Explaining Science With Substance ... And Style Scientists sometimes have a hard time communicating new research in a way that makes a more general audience care. In his new book Don't Be Such A Scientist, Randy Olson — a marine biology professor turned filmmaker — shares his hypotheses about why scientists need to communicate their substance with a little more style.

Explaining Science With Substance ... And Style

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

Randy Olson lived most of his life as a scientist, teaching marine biology. Then he decided he wanted to act, not just think. So he quit his tenured professor gig and went to Hollywood to become a filmmaker. Ever since, Olson has been focusing on the problems that scientists have when it comes to communicating their discoveries and explaining why we should care.

In a new book, he argues that in our age, scientists can't just master the substance. They also need to worry about style. So if you're a scientist, does style matter? And if you follow the sciences, how important is style to you? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. Joining us now from NPR West is Randy Olson. His new book is called "Don't Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style." Welcome back to the program, Randy.

Mr. RANDY OLSON (Author, "Don't Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style"): Great to be here, thanks.

ROBERTS: So what's at stake here? Why is it important for scientists to be able to connect with the general audience?

Mr. OLSON: Well, let me start with a question. What is the most important issue in the entire world of science today? Some people might think it's maybe mapping the human genome. Maybe it's exploring outer space. Maybe it's curing diseases.

What I would suggest is the most important issue today is the anti-science movement that has emerged in the past 10 years. And it's gotten to the point now where it's being organized in a variety of different disciplines, attacking not just evolution and global-warming science but medicine, vaccination, all sorts of different topics. And it's becoming increasingly aggressive, and I don't see that the world of science is prepared to deal with it properly.

ROBERTS: So why require scientists to be the messengers? Why not rely on science journalism or science museums or people who are better-trained communicators?

Mr. OLSON: Well, it radiates all the way up through the system, but the scientists really are at the core of it all, and the scientists carry the big stick at the end of the day when it comes to these things. When scientists speak, the public does listen. And the things that I'm recommending here really just work on the communication skills the scientists already have to have as part of their profession, but they really don't like to talk about this very much.

And science from the very beginning consists of two parts, the doing of science and the communicating of science. And whether you've been trained that way or not, there's no getting away from it. Even the average hired laboratory technician at the end of the day still has to communicate to somebody what went on that day. And so it faces everybody in the world of science, and they have a starting point there. It's just that it's increasingly important today, particularly in today's world of information overload.

ROBERTS: Do you find that your scientist friends agree with you that the communicating part is as much a part of science as the doing part?

Mr. OLSON: You know what? My scientist friends do all agree with me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: How about your scientist enemies?

Mr. OLSON: You know, I don't really personally know very well any scientists that disagree with me. But there's a bunch of them, you know, out there on the blogosphere, and they like to get together and have their little rage fests and say that I'm full of nonsense, but it's happening everywhere. I'm just the messenger, and particularly with this book. It's not so much that I'm trying to foist anything on anybody. One of my friends read it and said, you know, all it seems like you're doing in the book is you're just pointing to things and saying look at this. Have you thought about this? What about this? It's just trying to get - broaden the perspective of the science community to understand some of these dynamics.

ROBERTS: So if we can agree, for the purposes of this conversation, that it is important for scientists to communicate, how do they best communicate, or what common mistakes do they make that show that their communicating skills are not ready for primetime now?

Mr. OLSON: I think the starting point is accepting that style is increasingly important and understanding the divide between substance and style and the fact that two different scientists can give the same data set and present it at a meeting, and one of them can change everybody's mind, and the other one can just leave everybody thinking, well, that wasn't very interesting. And this is a thought process that for me goes back 30 years. From the very beginning of graduate school, my officemates and I, we'd go to science meetings, and we would see these speakers, scientists, who we knew were doing very mediocre work, and yet they would give great talks. And all of the sudden, everybody at the meeting was walking around saying this guy's doing amazing work, and we'd think, well, not really. We've read the papers.

And we began to realize there is this element of style that becomes important, how well you communicate, and then you start to see it just in the style of writing. There were some scientists that were just incredible writers, that could take fairly mediocre, uninteresting data and put it into a context that almost editorializes it. And you slowly but surely begin to realize that it's a standard part of the practice. It's just increasingly important, as I say.

