these things. Be less literal about it and try more. But to get back to your initial thing which was how I put it all together as I mentioned the acting class is the one thing I learned in the acting class is the power and the importance of spontaneity. Moving your your creative process out of your head into your heart and into your gut and the more you can move it down and do things more impulsively and intuitively and spontaneously more quickly you get a different chemistry with what you do. And so a lot of these documentaries they spend a year with a whole lot of the whole brain just coming together and digesting a script over and over again as they do that they suck all the spontaneity out of it and they end up with a you know kind of a very sterile and lifeless script by the time they go out and shoot it which is all accurate but it's missing some human element for both of these movies I've done I've tried to just run out there so fast I can shoot stuff and then we spend with those we spent an intense six day months setting that with this one it was almost an entire year after the fact hammering it together and then once it's done what's really fun for me is in all of these screenings I'm watching the movie and slowly but surely trying to figure out more analytically what it is that we did why we did that because it all just came out of you know seems like a good to do this and that. So that's a big divide between being Cerebro versus beings visceral.
So I'm thinking about being visceral and taking up the chemistry. Naomi could you tell us how you bring the garlic and the cross to bear to ward off the climate vampires.
Well actually it's funny because I feel like I have warned them off with facts and but but not too many facts I might think you know. The piece I wrote in Science about the scientific consensus. Like a lot of academic things you had sort of a long complicated history but I submitted this thing to science magazine and the original article was about three and half pages and the editors part of that had a whole big argument about it.
They didn't know what genre it fit in and they had this big discussion was it a policy forum was it a research article or was it so they could they decided to call it an essay. And I thought well that's great. There's a great intellectual tradition associated with essays going back to Montana you invented it right. So I was OK with that. But the editor said to me Look here's what we decided. If you can get it down to one page will publish it. And of course you know me being an academic thing but all of but you know all these things I have to explain right. And they actually gave me the page lay out and they said Here's your page you can do what you want with it you know you can have a picture you can have footnotes.
It's kind of up to you. So I had to make it one page. And so we did that with. Of course you know great gnashing of teeth great you know greeting of teas and all that. But then about six months later a reporter from USA Today called and he goes that peace has been so helpful to me I have sent it out to so many people and he goes and you know the really great thing about it is it was just one page.
I said well yeah of course I planned it that way. So. So I guess part of what I've learned in this process is it's not that facts are irrelevant.
You can in fact have an impact with facts but you just have to be really selective about which facts you're talking about. And so in my case the fact was not it was a sort of metaphor. Right it wasn't the detailed facts about you know how much the ocean has warmed up or about changes in ph or things like that.
But it was the sort of matter of fact about scientific consensus and so that and that was an interesting thing to me because you know I felt at the time I still feel today that I didn't do anything that many other people couldn't have done in principle but somehow no one did it you know.
So sometimes it's also a matter of you know if you see something that's not happening and you realize that you have the capacity to do it just say and I mean I do feel awkward at first I thought in fact my husband even said to me he goes well why are you doing this. I said well I don't know what the scientists have done it so somebody needs to do this right. So you know if you see something that needs to be done and you realize that you have the capacity to do it you can do it and you can make an attempt you can have an essay right which is French for to try it and maybe it will have some impact in this case it did.
And of course the other reason why these deniers don't like me is that this is the great joy of being a historian because you know I've kind of called a bluff because many of these guys really are liars and they keep shifting they keep shifting their story.
And if you don't Shakya if you don't pay attention over time you might not know. I mean I talked about this a little bit last night. So a lot of these guys now say oh yeah of course there's global warming you know. John Christy Reese recently said in the Senate well you know we've put all this carbon dioxide into the atmosphere of course it would be crazy if there weren't some impact. But of course for 20 years he was denying that. So if you have any memory at all or if you're a historian and you go back and look you can very quickly say well hold on but just six months ago you were saying the opposite. Now you're acting as if you knew this all the time. You know why should we believe what you're saying now when you know only six months ago you were you know you were denying this like crazy. And I have you know I actually the thing I'm proudest about in this whole thing is so after I published a book review in science magazine where I started to talk about who these people were and who was funding them and what their political connections were.
One very prominent climate science denier Fred Singer who's familiar with some people in this audience threatened to sue Science magazine over what I had written and that was not a happy moment in my life. And even though they weren't threatening to sue me personally I thought I mean if science magazine got sued over something I wrote that could be the end of me ever publishing in science again could be the end of me publishing anywhere. I mean that's not something that you want to happen to you. And you know generally a bad thing right. So I got a phone call from the editors of science saying you know these lawyers were threatening them and they were claiming that what I had said was untrue and you know that I was defaming this person. So I got to work and I pulled out all these documents that I had. And you know I wrote this memo where I summarized the documents and how they explained and show all this stuff and of course well the memo ended up being 17 pages long became a book chapter and now I'm going to be writing a book about this man I am writing a book about this so these things have a way of work out.
But so I sent this to science magazine. And I never actually kind of heard the end of this story. I mean I knew it kind of went away but I never really exactly knew how it went away until I saw John Kennedy a few months ago and I said to Daniel. So what. Happened there and he said he goes oh yeah we we started reading to the lawyers from your memo he goes they couldn't leave the room fast and after.
Was kind of a great moment right because I spent a lot of time digging up documents that are not always easy to find. But when you find the documents and documents clearly show you know the truth of the matter that can be a powerful thing. And when people know that you're going to call them on the truth of these matters and that you have the evidence and that's one thing that I always argue really strong about I mean a lot of historians don't really understand. So a lot of scientists don't entirely understand what I do because they don't really understand that history like science is an evidence based pursuit. And my job is to find the evidence to tell the truth about historical events. And so when I have that evidence you know it's a very satisfying feeling and it's a powerful position to be in.
And I think that's what kind of scares these guys because they know that I know what they've done and they know that I have the documents that show it.
Naomi I thought something you said earlier was very interesting that scientists perhaps a century ago are far more involved in communicating the science in popular media to the public. What do you think has driven scientists away from that kind of practice. I mean here we're trying to reestablish that kind of connection but there is this long period in between where perhaps we've been driven away what happened how did that come up.
I think we know the answer to that and I think it's a kind of paradox of success and a kind of unintended consequence so after World War Two there was tremendous increase in the amount of funding for scientific research in this country. And so that was a good thing for science overall is a good thing for scientific research was a good thing for institutions like MVL and Whoy And so there's tremendous explosive growth in scientific research and funding for basic research. But one of the things that that did inadvertently was in a way to make scientists. Almost too comfortable a little complacent that scientists didn't feel the need so much to go out and explain what they did to the public because they didn't they no longer felt directly dependent upon the public for support because their support was coming through agencies that understood their mission. You know agencies like the National Science Foundation the National Institutes of Health or the Office of Naval Research agencies that were committed to the scientific research mission understood the mission and didn't really need to have it explained to them. So a whole generation of scientists and then a second generation and then a third you know grew up in this environment of kind of taking for granted the public support for for their research and not feeling that the communication to broader audiences was important and for a long time that was OK I would say the scientific community and in a sense got away with that because there was this extremely abundant funding. But I think two things happened. One is we're seeing now you know a tightening of that that you know funding continues to increase but not at the rate that scientists increased so there's more scientists competing for the same funds and that's made everything tighter. But we're also seeing the consequence of that that if you don't explain your work to the public then hey guess what.
