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?