ROBERTS: So do you think that's part of what's happening in what you talk about as the politicization of science, that the lack of a strong message from rigorous scientists is opening the door to well-communicating pseudo-scientists?

Mr. OLSON: I think so, absolutely. You know, science as a profession tends to draw people more towards the objective side of it, and so if we can look at the two parts of it: the doing of science is the objective part, the communicating is the more subjective part that involves humans, and that gets difficult and messy and much more unpredictable.

And the vast majority of scientists go into science because they want to deal with that objective side, and talk to almost any scientist. This is what they live for, is really, in essence, getting away from human beings, going into their laboratory to work with all their instruments. They're going out in the field and being out with nature and studying things where you get all the noise away from you.

It's wonderful. When I was a scientist, that's what I lived for was going out to field labs and working in the field. They tend to shy away from the more social elements of it, and that includes politics and communication. And as a result, the entire field of science is not that savvy when it comes to politics and communication.

ROBERTS: Thank you, by the way, for not pointing that I, as a supposedly professional communicator, just made up the word well-communicating. I appreciate you overlooking that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: The - there are people who teach scientists how to talk. I had a former life as a science journalist, and I participated in a bunch of meetings where science journalists and scientists would get together, and the scientists would say you don't go in-depth enough. And we would say you don't, you know, feature things for a lay audience enough, and we'd try to meet halfway. Where do those programs fall short?

Mr. OLSON: Well, I think that there are lots of efforts underway and plenty of programs that are making a start on it, and by the way, this is a time of change right now. And the world of science has been becoming increasingly humanized over the past five decades. You know, the world of science is not the sterile, robotic world that it once was in the 1950s, and that's good. It's just that I'm advocating for it to happen a little more rapidly because I think there's a crisis looming with the attacks on science.

And in terms of what is being done for training, there are some workshops and things of that sort, but a lot of what my book is about is I went and did this strange journey, going off to Hollywood, and spent 15 years in writing classes, in acting classes and looking at things from a different perspective. And I think there's some things that could be of value to the science world but only if the scientists and even the science communicators are willing to open their minds up and broaden themselves enough to consider these alternative perspectives.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call. This is Alberto(ph) in St. Louis, Missouri. Alberto, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ALBERTO (Caller): Hi, thank you very much.


ALBERTO: I'm calling because I am a scientist, have been for some time now. I'm currently finishing a Ph.D. program at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, but my previous life, my bachelor's degree was from Emerson College in communications. And we were required there to take speech, speech pathology, public speaking, all these things that I have not seen as any requirements in scientific programs, and yet we ask our scientists to go out and present and speak. And I don't know why we don't require these.

ROBERTS: Yeah, how about requiring public speaking in science programs, Randy Olson?

Mr. OLSON: That's starting to happen, and I think - when I did my Ph.D., we did not have one single course or workshop or anything in speaking or writing or any of these communication skills. But there's a changing of priorities, and as I say, it's the choice between these two basic elements, how much resources you put into the doing of science, how much into the communicating. And when I was a graduate student, the communications stuff was just seen as almost frivolous, something that you just learned by kind of entrainment.

You looked at the better speakers and tried to emulate them. You looked at the better writers and tried to do what they did. It just wasn't held up as that important. And more importantly, it was just sort of shunned as something that was superficial, but that's got to be changing today. And there are workshops happening of that sort, but - and yet there's not enough focus on innovation in terms of dealing with these problems of communication. And there is this challenge of people that are now questioning mainstream science and how to deal with it, and it's not clear what the answers are in some of those things. But the way you find those answers is through innovation, and there is no interest/support for innovation when it comes to communicating science to broad audiences. And that's been a long-term problem.

ROBERTS: Well, also - and you get at this a lot in your book - they often have if not competing agendas, at least tangential agendas, that if the scientific research is all about depth and rigor and testing and accuracy, communication has a different prerogative. You know, it has to be about it being memorable, about it being funny, about it being meaningful. And sometimes that means leaving out some of the details or, you know, making them funny in a way that is not necessarily in line of the priorities of scientific research.

Mr. OLSON: Well, that's all true, but the variable that's not being talked about is the variable of time. And time is not that much of the essence in research so much. There is a tendency or tradition for research science to move very slowly to make sure that everything is maintained at 100 percent accuracy, which is very, very important. But when it comes to communication, the media environment of our country is changing so rapidly, and only a year ago, nobody was talking about Twitter.