After a while the public doesn't understand what you do. Surprise surprise. Right. So now we live in a situation where it's not just climate change.
I mean those of you with in biology know this very well I mean there are many areas in which what scientists have to say about scientific matters is very at odds with what the public thinks is the truth whether it's evolution climate change vaccinations. I mean there are whole areas in which there are these very big gaps between the state of scientific knowledge and the state of public.
Opinion or comprehension or whatever the right word is for that. So I think this is a consequence of the scientific community not placing a high priority on communication and outreach. And so now I think you know we have to we have to sort of correct that that problem is too difficult.
Let me say something that have you comment on this and tell me if you don't think this is also a manifestation of what you're saying which is just a few weeks ago James Hansen the former head of NASA was telling Congress that these people attacking global warming science should be tried for crimes against humanity and it seems to me that illustrates the giant divide. How is it that the science community feels that this crisis is so incredibly important that it justifies that sort of accusation when in fact the general audience just came off as just silly I think and it seems to me that illustrates the giant disconnect between what the science world thinks of the state the reality is and what the general public feels what the thoughts about. It's insane.
Right. Yes. I mean there are two things I think that have kept the scientific community from reaching out more. One is a history that those who do reach out end up not being respected by their peers. Carl Sagan being the case in point he was the first case of someone who got who got very much in the public eye got rich and famous doing it and but in the scientific community that wasn't seen as necessarily plus and in the academic community you don't get Bon-Bon to your university for doing outreach or at least that might be shifting now I think I hear from a lot of what I hear at universities these days. There's more focus on the need for outreach and interfaces with the community.
What standard did you learn.
Some schools are really the Earth Institute at Columbia they're doing a lot of web work blogging. I think there's a recognition that they have to reengage. The other thing that has made scientists gun shy is people like you will not like me but the press generally you know people you get out there you get misquoted you get a quote in a documentary or in a like Good to Great Global Warming Swindle documentary that was pitched as the anti Gore movie by the skeptics who put it together and they interviewed Karl Lancia noted our oceanographer and my team and they trimmed it all in a way that made him look like a big time denier when in fact he doesn't deny that global human caused global warming is happening and that it's a risk worth pushing to avert. But but he was terribly angry when that came out. And you know and I've I have a piece running this Tuesday Science Times on this. Some of these issues of the other things that have made scientists gun shy and then and then you have a legitimate question about what is a scientist entitled to say in the policy arena when you know Jim Hansen is a climatologist and he's not an energy economist so when he's talking about the need to stop burning coal and or do this or when he starts talking about issues there are people who say you know why should we listen. What gives you any special magic that gives you the right to talk to us when you're really a climate modeler. And somewhere in there there's an interesting line too as long as you say you know what I'm talking about energy policy I'm just talking to you like your neighbor. I'm not talking to you with any special expertise. That's fine. But scientists also get into an interesting and uncomfortable realm when they push out from just saying I've just done a new model run on climate and sea ice and this is what I came out with. So it's really kind of an interesting arena right now.
I mean it's a really complicated issue. I agree I was going to say something about that aspect of it too but I thought I talked way too much. But right I mean there's the Carl Sagan case is a very interesting one though because it also partly illustrates that. And Karl once his experiences well that the scientific community has also not understood what it was up against in terms of trying to communicate. So in Carl's case you know that he didn't he didn't understand who he was talking to and what they were trying to achieve. So it also shows that if you do start reaching out you have to be informed that you have to become educated about that in the same way you would become educated if you moved into a new scientific specialty and you have to ask questions about you know who's calling you and why are they calling you on what you know what is this project and why are they talking to you.
And you know I grew up the whole Carl Sagan thing was very interesting to me because I was in graduate school when he was being demonized and I remember even at the time thinking it was really shocking that Carl Sagan was being demonized because I remember thinking you know we should be grateful to Carl Sagan he's such a great communicator he makes people excited about science you know we should be thanking him but that's one the things I've learned about that whole incident is that the driving force behind the vilification of Carl Sagan and his being locked into membership at the academy was none other than Fred Seitz who has also been one of the major driving forces behind global climate change denial. So it turns out there was a whole political backstory to that that I don't think anyone in the scientific community. I mean maybe somebody must have known a few people close to you must have known. But I mean I never ever heard anybody talk about any of that. So. So I think there's just and the same with all this denial stuff I mean a lot of scientists including Richard Summerville who's featured in the film last night have sometimes engaged in debates with people thinking oh this is an honest and open debate well we'll have a free exchange of ideas and of course we're academics so we believe in the free exchange of ideas so why wouldn't we be debate. But then they go to these things and they find they're actually setups are actually traps. They've been funded by the Heartland Institute. And you know the audience has been packed with people who in fact are climate skeptics and then they vote at the end and surprise surprise the you know the scientists lose.
So I think the scientific community needs to educate itself about the larger political and social context so that you don't get set out into a situation where you know you're bound to lose.
But let me let me address a different dimension to that issue because I mean the strange thing with me is that I'm this weird guinea pig who lived a career as a scientist and then shifted gears and then became a filmmaker and I've run that whole spectrum of talk about it. To me this is the most prominent element My mind is the spectrum from storytellers to scientists. And I still have that part of my brain I can flash back into back when I was a grad student in a post-doc and I really like that. And we all sat there at the science meetings and talked about these guys who were media hounds you know and oh that slime ball. You know he just wants to get his name in the newspaper so I remember being part of that pack of you know it's our obligation yet to turn on him and drag that guy down and rip apart at them. And when I was a scientist I never would have dreamed of trying to get my name out in the media world. Now that I'm a filmmaker it's obligatory that you have to do all this self-promotion and the hard part in terms of the identity for scientists. Is that all of that stuff is it involves hype and exaggeration everything that is anathema to being a scientist and that gets back this thing of storytelling.
So there is a real rational justification for that attitude in the world of science to dislike people that get too caught up in the media world because the media communication battle is so accelerated involves all this exaggeration and doing stuff and so you know eventually I cut the cord and jumped into this stuff and I'm not a tenured faculty member anymore so I have nothing at stake so I can exaggerate things all to hell like I did last night with this movie.
And that's a different dynamic to it.
But I think that's a lot of where this this overall sentiment of scientists trying to grab on to other scientists and pull them back into the pack. I mean it makes me think when I lived in Australia they call it called the tall poppy syndrome where they see as a nation is a sort of mediocrity ethic of we're all a bunch of poppies and if one crops up above the fields everybody's obligation to grab and pull it back down. So that exists in the world science is part of the conservativeness of the scientific process.
Maybe we could open this up and take some comments or questions from the audience see and please indicate who you would like to direct your who on the panel you'd like to direct your question to. John do you want to start this is that right. Do you need to.
But I'm just curious as a fellow filmmaker the one you've got your story the stories in the can then you're about to be able to bridge that area to the distribution question. And my question basically is about distribution and the new media distribution links we're all in the audience think all and everybody but I think we're we're all worried about this issue. We all want to do something about it. But as filmmakers we have a specific task and I think there are new opportunities given to us through distribution that I'm really curious to hear. Andy let's say talk about because I think that that's the vital hope for change.
