Just Look Science-y: A True Story

18 Jan

In 2008, the television crew from a popular morning show arrived at Duke University to interview me about large-scale algal blooms because there was a related story in the news.  They wanted to shoot near a body of water to ‘look like we were in the field‘, so set up their equipment near a small pond by a parking lot. The conversation, more or less, went like this:

Reporter: ‘Can you dip your hand in the water? Maybe play with some lily pads..

Me: ‘Guys, I work in marine science, so this pond isn’t related to my work and has nothing to do with algal blooms in the ocean.

Reporter: ‘Let’s get started… So the blooms, they’re most likely caused by the sun right?

Me: ‘I expect it has more to do with a lot of extra nutrients being emptied into the ocean such as runoff from agricultural practices in the region. This provides an excellent environment for algae to bloom which depletes oxygen levels. Eventually it can sometimes lead to what’s called a dead zone…’

Reporter: ‘Stop, let’s reshoot. We need you to say something about the sun being a factor.  And let’s get you wading into the water. Pretend you’re catching something.

Me: ‘Uh, the sun didn’t cause the bloom… and you do realize I’m wearing a dress, right?

Reporter: ‘You can say your reason too, but name the sun as another ‘theory’. And just look science-y.

Needless to say, the segment never aired.

PhDComics sums it up nicely here:

8 Responses to “Just Look Science-y: A True Story”

  1. Joseph Soler January 18, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    And we wonder why Americans don’t understand science. Even when scientists want to clearly communicate their findings they are stymied… what a depressing, though humorous story.

  2. Lindsay January 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    That would be hilarious if it wasn’t so wrong and sad! Just another reason why news organizations should have dedicated science journalists who can make a story interesting and relevant without making stuff up.

  3. Damon January 18, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Gosh that’s funny. And surely wrong and sad, too (@Lindsay). We should redouble our efforts to provide wholesome, constructive criticism to our news organizations. We should tell them, as often as it’s true, that they’ve spread ignorance with their work-product instead of understanding. They survive only because we read and listen to their words. And, thanks to scientists with a spine and a moral compass, some of the drivel never makes it to production in the first place.

  4. Ralph Haygood January 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    And if you’re wondering what looks “science-y,” try browsing stock photo sites for images of scientists. It’s funny and sad at the same time. Apparently, we all wear lab coats and spend our days surrounded by test tubes full of colorful liquids.

    Apropos something you posted a few days ago, Sheril, it seems to me it would be possible to make a compelling, popular TV series – something many nonscientists would watch – centered on a university science lab. Of course, it would be mostly about the people and their conflicts, intrigues, and romances rather than the science itself, but if it were well done, it could help a lot with public understanding of who we are and how we work.

  5. Gary Hurd January 20, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    The only time I was on CNN, a 30 minute interview was cut down to about 15 SECONDS. And, worse, that was the 15 seconds that I said something stupid!

  6. Confounding January 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    At least you had a pond to wade into. Once got interviewed about entirely theoretical work, spend a good 45 minutes trying to come up with stuff to put on the screen that “looked right”

  7. Sher January 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Ha! Hilarious! I had a similar experience when my university’s press people came over to my lab to take few pictures. I work on beaches and my lab looked like a mini-beach because i had a thousand sediment samples scattered all over. The guys just couldn’t figure out how to make the pics look “sciencey” or “pretty”. The photographer handed me a squirt bottle and asked me to (a) “look serious” while posing with it and (b) “play” with the sand by filling it in tiny bottles and look through the bottles with serious intent! HUH?!?!?!?! Complete fail. The pics were NEVER published!

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