And right now - I just produced a public service announcement on ocean conservation last week, and we released it on Thursday. And I was hoping a whole bunch of blogs would cover it, and only two or three did. So I went to an event on Friday thinking it was a disappointment, and everybody was coming up to me saying wow, everybody's talking about your public service announcement. And I said I didn't see it on the blogs. They said no, on Twitter. You know, it's all over Twitter, and it didn't even dawn on me that there is this new grapevine that's emerged, a whole new dynamic in the communication of things like science. And I don't see the science communication world responding on that kind of time scale that - the same sort of thing went on with the U.S. military in Iraq a couple of years ago.

They began to realize there's been this age-old tradition of the Tuesday press conference that they would hold, where they'd gather all the information, and for several days in advance, it ran through all the channels, everybody approves it. And they began to realize that in doing it that way, by the time you got there to the press conference on Tuesday, everybody else had already blogged about these things and put videos on YouTube, and the metabolism was not keeping up with the media environment that's changing today, and again, I don't see that happening in the science world. It's still a very slow and sluggish machine.

ROBERTS: I - we're going to have to take a break in a second, but when we come back, I want to get a little bit further into this issue of the difference between making something simple and accessible and dumbing it down, which some of your argument has been criticized for doing. We are talking with Randy Olson. The book is titled "Don't Be Such A Scientist." More of your calls in a moment, 800-989-8255. You can also send us email. The address is talk@npr.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERTS: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Rebecca Roberts in Washington. In his new book, Randy Olson writes: A backlash has developed against science in disciplines ranging from evolution to global warming to mainstream medicine. An entire anti-science movement has emerged that truly does threaten our quality of life. Large groups of people are fighting against hard, cold, rational, data-based science, simply saying they don't care what the science says. Communication is not just one element in the struggle to make science relevant, he writes, it's the central element.

The book is titled "Don't Be Such A Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style." Randy Olson is a marine biologist turned filmmaker. He wrote and directed "Flock of Dodos" and "Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy."

Whether you're a scientist or not, does style matter? The phone number here is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And there's a conversation going on at our Web site, npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Randy Olson, some people have interpreted your book as an endorsement of inaccuracy, that you're saying style is more important than substance. I wanted to give you a chance to respond to that.

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, well, the real essence of that is this concern of people saying that it's - I'm endorsing the idea of bending the science or bending the facts. That began last spring when I gave a talk at Arizona State that was posted on iTunes, and one of my friends sent me an email saying I liked your talk, but it sounded to me like you were advocating, quote, "bending the science" to tell a better story. And that kind of stunned me. And I went back and listened to the talk, and in the talk, I said verbatim, you know, I would never support anything short of 100 percent accuracy. And then the same thing cropped up just a week and a half ago, when the New Scientist reviewed my book, ended up coming out, the reviewer there said the same thing, that Randy Olson advises bending the facts. There's - and same thing. I ran to the book and opened it up, and sure enough, on Page 111 in the book, what I say is: I will never, ever endorse the idea of striving for anything less than 100 percent accuracy in the making of any film related to issues in the world of science.

It couldn't have been stated any more clearly than that. In fact, today, they've got a letter to the editor from me pointing that out. But there's an important thing to learn here with this, which is: How are these people getting this impression? Because this is the divide between substance and style.

The substance of what I am saying both in the book and in my talks is very explicit, 100 percent accuracy. And yet they're getting the impression that I'm saying, well, don't worry too much about the facts. And that comes from a number of different things, one of which is my style, my attitude, that I use humor, and sometimes I've got a little bit of a flippant attitude and things like that. And that sends a piece of information, a signal to them that actually, you know, he's not really that concerned about accuracy, and that's part of the communication divide.

And the other thing I talk about in the book in great detail is the Al Gore film, which was less than 100 percent accurate.

ROBERTS: "An Inconvenient Truth."

Mr. OLSON: "An Inconvenient Truth," exactly, which had some flaws in it. And I talk about that, and they seemed to be picking up the signal from that, just by talking about that issue, that I'm somehow endorsing the idea of going with something less than 100 percent accurate, which, how much more explicitly could I write it?