I mean first off you're hitting on one of the crucial elements of the second chapter of this book is called Don't be so literal minded and scientists more than anybody else have this tendency to not understand the whole process is having two parts. And in our society like the business community knows there's two parts to it could make a product. Then you have to get out there and promoted and communicate to the world that you've got this important product and that's distribution you're talking about. And the scientific mindset tends to focus only on the product to see information as the be all and end all. And the case study that I use in this book is about the Pew Oceans report where they went and did this whole $3.3 billion study and they only saved $100000 for the actual communications campaign at the end. And they turned in the study had that one no press conference and then you know klank it just fell on the public and didn't end up having the follow through. And as I've talked about this I talked to NSF last year and several program people pulled me aside said that happens all the time here. We get together we do a whole big study anything like that and there's no follow through no distribution. It's that mindset of pulling yourself away from just focusing on the product by itself thinking it's so powerful. And that's what happens in the film world. You know more and more and you realize you have to already think about how are you going to get this product out to the public once you've made a great film because a great product by itself in our society increasingly is not enough to make things happen. I mean it's just there's too much noise out there and you see all these things fall by the wayside. So that's the way I view it and that's a lot of what I'm trying to say to the science Well I'm I'm sorry but you've got to start changing your mindset to realize and you hear this also at academic institutions you know the scientists do these great studies. They just don't have the outreach the application mentality of now. You found this piece of information making the second how it happened. And for me I mean another interesting aspect of that is that people when I do interviews everybody says so what's next what's your next film. And we did Flock of Dodos in the spring of 2006. I spent a year and a half that I never anticipated spending on follow through with it doing all these screenings at university. We did over 50 different screenings a panel discussion. And that's the real bringing it to fruition that's where it actually kind of had some meaning was all those things and I'm facing the same now with this movie. I'll spend the next year and a half to two years doing these events and things like that that's where you really put the thing to work and that's you know that's sort of the distribution side.
Right. And it takes a passion it takes passion.
There are scientists who are pursuing some of these things Dan Schrag at Harvard right now. Climate scientists sort of paleo paleoclimate guy GMG you are a scientist. He's doing videos that they're producing to distribute to use as classroom tools to just explain the basics of climate change I think it's vital stuff especially with tools like YouTube with network social networking with Facebook with I see increasingly Crooke classroom initiatives or initiatives that are useful in academia and or translating into a younger kid you know the next generation classrooms that stuff is vital. If if the whole enterprise that we call science is to be sustained it's country separate from the question of climate. Climate Climate is a question of we have to know how the atmosphere works at least in a rough sense if you're ever gonna get people to be able to walk into a theater and enjoy Randi's film just for what it is. You know it's just you know it's have some basic sense that Americans know we're on planet that revolves around.
And that's maybe a little more than 6000 years.
You know we need.
There needs to be some component of every scientists and every professor's outreach that is going taking that little step farther and just saying how does this relate to the overall energizing the public on science. When I went to and this is I think it's journalists too. When I went to the North Pole in 2003 for the newspaper you know I could have just written newspaper stories but I didn't. I brought TV quality camcorder to bunch of batteries I stuffed the batteries in my turtlenecks so they wouldn't freeze at 20 below zero. I've never been shot video professionally but I took a quick video guy showed me how to do it and I shot as much video and it recorded as much sound as I could when I went to the north pole. I did it the first crude Web chat thing you know from the sea ice there floating in and. And if I'm not doing that stuff as well as my regular job then I'm not I feel I'm really failing here because I'm not communicating to every generation I'm not. I try to think every day about what I'm doing. You know I'm committing print journalism still. But if I were just doing that right now I really feel like I'm a total failure. And in my book the North Pole Was Here just like Lynn Cherrie's. Lynn Cherrie's book here. You know I'm writing for younger people and I'm doing video. You can go on YouTube put in the words North Pole on YouTube and you'll find some of my northpole video. It's wacky stuff. There's Russian tourists dancing the hula. The North Pole. And and there's science. And so I think we all need to be operating on more than all cylinders one way or the other if we're going to reengage Americans and the world generally. And the value of science and then you can have the freedom and the weirdness and wackiness of sizzle and have people not you know just get in there and learn the story and also have some basic ideas that they can already frame things around. And by the way there are there are there always are sacrifices in 1990 my first book was published was the burning season. It was about the murder of Chico Mendez and it was about the history of the Amazon rain forest and in efforts to preserve it and destroy it. And and it took seven. Well it took five years to get made into a movie. David Putnam bought the rights right away and you know a great producer of film and and Warner Brothers is going to make the movie.
And they had actually built a set in Costa Rica. They spent like a million dollars and stuff and then some high high executive and Warner Brothers said you got the president has basically said does he have to die. I mean this gets murdered. That's the whole point. But it was like you know isn't that a downer. So they didn't they didn't make the movie but then someone at HBO ended up making that movie. And there are things about the movie you know that there's some nudity in it.
John Frankenheimer threw in for I don't know what reason you know what.
But he got the story the basics of Tiko Mendez struggle and about an amazon.de deforestation and the wonders of the rainforest got sustained and the fact that it wasn't just an environmental struggle but it was also about labor rights and stuff that was in there so I vote you know. OK. There's some stuff I wasn't happy with but the sacrifices are part of the getting the distribution that you need to another other.
I wanted to ask that chemists in Modeler up there that we haven't heard from yet because I have a sense that there really is a cohort of scientists active scientists now who are much more aware of this need for communication. I know that you've been involved in a number of levels of kinds of communication ranging from the very high end scientific conference all the way down to pretty sort of popular things and I wondered if you could kind of give me your perspective about how that fits in. We've been hearing about it from the communicators here but from the scientist perspective how does that fit into how you view your work and your responsibility to society.
Well I mean I've done a whole bunch.
One of the things I did just a couple of months ago is down in New York at Liberty State Park I tried to give a talk on climate change I think at about eight people you know it was a beautiful day everyone's out flying kites and I'm in this dark little room by myself trying to time. So much of Environmental Science is about the human connection between humans and the environment that I think. I don't know if everybody has to do it but certainly some people in the community have to get involved because otherwise we just talk to ourselves you know. And I think the big thing that Randi probably is well aware of is the scientific community is the most skewed group of of a subset of Americans and you can get 30 scientists together and they will agree that something has to happen you know whether it's an election or are people's perception. Of course everyone must think like we do and they have no concept how most Americans or most people in the world think. And so I think it's it's part of it is part of it is the information transfer is two way. You know the scientists need to learn more about what people think as much as we need to communicate our science. And I think the hardest thing this was brought up is science is a very brutal environment. We're constantly judged by our peers.
You know every time you want to go get a dollar to do research or every time you want to publish a paper you're going to have four five sometimes ten people who are going to sit and judge you and decide well is this person you know is it is the idea good enough. But then you know the little things about well are you two. Jacques Cousteau ish. And you know I had a I said this in a bunch of people from the National Science Foundation actually ran up to me after I said it in public. But I submitted a proposal once and I said well one of the things I do for outreach is I talk to people like Andy or you know other folks at the Washington Post and all the scientists. Right.
Well of course since you're leave the room and sort of you heard about it.
And the thing I got back from all the scientists was well that's not reach that's not valuable. Talking to reporters. That's showboating that's grandstanding. And so I think there has to be a tipping point where you get enough people. It's almost like until we get enough people in science who agree that this is valuable and it's not going to you know you're you're not going to get slammed when you come up for a promotion or a new job or trying to get a proposal. So we're just not there yet. So it's I think it's right now it's almost the responsibility of the folks who do have you know the Dan tracks who have you know our tenured professors.
