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Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway was high on my ‘to read’ list. When I heard Naomi was coming to speak at the Science Communication seminar I attend, the book went straight to the top of the list – I had a week to read it.

In a nutshell, the extremely well-researched book reveals the tactics several high-powered yet contrarian scientists used to spread doubt about matters that had already reached scientific consensus, namely tobacco smoke and climate change.

I was surprised to see how witty, charismatic and down-to-Earth Naomi was.  Instead of repeating what is in the book, she took us through some of the challenges they faced during the research process and once the book was published.

Dealing with the media was no doubt one of those challenges. Naomi is particularly selective about what interviews she gives precisely because appearing in a debate about climate change with a “doubt merchant” simply fuels the point that the jury is still out, when in fact there is no debate. It is happening. Period.

But the author of a best-selling book has to appear in front of the cameras at some stage and my favourite part of the seminar was when Naomi shared some of the tricks she picked up on how to make the media work to your advantage, not the other way round:

Never Wear Hemp

That goes for any other granola stereotype. Right or wrong, people do not always listen to what is being said but to who is saying it.

If you feed into the stereotype, the public will automatically side-line you as alternative and disregard what you are saying.

Make-up is a Must

Make-up may not be your thing but unfortunately cameras can be particularly unfriendly machines. The first US presidential debate televised was the Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Nixon refused to wear make-up and lost the debate because he looked too tired and old to run the country. Sad but true. Get yourself some BB Cream and eyeliner if a personal make-up artist is out of reach.

Heels and a business suit

The basis of the corporate look is to change the perception that scientists are not normal human beings. They are weird and simply not like the rest of us. If you are unsure what is meant by this, look up the Draw a Scientist test. Bright colours work well too by showing your fun side.

After reading this you may not be surprised to find out that Naomi drives a BMW. I am undecided about this one. Do you think it is appropriate for the winner of the Climate Change Communicator of 2011 award to drive such an un-environmentally friendly car? Or do you think it conveys the message that climate change advocates aren’t necessarily hippies trying to attack your way of life?

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By djasudasen

8 comments on “Tips for Scientists to Ace Their TV Interview

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post as Diana made it really personal. I love how she gives tips on looks and appearance, because I agree that whether we like it or not, everyone judges others by their looks.

    This is why first impressions are important. Say you are interviewing an applicant for a job position – would you be impressed by a shabbily dressed individual or an applicant that dressed up or suited up? Having said that, I personally think that it is the fact that the person BOTHERED to dress up rather than how well the person managed to dress up.

    Lastly, I feel that it is inappropriate for someone to drive an un-environmentally friendly car if they are trying to promote something otherwise. Actions speak louder than words, and by setting that example, other people will subconsciously think that as long as they understand the message, it is alright to drive whatever you want – just like her.

  2. I agree with all of those tips… as Jess said- no matter how much you want people to look past aesthetics they’re what people will judge you on!

    Putting in the effort to look nice often means you put in effort in other areas of your life, which is why I disagree with people who say ‘looks are not important’. Saying that, there are some days at uni when I honestly feel like I’m scaring people away with my appearance- and the irony is that those are the days I’ve normally woken up early to get to the library to study like crazy for something! I guess I should probably learn to balance my life a bit more.

    Focussing on the question you proposed at the end… I think it is highly inappropriate for someone like Naomi to drive a BMW. This must hurt the image she puts forward much more than possibly ‘looking like a hippy’ would.

  3. I like how the post was short, simple and straight to the way. It was easy to understand and an enjoyable read. Good job!

    I agree that ‘dealing with the media was no doubt one of the challenges’. It is scary how the media can portray a totally different image of you, as every little detail or thing that you do counts. The outward appearance is the first and foremost impression that a person gives, when the person makes his or her first appearance. I believe that both make up and the way we dress does make a difference. Putting on some make up and doning a better attire would show the effort a person took to dress up and to look more presentable.

    I agree with Jessica that it is inappropriate for Naomi to drive the BMW. It is ironic that she is not practicing what she preaches, which does not reflect well on her. Since she is trying to promote climate change, I think that she should also start by practicing some environmentally friendly habits. After all, everyone can make a difference to save this planet.

  4. Thanks for your comments ladies! I think the point Naomi was trying to make about driving a BMW is that she too wants to enjoy the same lifestyle that others do.

    She is not taking sides. She is a scientific historian. Her book has simply presented the facts about what has happened.

    I think she drives the car to show the world that she isn’t an alternative loopy person who wants to chain herself to a tree.

    Can anyone else explain Naomi’s motives better than I have?

  5. I found that part of Naomi’s talk very interesting, and I like your post discussing about it.

    We do judge a person from his/her apperence in front of TV, and sometimes it’s more important than what s/he is talking about. That might be the only thing people would remember after the talk. And it has power to influence people’s attitude towards the talk.

    I think driving a BMW is ironic thing, but people are not perfect. Work is just work sometimes:)

  6. Great post, Diana.
    Reflecting on what you posted and yes attending Naomi’s talk, it was very simple and good.
    I also found her truly down to earth. Though I did not read the book from front to the last chapter, she lead us through it all very well.
    I also liked the quotes she shared randomly. I thought she was able to communicate well what she wrote.

  7. Enjoyed reading your post Diana! i was enraptured listening to Naomi, how down to earth she is and her journey in writing Merchants of Doubt. I think she has found the secret of winning the battle which is not to fall into the trap of the “debate”, just as you pointed out, there’s no debate, its for real! Drove home the point that how we choose to communicate also presents a message in itself.

    Well, i was actually impressed she drives a BMW since it is one of the most eco-friendly cars around. BMW is one of the leaders in green engines and produce excellent cars with low emissions and are coming up with more efficient vehicles as we speak. If i had the money i would choose a BMW for this reason. Check these out:
    http://news.drive.com.au/drive/green-motoring/new-bmw-supercar-to-be-called-i8-20110222-1b2vu.html
    http://www.departures.com/articles/eco-friendly-diesel-cars
    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/03/bmw-118d-wins-w/

  8. Thanks Nosrat! I knew there was a good reason that I was overlooking and this really clears it up. Thanks for the links!

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