ROBERTS: Because you make the point that it was an enormously successful scientific venture, despite its inaccuracy.

Mr. OLSON: That's right. I think it's a very fascinating case study here of these two films - and the major element they have in common is that Laurie David was the producer of two documentaries about global warming, and the first of which aired on HBO,. And it was full of scientists and 100 percent accurate, but it was kind of dry because of all the scientists.

The second one was "An Inconvenient Truth," and that one had no scientists in it. And it was much more lively, it had much better style, and that one changed the course of human history. You know, I think it's unquestionably the single-most powerful and important piece of environmental media ever produced. And you're left with a dilemma there.

You know, which would you prefer to have your name on between the two: the one that was popular but not that accurate or the one that was really accurate but just that wasn't that popular? Hardly anybody saw the HBO film. And I don't know the answer, necessarily, on that. I pose it as a question in the book, but people are jumping to the conclusion that I'm somehow endorsing one direction or the other.

ROBERTS: Well, it also does say something about the communication skills of scientists when Al Gore is the sexy option.

Mr. OLSON: That is so true, and therein lies the problem. By 2005, the science world knew that global warming a very serious problem, but they just didn't know how to communicate it, and look at what happened. A bunch of people from Hollywood had to step in and say if you're not going to communicate it, we're going to do it for you. And they deserved the Oscar, and they deserved the Nobel Prize because they did get the word out there. But unfortunately, you know, in the end, it didn't really change the public opinion polls because unfortunately, the media itself was not as persuasive as it could've been.

ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Jane(ph) in Lexington, Massachusetts. Jane, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

MARK(ph) (Caller): Hello?

ROBERTS: Hi, you're on the air.

MARK: Hello?

ROBERTS: Hi, Jane, you're on the air.

MARK: If you're talking to me, I'm not Jane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Oh, well, tell us who you are then.

MARK: My name is Mark Courtner(ph), and I'm calling from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and as a communicator and science, science person, I have a few observations. Number one: I think when it comes to how we train scientists, engineers, mathematicians and even people in undergraduate schools of business, they get next to none, next to zero help or courses required that teach them communication skills, whether they're verbal, or whether they're written.

On the other hand, those that are in communication courses, your English majors and your journalism majors, are not made to take enough basic science so that they understand the scientific principle of research. And boy, this walked up and smacked me right between the eyes when I went to graduate school - and it was a master's program, master of science program, in a college of communications. And I had had probably 25 to 30 hours worth of physical and biological sciences before I went to grad school. And all of a sudden, everything they taught you in terms of how to write and how to communicate to the general public, you have to unlearn that so that you can write it, APA scientific speak, as if it's - everything you write is going to be reviewed by a peer journal.

So I think as a scientist, you have to - you know, the number one thing of communication is to figure out, first of all, who your audience is. If you're going to write on a subject, and it's going to go into a popular magazine...

Mr. OLSON: Get to the point.

ROBERTS: Yeah, well, no...

Mr. OLSON: Jimineez(ph). This is what I deal with when I give public talks, and I hate to be rude about it, but there's a story that I tell. Each of the chapters has a little anecdote at the beginning. And I tell one in there about when I was still a professor, and Spike Lee came and talked at the University of New Hampshire. And I got up there to ask him a question, and I turned it into a five-minute speech I gave him. And I started hearing this chorus around the auditorium of all the students chanting: get to the point, get to the point.

And therein lies the problem with so much science communication. Scientists want to tell everything and go on and on like that. And this is where it's so crucial in today's communication environment, and this is where things can be learned from storytelling, is that what storytelling does teach you is the ability of how to pull the information together and solve these equations into short, concise deliveries of the same, basic, overall message. And that's what's crucial.

ROBERTS: But I want to get to his point about know your audience because I think it's a valuable one. Not every audience comes with the same level of scientific knowledge, the same appetite for detail, and so it's not that every scientist needs to talk on a broadcast network to the largest possible audience.

Mr. OLSON: That's very true. Oh, you're asking me?

ROBERTS: I'm asking you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: I thought we were back to him.

ROBERTS: No, he's gone. The communication...