But it's really hard for junior scientists I agree that I think people who are in positions of influence and have tenure and you know folks like Susan. I mean we all have an obligation to protect and defend and stand up for our colleagues who do do this work. And and one of my colleagues one time said to me he goes It's amazing you've had such a successful academic career because you write so clearly.
You know but it can be done right. So you know I mean we we all have a role to play in that.
And so the way I view it is you know when I'm talking to my senior colleagues I say look we have an obligation to stand up for our junior colleagues who do this. When I talk to you and your colleagues I say you guys have an obligation to you know your car is just taking post and do this because it matters. And you guys can change change this right and because ultimately it's us like we have to do these things like. And he says he does stuff that might not technically be part of his job but he embraces it as part of his job and it's the same for me. I mean I do a lot of things that you know I mean a lot. I mean my whole life has been people saying well is this really history or is this really geology. I mean what is this exactly and you know at some point I just try not to worry about those things and these are things that need to be done if they need to be done. I can do them and I'll do them. And I hope that you know just to have an academic career at the end of the day.
Getting tenure is definitely a good thing getting promoted to full professor was even better.
Can I add on something with what Scott was saying. This is a very if you are involved with communication I think is a very powerful symbol of a rule of thumb. Ten years ago I did a 20 minute video called talking science right after I got to film school I interviewed a bunch of communications and theater and cinema faculty at USC talking about giving science talks to some of the basic principles. And I think the most profound thing that came up was a communications professor in the Annenberg School said connected with a mass audience is very simple involves two things arouse and fulfill. First you have to arouse your audience interest and get their channels open and receptive then you need to fulfill what you know they're expecting from you and the way in which you know my films are intended to work. Last night was a perfect example which is I'm not the expert. So I can't give the fulfillment. My films are fairly light on information and they confuse people to some extent they get them really interested in the issues and when it's over with. It blows by pretty quick and they really want to have a panel of experts come out and fulfill what they have needs but really it was really the case with Flock of Dodos and I had one guy at a screening you know came up to me afterwards and he said I knew less about intelligent design after watching your movie than before I saw it. And it's really a great way to create these partnerships. And so you know people say to me like you know somebody like Scott is he supposed to go to acting class and learn how to be a great showman everything like that. Well maybe. But there's another way to do it which is to let me show my silly film like that. And when it's over with I do the arousal part. Then we bring out the panel discussion to give the fulfillment and what you've got for an audience is not people that have been bombarded with information and have them want to run out of the room. But instead an audience that is charged up and wanting more information and then these guys kind of come to the rescue and find that they don't have to then try and make their stuff all crazy and fancy that the audience is ready to hear just plain facts and that's the way in which scientists can partner with artists and try and work a partnership that the artist can do a better job with the arousal part and the scientists can get the fulfillment. Randy right.
Just one of the things that I thought was really interesting in Randi's film because I actually know a bunch of the people he interviewed was when they talked to Randy. They were like reading out of a textbook. You know they had you know I was waiting for Jerry Neal to break out equations.
But but when when summer when your crew Yes slanted crew asked Summerville a question he started talking as if he was talking to his family or somebody he met in a coffee shop and he was explaining it simply using you know real conversational words. Yes. And so I think that's that I presume that was a sociological experiment or even a really general small point.
It was one of these things after the fact. You know we're sitting there in the editing process and we began to notice God look at how different these guys are when they're looking away and talking to Marian versus me. And so it wasn't planned at all. That was after we'd done these sorts of interruptions and began to see oh my god that you get a different person and makes you realize that a conversation involves two people two people. You know what you get out of somebody is a function of what your own personality is. That's what they're giving their information towards And so that's that's the sort of stuff that I wish that PBS Nova and people like that would experiment more with those sorts of things. Why aren't they conducting innovative work in trying time to innovate these Nova documentaries because they're doing the same template in the same format that they developed 25 years ago when I was in graduate school and Nova really was the cutting edge that we all got together every Tuesday night. Watch what was on Nova but the stuff the thing they did on the Dover trial last year was the same voice of God narrator the same laying out with very little story structure to it not telling any sort of narrative structure that builds up some sort of climax the same off the shelf music scoring. And my friends all try to watch it and Rogie e-mail said is a snooze fest and it doesn't have to be like that. They could be doing smaller scale things. They could be putting out little pools of money encouraging innovation for people to just do experiments you know get some brave scientists they're willing to allow themselves to be guinea pigs and then fiddle around with like that and see what you come up with there are other ways to say one thing too because we've been talking a tremendous amount about what scientists in the scientific community can do but I'm assuming that everybody in the audience here is a scientist.
So you know there's the flipside of this too is what can you do if you're in the community and you'd like to get scientists more engaged or somehow get some of this information out. And so you know one thing you guys can do is you can be proactive in trying to bring in to you know make that bridge from your end as well which is to actually invite scientists to come to your schools or your community groups or your church groups synagogues temples whatever it is. And I know like I do I do a lot of work in my children's public schools and mostly not on climate change mostly on Plate Tectonics because it's part of the California standards for the fifth grade curriculum. But you know that's a great thing to do because I get out in the classroom I meet the kids and that's the best way for me to actually learn what it takes to talk to fifth graders. Right. But also that I get to meet the teachers and I talk with the teachers and then I can say to the teachers Well you know I've also done this work on global warming if you ever you know the sixth grade standards are one of things I did was I looked at this the California curriculum science standards to learn what was in the different things. And so now when I get invited to do my plate tectonics gig I always say to the teacher you know in the sixth grade standards includes weather and climate and if you'd like someone to talk about that you know here's this one page article I wrote. So I mean you know the armies can go in both directions so if you are a school teacher or a part of some kind of community group or environmental group you know you can reach out and try to bring people in. And a lot of scientists are happy to be asked and flattered that somebody cares so often you can get people who are willing to come and give you some time to talk about these things.
I don't know whether this comment will be arousal or fulfillment but let's take another one from the audience.
I think this whole region. Works. Sorry about that.
Randy or your issue are about substance versus style. I'm 71 and I'm married and so I'm beginning to realize that style is much more important than substance. So that's important. I'm not sure of your name. Naomi narrowed me. You had brought up the dark side a little bit about opposition and I'm really concerned about that the opposition is way ahead of us in regard to painting because I live in Colorado Springs. I'm telling you you probably would not be welcome there. I know. I'm also involved in the exploration and honesty regarding the non-design and the murder of my sister.
That's been a real tough.
I'm more of a storyteller and I'm very much into and experiencing life and not really hard on the emotional level. Just forgive me for a little bit there but you go into. How does a person who really feels the rug the direction that life is growing. And you see the dark side of industry and this information that's being processed out there regarding scientist for example at the last trial of my sister who is a nun who for like I was a very good woman a great woman. And in the last trial then comes in the mafia and the consortium that changes the whole picture of who my sister is and so on. I don't know how you scientists and storytellers deal with that but I'm really concerned about how the picture has been presented to them.
So you have my condolences. I'm really sorry and I want to say that I do understand some small part of that because one of the things that's been challenging for me in the work I've done here is that at times it's hard not to get really angry. And so the question is What do you do with that anger because if you appear angry in public it's not it's not helpful. So you know I just try to channel that anger into work you know and to feel that the more work I do hopefully the work has some impact in some way. There are people in the world who are bad there are people in the world who lie and who are not interested in the truth. And and that's hard to deal with and people often don't want to hear that message. So my new book is called Fighting facts it's coming out hopefully next year from Bloomsbury press and it's about the whole systematic disinformation campaign that has been fed to the American people about a whole set of different environmental issues. So I hope it comes out you'll read it and you'll give it to all your friends. And it's not about the Amazon but I think you'll probably recognize a lot of resemblances with some of the things you've probably been dealing with.
So you hit on one of my cunning key words when I made this previous film called Flock of Dodos about the controversy over teaching evolution or intelligent design. And as I was developing the title and working on subtitle there was a period there I thought about titling it the Cub Scouts against the Mafia and that's the perception that I ended up with exactly as you're saying and that's humorous but it's also very true and very sad which is that scientists are such in non-general such good people you know I live my years as a scientist in the general they there as I said in both these movies there they have this blind obsession with the truth and they're very trusting and good natured and things like that and the people behind for example the Discovery Institute that I kind of wage warfare with for that movie. They're very devious and they're very savvy and they're very aggressive and then we see the same personality types in this movie and Mark Moran is the spokesperson for Inhofe is very aggressive and these guys know how to use mass communication today so much better than the science community and the science community.
We've got you know multiple problems. Number one we're behind the times. Number two there's an unwillingness to even accept that there's a problem with so many people.
And number three there's a delusion at times about three months ago there was a big thing at USC where they gave about this Environmental Prize and the fellow receiving it was for having done global work.
To 50 science and environmental bloggers DVD for them to review poster reviews and 20 of them just rip the movie to shreds and said you know this is utter garbage nonsense and it's so much of these various dynamics of them resenting me communicating this style for them and also feeling that that there really isn't any sort of problem with this skeptics they shouldn't even be put on film or anything like that because they're so few of them. The best thing you do is just ignore them. And all of these sorts of elements that I see is just myopia is the result of being cloistered off in the academic world not seeing the bigger picture on society.
And it's also it's easy to be complacent if you live in a progressive or academic community like around Woods Hole or you know whatever but you know I think we make a huge mistake assuming that everybody is on board with that and again getting back to the school thing I have this interesting experience when I did go last year to talk in my daughter's school about plate tectonics. The teacher who was a wonderful woman and totally committed to science and has a master's degree in geology said to me now just one thing don't mention evolution. And I thought the science teacher was telling me this and she and I said well why do you lie. And she said well you know we have some people in this community who get upset about that and they.
Thought I mean this shows how bad it is right because the fact is you actually cannot explain plate tectonics you can't understand the evidence for plate tectonics and Continental Drift if you don't understand the paleontology and you can't understand the paleontology unless you connected to evolution the whole thing actually makes no sense without evolution. So I didn't want to get this teacher into trouble but I just thought this is like a red flag to a bull. Tell me don't talk about evolution. So what I do in the class is that I actually structure the whole discussion. I change the whole way I was going to do it.
I said to the kids I said today we're going to evidence or talk about the evidence of plate tectonics and why it is that geologists think that this is a good explanation of what we see on Earth. And I said and it began 120 years ago with a bunch of fossils. Right. And then I went to this whole discussion about why the fossil evidence is evidence for plate tectonics and then of course evolution becomes part of that narrative. And at the end of it. Teacher was fine and nobody complained and none of the kids complained. And I just want to teach I said if anybody complains. Just send them to me.
No I mean I was prepared to fight over this because I'm not going to not talk about evolution but this is in California you know where we think we're progressive and we don't think we're Colorado Springs right.
But there it is and I I am sure that there is not a community in this country where there aren't some people who are prepared to give you grief if you talk about evolution in school. So I think we make a huge mistake if we think the problem is you know just in Oklahoma or just in Texas it's a much bigger issue and that's why I think it's really important for all of us to be engaged in whatever way we can.
Other questions from the audience. Yes.
Could you please come forward because my my my lawyer won't stretch all the way up to you can meet you about halfway or maybe a third of the way I want to put my question in the context of that's story which is that I came last night you know with my 15 year old daughter and we both loved it. And. But I spent the entire day yesterday convincing her to come with me. When we left the theater last night she was animated and excited and just couldn't stop talking about the movie and what we needed to do to change our lives to be. And like I said doing something about global warming and in fact last night it was after midnight that I finally had to say Lindsay. I'm all that's got to go to bed. You got this morning she was already up. We were having breakfast and she was going on about saying we are looking at Web sites for what we could get. And then at about 11:30 she has to go to work at a little ice cream shop and she laughed her computer still on. So I think that the reason I tell it just because I think the money was great. I think it clearly connected with her and I don't know if that was your goal but connecting with younger people I think is going to make the biggest difference. What are you doing and we've been talking about this already. What are you doing to make this live on. Because repetition is the key to getting these younger people and for that matter to older people to keep thinking about this what what. Have you thought about putting in place. Once this movie is over like the Al Gore movie is over. I mean we have all seen that but it's gone. What are you going to do to keep this message alive.
Yeah. Great. Thanks. So you know the biggest thing I'm trying to hammer on right now is innovation and there is no interest or support for innovation in the communication of science that is a major fundamental problem. There's no place I could go in the past 20 years to support any of the film work that I've done. This movie was paid for Flock of Dodos was paid for by a single individual who put his own personal finances into that. This one was paid for by the revenues came in from Flock of Dodos. Because there is no place I can go to there's no foundation. I could walk in the door and say look I want to make a crazy movie that involves all these different elements and do some experimental there's no support for that. There's a lot of money for communication mass communication is science. It's all channeled into these peer reviewed grants that come from the big organizations and foundations that all go to the big end is NSF sponsored National Geographic and PBS and yada yada yada. There is no tradition of independent film making in the science world. And I started speaking out about this when Spike Lee came out of film school and I don't want you in the early 90s the African-American community gathered together and found him the resources to start making films and telling these stories from the African-American community. Michael Moore made stories for the blue collar community. They went out rallied for him. It was some of my classmates at USC are gay and they started making films for the gay community. And there's there's probably oh 40 or 50 gay film festivals across the country. There's not a single Science Film Festival in the country for the most part. There's absolutely no tradition of funding for independent filmmaking by scientists. So again there's no place a person like myself can go to. So that's one of the messages I'm trying to convey to these folks that are in charge of these big big programs like the Sloan Foundation that's putting tons of money out there for something. But it's doesn't open a door for a person like myself. I was at Tribeca two years ago with Flock of Dodos and they wouldn't even take a look at it so I don't understand. What's that.
And there's one film this one is called the Woods Hole film but.
You know as you know I meant to do this little editorializing thing when we were at Tribeca.