Mr. OLSON: Yeah, absolutely. You know, in the last chapter there, I talk about the need to be bilingual, and that's the essence of what you're saying. And you need to realize that you speak one language in the academic audience, and you speak a different language to the broad audience, and they're very distinctly different. And it doesn't work to take that broad language to your scientific meeting, and you see that happen sometimes with graduate students. They get up there, and they give a very elementary, simplistic talk, and you know, it's a disaster. And conversely, it doesn't work to take all your jargon and technical stuff out to the broader audience.

ROBERTS: And even within the broader audience, there are levels of interest, levels of command of the topic. You just constantly have to gauge where your target is.

Mr. OLSON: Absolutely, but the real divide is realizing that the broader audience deals more with style than with substance. And if you can understand that, you can take advantage of that, and you can communicate more in their mode, one of which is that the broader audience is much more visual.

And at a science meeting, you can stand up there, and you can speak pure words, with no images whatsoever, and most of the audience will actually sit there. They've got the ability to listen to you. They're trained as academics to do that. But it doesn't work with the broader audience. You have to use visual imagery and things like that to reach inside of people, and you have to show them much more than tell them. And that's one of the central divides that really becomes counter-intuitive when you've been trained as an academic in lecturing, basically, because that's what you do as a professor. You get up and you lecture audiences.

ROBERTS: We have an email from Arthur(ph) in Little Rock who says: I appreciate your guest's notion of promoting style in science literature. However, isn't the overwhelming ignorance about scientific knowledge in the vast majority of Americans more to blame for the disinterest and distrust of science than the lack of luster and polished speech in the scientific community?

Mr. OLSON: Well, both things are to blame, how it's communicated and the lack of knowledge of the broader audience. But I can tell you, the chance of changing the ladder on a short timescale is pretty slim. I mean, it's going to take a long time to get a more scientifically literate, broad audience. But we could change the power and the skill through which science is communicated on a very short time schedule.

And that involves the, you know, the chapters of the four books, "Don't Be So Unlikeable," creating more likeable voices for the science world. And the most important chapter, I think, is the third one, "Don't Be Such a Poor Storyteller," because what's fascinating is that storytelling is woven into the fabric of a science career, the profession of science, and it just isn't talked about. The word is almost taboo. It's seen as, you know, storytelling - oh, you're talking about telling big fables and things like that.

And yet, when you look at the way in which scientists communicated from the beginning of time - for example, a scientific paper is written in three acts in the same way that a theatrical play might be written. The first act is the introduction. The second act is the methods and the results. And the third act is the discussion. They follow the same dynamics. That first act is the exposition in a research paper. The methods and results is where everything happens. And then the third act is the synthesis and the discussion. It's all there in the science world.

And another fascinating thing, when scientists write a paper, they undergo this process of editing, where they'll edit it for weeks and weeks and they'll go through 15 different drafts. And they don't really have any qualms with that word, editing. And yet, if you talked about storytelling, which is a lot of what they're doing - they're rearranging the pieces of information in the paper to put them into a more logical structure so people can follow it. But if you label that as storytelling, they get freaked out, like, oh, I don't want to do that.

ROBERTS: Let's hear from Francis in Mount Shasta, California. Francis, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

FRANCIS (Caller): Good evening. Fascinating show, and I certainly agree with some of the previous callers.

ROBERTS: In what terms, Francis?

FRANCIS: So I - this is a redneck area of Northern California. And what I use to engage these people, is to come to their level, and I use what I call a catch fact or an icon exploder to get their attention. And then I give them a quick 30-second commercial on the aspect of science that I think they need to hear.

ROBERTS: Give me an example.

Mr. OLSON: That's great.

FRANCIS: Well, for some of the icon exploders I use are: Anyone who hates spotted owls hates loggers and timbering, and that gets their attention. Or if I'm in a religious crowd, I say: Jesus would not poison the poor, or a good Samaritan gives his neighbor health care. And this gets their attention, then you give them a 30-second commercial.

Mr. OLSON: That is exactly what the entire book is about. Thank you very much. That - 10 years ago, I did a short film with a bunch of faculty at USC, and one of whom from the Annenberg School of Communication, Tom Hallahan, mentioned this simple little principle, which is like what you're talking about. He said, it's as simple as this, two things: arouse and fulfill. You need to arouse the interest of your audience, and then once they're interested, you need to fulfill their expectations. And that is the basics of it.