You know we went there so idealistic and it's a really big it's probably the second most important film festival in the country nowadays. So we spent a bunch of money to rent this whole room with 200 seats and got six of the people from the over there for a panel discussion just like this. And literally 10 people showed up for our audience because the panel discussions at a place like Tribeca are only about filmmaking. The idea of getting into an issue because it was a discussion about the issue of evolution versus intelligent design. So this is really wonderful to be able to because I knew I sense that when we came up with this idea John it said from the outset this is the sort of thing we've been looking for as is a film that could overlap with the Woods Hole Oceanographic community. And I said I got a feeling put together panel discussion there'd be plenty of people that would turn out for it so this is really great and it is a good tradition. Hopefully you can start like that. And in these blogs I've been getting out there and taking all my beatings with these people but a couple of old ideas I've tossed out there have caught fire one of which is there's no film festivals for science films for the most part. And why especially evolution I guess that was what I tossed out a few months ago I got into a heated argument. I said you know what really be good right now is somebody should put together an evolution film festival because that's the way you foster new voices as you put out prizes and things. And 17 year old kids that are shooting videos that are willing to shoot a video about anything that you tell them to if you tell them there's a prize for someone evolution. They'll start going to the Internet reading about evolution what can I do to tell a story about evolution that could possibly win a prize. So that's the mindset that's not out there. You know what to say when Tibbett back on the substance versus style thing you mentioned a little bit. One thing I'm still toying you know the film is not set in stone yet for distribution where at the point now is looking for distributors but one thing I'm toying with is putting a little disclaimer at the end about makeup in the movie. None of the actors wore makeup you know just run around shoot all the source stuff. None of the scientists wore makeup there are only two people two males in this movie that wore makeup and they were Pat Michaels and Mark Maranoa.
And two other skeptics. And both of them took an extra half an hour where we sat there with the Joker waiting for them tapping our feet as they were in the bathroom putting on their makeup and and both them came in caked in makeup that says volumes.
And Richard Somerville and Jerry Neal would never go take a half an hour to put on makeup. They could've used make. A little. Better.
In our court action session we put a lot of red into their faces to try and help them because they look so pale.
These things are very silly issues but these things are the cutting edge of mass communications. Today is the understanding and awareness so you know there's two responses to have that tidbit. The first of which is to laugh at the vanity of those guys. But the second response is Think it through what it means means that they are that savvy about mass communications they care about how they look and how they come across. And you have to know this film is an extremely superficial medium and those things really do matter. Unfortunately you can get the world's best Nobel Prize winner talking about all sorts of wisdom but if the guy's got a twitch or something no one will hear a word that they're saying it's a know highly visual medium. That's what you learn in school is how to tell stories to the visual images and realize that the words that are being spoken are really secondary and that it takes a long time an academic to absorb that counterintuitive notion.
I think we can reach. My name is Gladys Fiedler and I'm a scientist and I worked in an area that has been very controversial 40 years down the pike. It's a little less controversial than it was. If I knew how to use a point and shoot I might decide to become a film maker. I'm a little bit too old perhaps to learn. But I'd like to know I have gotten some press contact press exposure. What do you do when you're misquoted in the press. And how can you train scientists to not only be tough but to deal with.
Yeah. I want to talk about that I've written two book chapters on on the media and the environment and onst on how to communicate. They're directed somewhat at science community and one of the key things is when you're being interviewed with a reporter you should consider it a conversation it's a two way street. You can in fact if you're a professor get out those all reflexes like at the end of a lecture we say now let's review it. Why can't you tell the reporter. So what are you taking away from this.
So that's I think it's the best strategy for avoiding complete and utter mis understanding which will be there because believe me I am I am the last I am a dodo I am. There are like five of me left in the world. You know people have spent 20 or 30 years writing about science literally. And there's about a hundred who spent 10 years doing it and they're being whittled away. The Miami Herald just laid off its science reporter the Orlando Atlanta paper did the New York Times has shed three science reporters in the last year. John Willeford the guy who wrote man walked on the moon today is gone. I mean he was already in the 70s but he would keep he would happily keep writing until his dying day because we're in imploding universe so people who have a good solid understanding of science are out there. And so the first thing is to make sure that the reporter understands it and the next thing is if they goof up call get back in touch.
This is not a want you know unless it's a literally a one time in a lifetime experience. You know this is your one thing you've got your one paper and science. I can't tell you how many meetings I've been to with scientists where where someone tell their little horror story about how they got misquoted and I said did you call the paper. No. And that's how Jason Blair happened at the New York Times. You know here's this serial misquote her and denies sort of liar who. And the reason he was able to do it so long was people were calling and saying My hair is not red and because they assume that's the level of quality and it's not the level quali people don't. Newspapers do not aspire to be inaccurate.
And some do well some maybe but. Some editorial pages for sure.
So the thing is it's a conversation and it doesn't end the day the story is published if you don't call back and say you know you really didn't get it right. Let's go. Let's go through this a little bit.
I think those are the two vital things you it worries me and you that you say you're like a dodo and there are only five of you left with 20 years of experience could you. I'd like to hear more about how to replenish that population or what is the alternate avenue for dealing with science. Let me give you a little context for this question. The organization that I'm a part of actually runs a science journalism program and it attracts journalists to come and get hands on experience either in the environmental arena or in the biomedical arena. And the objective of that is to help journalists learn more about the actual conduct of science. Now if you're a diminishing population then maybe where we're talking to the wrong audience or maybe we need to expand and develop an additional audience so what should we be thinking about.
Well the one thing by the way you know it's funny you mention that because for more than 20 years I've been trying to get to do that to come to empty out but I've never had the time.
I can never do it. It's not your fault.
It's like we've tried to do it but the people who need to be out there getting money are the editors and actually publishers not not reporters the reporters are the easy part. I think there are still enough of us.
You know there are 200 or 300 who have five years of experience.
There are enough of us who are passionate writing about communicating science that that's not the problem but the problem is getting that material conveyed in a newspaper on a TV station in a way that has punch in it's on the front page and not buried in a section somewhere. And and there isn't enough interaction between the scientific community and the people who run newspapers and I've been encouraging people to triple-X and National Academies to go to the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual meeting and you know to talk to the people who are own these these publications are the same thing for for television and do presentations there or drag them out. It's really hard to get them out of the field because these people never go anywhere except Washington and New York City. But that's the leverage comes there not so much not so much at the level of a reporter. Now one other thing is there's there's more and more scientists as we've been talking Dan Schrag and obviously the people who run real climate and and climate policy. That's the main blogger there is this is a scientist at the University of Michigan. He also has a blog on the underground the weather underground site. These are people who are realizing you can do direct communication with the public. That is a route sort of an end run around the diminishing possibility of getting quality coverage in the newspaper and the blogosphere. It's a lot of work. As Gavin Schmidt NASA will tell you and as I will tell you it doesn't stop. It's relentless but it's essential it's unavoidable at least for me as a communicator if I'm not blogging now. I feel like again I'm shirking my duties and I think increasingly if there are scientists when you're out in the field or doing something unconventional You know not everything is exciting and interesting. But but but but these institutions here would certainly do a lot of work in the field that can be up online. I think some of you are working on getting a video out from the field quickly so it's on YouTube so kids can bounce it around to some goofy thing that happens and not being afraid to show the sort of goofy stuff. This gets back to Randi's montra science.
You know I agree with you completely about the Nova. There's this cleanliness that's the way science has been portrayed to the public for decades now. That's so wrong. You know it's my piece tomorrow starts with I mean on Tuesday starts with the fact that most of the time when science is exploring a new new idea it's in two papers forward one paper back kind of intellectual wrestling match. And and why not be clear about that. And then people slowly become instead of the sense of it's always this punctuated thing there's this paper and now that's the new truth on sea ice or on extinction of amphibians in a warming world as opposed to saying you know we don't know everything and being unafraid to talk about uncertainty as much as you're eager to talk about the new knowledge those are vital vital things if you're gonna get the public to understand again my piece on Tuesday it gets into this. If you want the public to understand that action is needed in the face of the uncertainty that those who would deny all of this stuff are very eager to exploit that. You have to embrace the uncertainty as well as what's known and you know you have to embrace although there 928 peer reviewed papers that agree that humans are influencing the climate system there is not that level of agreement on using up hurricanes on did the golden toad disappear because of human driven warming on all those things those those hot button sort of things. Those are actually complicated and highly uncertain and there is very little agreement on that. So you know being careful you're talking about what what is the thing we're talking about today is it global warming writ large or is it hurricanes and just you know being careful how you describe things. I think that can actually help help clarify that there's a trajectory here. There's stuff we really know more CO2 warmer world warmer world less ice less ice higher seas you know there's not. Pat Michaels would agree. He would say it's a longer timeframe. And you know who cares. But but at least you compartmentalize OK here's the stuff we know powerfully and now let's have a little discussion of hurricanes. And I think that's vital to how we move forward on these kinds of complicated issues.
Can you give us your quick take on juicing up hurricanes that issue in the future. Naomi and I just had a long talk about that.
What's your take on it now. Ask Kerry Emanuel at MIT and he doesn't know he does. You know he's actually revised his thinking on recently this. There's these papers you know that the the summary line in my story on Tuesday is Whiplash journalism. We have this tendency again to focus on the new news paper and science now is a paper in PNAS. Now this paper nature and one says Greenland's melting this fast one says it's melting this fast one says X and. And that again misses the point that we do know one of the world less ice less ice higher seas we know Greenland is going to be greatly diminished in sea levels.
We hired a warming world. So so on hurricanes the level of uncertainty it's the worst possible problem you've got bad data. You know a hurricane intensity in 1940 is not the same as the quality of measuring a hurricane since you know all that all these issues add up to a lot of uncertainty and you can come at that question from a Georgia Tech or at MIT or elsewhere with a very different lens and come up with different results so I think I don't know what you think but will you argue with them.
Well actually I wasn't I had sort of broader issue which is you know one of the things that Gore got in trouble with one of the things that you know you sort of pointed out the public tends to grab on to a few symbols whether it's you know hurricanes Katrina or the melting snows and Kilimanjaro or you know a you know six polar bears when indeed they love to grab onto the symbols and you go down to DC and you talk to the environmental groups and they're all about the symbols. And that's what the scientific community really do and makes their skin crawl because we all know that the symbols are often the ones that you know either. They're very controversial or worse if you grab the wrong symbol and then it turns out to be wrong then the skeptics can say Oh well then your whole case has gone right and then you go right back into that morass of he says she says and there it's and there.
Guess what they're actually right.
There's there's there's there's a real range of dispute and that's why you know I keep coming back to this spectrum from storytelling to scientists. That's what you're hitting on there. And one of the things they pounded in our heads and telescopes so important is the heart of a good story is the source of tension or conflict and so these people in trying to communicate through stories are consciously seeking the source of tension or conflict and that's what these simple icons can provide for you. And what I think is so important I hope in the future for the science world is not necessarily to conform to that style of communication but to develop a super clear understanding of these are the constraints and the artificialities of superficialities of these media and knowing how they work with the dynamics and that's what I find so frustrating to watch the scientific community just not even understanding how television works and realizing how superficial it is disproportional. One tidbit I always remember was the earthquake that happened in San Francisco. Whenever a year that was I came home on my voice on my phone machine was a message from Buddy and says well it looks like San Francisco is going up in flames and I turned on CNN and all I got for a minute were close up shots of fire box on fire.
And for a minute I sat there and said oh God the entire city is going up in flames. And then finally they pull back. You get the wide shot you realize that it's only one block. And those are those media. Exactly. They are driven by that source of tension or conflict and the wide shot didn't give you that but the close up had it right there. And so it's a matter of knowing those those artifacts and figure out how to work within those constraints.
This is such a complicated issue though because you know when we had the wildfires in San Diego last October a former student of mine who is now in England e-mailed me in Naples at the time not at home was all kind of complicated. And he said well you know I assume this is the usual media exaggeration is not really it's not nearly as bad as it looks on TV and he and I said no it is as bad. My family we just evacuated.
So I mean in that case it really was that bad. And so this is where it all gets really complicated we're so used to discounting the media as exaggerating. But then there's the. It's like the boy who cried wolf right eventually the wolf really comes you know.
And so you know the polar bear one is tricky too. But I think that's where when you communicate and you do want to stop and think about that big picture and like you said we know warming melting ice. Sea level rise. So melting ice like the lady says in the film last year that has serious implications with polar bears. Right so the polar bear symbol in my opinion is not wrong. Right. You just need to be careful how you frame it. Right. And I think there are a lot of things that are like that that there are many things that we do know either are already happening with climate change or we know are extremely likely to happen based on what we know from 40 years of serious scientific research. And as long as we don't go crazy about how we put it you know like oh my god mass crisis of polar bears today. Right. You know I think you can use those symbols but you need to do it with a business. Let's take another question.
I just wonder how much the topic of global warming is so overwhelming. Just so we were talking about it today. I'm an Episcopal priest and we actually rang the bell 350 times for 350 dark and which is about bringing the carbon dioxide back down to 350. It's so overwhelming and it's much easier to to fight the facts than face the facts. So I just wonder how much if that were you see that is playing into the whole conversation and the whole media.
That's exactly the starting assumption of my movie which is there's just too much information out there and it's great unambitious ambitious that or tried to with his movie packed full of graphs and trying to explain to people and you hear this from so many people in the public you know just give us the facts we want to make up our own mind.
There's so much information and it gets argued on and on. To me I see it the more important dimension to it. It's just leadership. Let's try and find out which side as we trust the most. And that's part of what I hope comes across in both of these films that I have when you watch them from the broader perspective looking not at substance but its style and again film is so much more powerful in terms of style and substance. You begin to get the overall feel of who are these people on these two sides of this issue. And when you look at the people in the black widows all these people attacking evolution or their carnival salesman basically carnival barkers They're really friendly really fine but they cast their eyes all about they're making up big stories and the scientists are a bunch of relatively unexciting straight shooters and that's why I came in with the voiceover over Jerry Neal and said you know what is this. Does this guy look like he's making up stories. He goes along no he's just telling you this is the facts plain and unvarnished. But what you have to do is use the media in the way that it works most strongly and it doesn't work and work most strongly putting facts and figures out there. And even though the Gore movie kind of had that as an aspiration I don't think people learned very much through film it's just not a very effective informational medium. What I think is better is to try and use the more Moshav elements and elements of style that can convey.
And the other the other thing you know it's really interesting that you've done where you've done at your church. Science is kind of the science is not going to get any clearer than it is now on the things that matter the uncertainty on we're not going to wake up some day and you're not going to read a story by me on a paper by him or anyone else said suddenly says magically. Hurricanes will be 20 percent more intense in 2075 than they are now because of this growing it. So the uncertainties and the things that matter are not going away. The clarity on the long term picture is clear. And that leaves us. And by the way the third thing that doesn't get really mentioned much in that Al Gore glossed over completely and an inconvenient truth is we do not have the means to make this transformation easily in the film he said. We have everything we need to do this and the speeches he started making a year after the film in 2006 when I interviewed him for a story on energy. He said We have everything we need to get started. That's a much more honest statement and I'm sure he realized you know you know the film was about waking people up and we have to undergo the energy transformation that would be required to go to 350 is a multi-generational was to go back to 350 1988 levels which I blogged on recently back in 1988 when when I first started writing about this. To do that requires something that the world has never done which is making energy choices that are harder. We've always moved we move for firewood to coal and not because it was it was because it was easier.