And unfortunately, the science world is really good with the fulfillment side, but the arousal part is tough. And that, in a lot of ways, is the reason why scientists do need artists, quite often. Artists are the reverse. They're really good at arousing people, but sometimes they don't have the message. And the same with Hollywood. Hollywood is wonderful and powerful at arousing the interest of the public, but a lot of times they don't quite have the message there to deliver. So that's where you need these partnerships.

ROBERTS: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

We have an email from George in Frazier Park, California, who says, as a volunteer editor for Wikipedia, a few months ago I attempted to simplify the Wiki article on introduction to quantum mechanics, and developed a new, more simplified article called, "Basic Concepts of Quantum Mechanics." I'm a journalist. The more technical Wiki fiends were outraged at its simplicity and demanded its removal. The battle is still going on. Doesn't your guest think that most folks get their science info from Wikipedia these days, and shouldn't the articles be more inviting?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. OLSON: Yeah. But I wonder if you couldn't just set up the basic fork-in-the-road there at the beginning of the article: Here's the version for people that want a broader version and here's the one for the aficionados, because that is the standard dilemma that run into. And, you know, I've thought in recent years, some science organization or some foundation should put together an award for courage with the simplification of science, because I've watched some of my science peers and colleagues over the years, some of whom are really good at taking global patterns or things like that that they see in the oceans and standing up and saying, here's the general pattern.

And as soon as they do, there are all these what I call ankle biters that come running along and just start tearing him to pieces. Well, you know, technically, it doesn't work here, here and here. And after awhile, you get to the point where you get tired of being attacked by all those folks, and yet we need scientists who've got the courage to stand up there and simplify it, because that's the way the broader communication does work.

ROBERTS: We have time for one last call. This is Don in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Don, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

DON (Caller): Hi. Thank you for having me on. I wanted to go back to one of the basic education issues that the author mentioned. I teach in the writing across the curriculum program at MIT, which integrates writing program, lectures and the technical courses. And as your guest said, yeah, I've almost never heard anybody on the scientific or technical faculty say that communication doesn't matter. What I see, though, is that when it's going - when communications instruction is going cost technical faculty something, chiefly time, then things become a little bit more difficult. These are very important skills except, when you say, well, I need this hour, this week. And at that point, it's a much more difficult sell for us.

Mr. OLSON: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. And that's - therein lies the overall large-scale issue, which is the world of scientists is going to have to wake up and realize they're being attacked in this anti-science movement, and the time is going to have to come where you're going to have to take away resources away from the doing of science and put it into this communication stuff. And I had this happened 10 years ago with some of the marine biologist friends of mine that started contacting me.

And they were saying themselves, enough with the research. We've got enough data to show the way in which the oceans are being ravaged. What we need is to start convincing some of these people. And the same thing's going on with the global warming right now. Two months ago, I spoke to one of the top guys from the IPCC, who was saying the same thing. You know, why is it we've got all the science that shows us the patterns, and yet the public is not responding to this? That's where it comes back to the - the communication effort has not been powerful enough. And there are ways to get these things across, but it does involve innovation. And there are some innovative things that are happening these days.

And things like, you know, there's a science film festival next week in New York City. It's the first time ever. There's now a major called the Imagine Science Film Festival, and my film "Sizzle" is going to be in it next Friday night, by the way. If you're in New York City, come to the screening. It'll be fun. And that's an innovation.

There's also a new program that the National Academy of Science has started with Hollywood called the Science and Entertainment Exchange that I've set 20 years out here watching science groups come here and fail over and over again. This is the first time I've seen something come together that's really working, is very logical, and I think partly because it originated from within Hollywood. So, there is a slow change happening, and some innovation happening, but there's not a large-scale agenda to accept the importance of this communication.

ROBERTS: Randy Olson, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. OLSON: Oh, thanks. Great to be here.

ROBERTS: Randy Olson joined us from our studios at NPR West. He was a scientist, now he's a filmmaker, and his new book is called "Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style."

Coming up, we'll talk about evolution of monsters and how "Where the Wild Things Are" made it safe to love scary creatures. Tell us what monsters have stuck with you: 800-989-8255. You can also drop us email. The address is talk@npr.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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