You can take coal to the furnace in Chicago you can't take firewood to a furnace in Chicago and now we have to disinvested of fuel that's still abundant and relatively cheap and we have to do it at a pace that scientists say is faster than just running out of it by far. And that that's something that takes a sustained multi-generational new relationship with energy and that has to come in places like churches much more than waiting for the next IPCC report.
Yeah I agree with that 100 percent. I really want to underscore I think that's exactly right. And I think it's great that you're here because as a religious leader you know you're in a position where you can begin to talk to people about that. And you know one thing that has been hard for me in the last couple of years when I've been asked to speak to these things I'm always a little reluctant. Like you say I'm a historian I'm not an economist or something else but you know you're sort of caught between a rock and a hard place because if you say exactly what you said which I think is 100 percent correct and you say this is a really really serious problem which is probably unprecedented historically in the history of mankind.
You know that I did say that once to an editor at my local paper the San Diego Union-Tribune and they say well that's an incredible Downer message. Nobody wants to hear that we have to change the entire basis of American society. Right. So but on the other hand if you go to the opposite extreme and you know you want to empower people and say well and I mean this is what happened to me with this particular editor he said I want you to write a piece ten things anybody can do to stop glowworm. So I did it because it's what he asked me for. But of all things I've ever been this thing I'm least happy with it. Right. Because I mean it's not enough to just using canned you know compact fluorescent light bulbs. Right. But.
On the other hand look I mean there are some things that individuals can do and you may as well do the things that are in your power it's a step in the right direction but there are very large scale things that require leadership. And so you know if you're in a position of leadership that's fantastic right because it means that you can begin to influence people and compromise with this editor was that number 10 was that it was 10 things anything to me and I said you have to vote you have to get active and you have the political leadership of the country needs to know that we take these issues seriously and that we want them to act on them because if they don't think we care then they won't do anything about it. And it is a very big big change but it's like any change in life. It's always about taking that first step. Right. And you know I visited Hiroshima some years ago because I lecture on history the atomic bomb and I wanted to go there and take photographs to show my students. And there's an incredibly wonderful inscription at the Hiroshima Memorial Museum where it says we know what we need to know. What we lack is the ability or the capacity to act upon you know. And I think that's exactly right about this issue. So part of what we know is that this is going to be a big challenge but we also know that some of the steps that we need to take we can begin to do now and others will require a lot of serious and hard work in the coming years.
Let's take a few more questions from the audience. Yes.
You've been talking about leadership and I think there's a lot of leadership emerging from kind of in an unusual place which also addresses a question by a man who has a teenager teenage daughter and making a movie about kids who are reducing their carbon footprint but they're also actually affecting legislation like for instance they got a state law passed in Vermont to ban school bus idling. And so I wondered if you could address specially and he was talking earlier about these examples that he's been writing about young people who are just demanding. This is our future. And you also mentioned the funding that there isn't funding for this but I found that I mean you two two and half weeks I was able to raise a fund raise funding for this initial project. And there is now a consortium of of non-profits that are funding just climate change. So if anyone is interested in doing some of these projects I could lead them to that funding source.
I say just quickly before you started I was going to add on to what she said there. I think that's why both Naomi and I are are so enamored with that quote I put it into the movie from Ken and Conrad from the Bali conference last year because that was all about leadership and that's my overall take on the whole thing. He said you know those of us in the world look to the U.S. for leadership and if you're willing to lead that's great. But if not please get out of the way. And I think that kind of encapsulates the whole thing and that's I think what you're saying is that the real solution is this stuff rest at the largest of all scales. And if the U.S. is going to lead then you know where is our.
And I'll just quickly say networking social networking through the web is the best way to take an idea like no idling zones for busses and and rapidly expand and I just blogged a week ago on Kansas City not exactly a hotbed of you know this kind of.
Well I'm not going to say to that I like Kansas City. This is my home. Great is it really. Yes.
I mean in Kansas City Girl Scout troop started a no idling initiative a year ago and it's spreading like wildfire and partially because of Webb and I put it up on the blog and I'm hoping. Another thing I just floated out there on the blog which then you know gets sort of reverberated is using sports networks you know we have all these schools that like play football with each other why aren't they playing energy with each other having competitions to reduce their energy out of the schools and see which you know which of the Texas teams can do best. Plus colleges are in some private schools are but I haven't seen it really catch hold and I think well why you know why not. So using the web I think is is vital.
Thank you. You don't have to go as far as Colorado Springs to find people who doubt climate change. I'm visiting my mother in East Falmouth and I told her I was coming to this panel and and she said well you know there's two sides to that. There's different you know people disagree about that. And not surprisingly she and I get our information from very very different sources. But since this is about communication I'd like to ask each of you to give me one sentence I could say to my mother to communicate to concisely communicate the weight of evidence I guess or the power of evidence behind climate change since we're talking about how to communicate this right.
Great question. So one sentence would be read dot earth my blog because it's all there and the whole conversation with deniers and doubters and every every person is there.
That's one of the NY Times that comes to deity or Josh one sentence Stec you got one sentence I would say that the observations are already showing climate change it's not just model projections. The observation shows that the world's already changing. It's not just a bunch of models of what's going to happen in the future. It's something we're living with right now.
I mean what does I mean it depends a lot on who your mother is and where she's going. If I knew more about her I would say. But OK but if I had to say one thing it's along those lines I'd say the simplest test the basic textbook tests of any scientific theory is does it make predictions that come true many years ago back in 1979 climate models already did one sentence three seconds. So the answer is not to be sent the answer is yes.
These things were predicted and those predictions have now come true.
Well done. Try to squeeze in five sentences starting with. Randy.
I think my sense would be that glaciers are definitely melting. Yeah. Do you need any more simple evidence that.
I mean is that something that's. You know natural variability.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- WGBH Lectures
- WGBH Forum Network
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- As nations struggle to confront the issue of global warming and the response required to change the human impact on the planet, this panel of experts is helping to shape the dialogue. This distinguished panel discusses where we are now and what we need to do to move forward. Gary Borisy, CEO and Director of the Marine Biological Laboratory moderates the discussion. Panelists include: Andy Revkin, a New York Times environmental reporter who has covered climate change and climate politics for 20 years; Naomi Oreskes, a Professor in the Department of History at UC San Diego whose research focuses on the historical development of scientific knowledge, methods and practices in the earth and environmental sciences; Scott Doney, a senior scientist in the Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry at WHOI, where he studies ocean acidification and models carbon in the climate; and mockumentary filmmaker Randy Olsen.
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Moderator: Borisy, Gary
Speaker: Borisy, Gary
Speaker: Oreskes, Naomi
Speaker: Revkin, Andy
Speaker: Olsen, Randy
Speaker: Doney, Scott
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- MLA: “WGBH Lectures; WGBH Forum Network; Global Warming: Communicating Science Through Film.” 2008-07-27. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 18, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-cc0tq5rf2m>.
- APA: WGBH Lectures; WGBH Forum Network; Global Warming: Communicating Science Through Film. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_15-cc0tq5rf2m