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Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  385 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
"You think too much! You mother F@$#%&* think too much! You're nothing but an arrogant, pointy headed intellectual -- I want you out of my classroom and off the premises in five minutes or I'm calling the police and having you arrested for trespassing." —Hollywood acting teacher to Randy Olson, former-scientist
After nearly a decade on the defensive, the world of scienc
Paperback, 216 pages
Published August 28th 2009 by Island Press
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Best General Science Books
152nd out of 377 books — 366 voters
Handbook for Science Public Information Officers by W. Matthew ShipmanInvestigating Science Communication in the Information Age by Richard HollimanScience In Public by Jane GregoryUnscientific America by Chris C. MooneyDon't Be Such a Scientist by Randy Olson
Science Comunication
5th out of 10 books — 1 voter

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Community Reviews

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Jan 31, 2012 Leslie rated it really liked it

This book is annoyingly correct. Unfortunately there are many among us who enjoy being so cerebral, so literal minded, have resigned ourselves to being poor storytellers, and are not bothered by being classified as "unlikeable" by non-scientists. (Yes, I am talking about myself.) Why can't everyone just BE LOGICAL?

Since the general public has a problem being logical (there I go with the typical condescending tone of the scientist), the author offers some good tips on how to generalize a m
Apr 16, 2013 Alan rated it it was amazing
OK, here's the deal, while reading this book I realized that all too often I am SUCH a scientist!

This hit me like a ton of bricks the other night when my 13-year old daughter came in with a piece of cinnamon-roll cake that she'd made (she's actually quite the little cook). My wife was also in the room and said (strongly hinting to me) "Isn't this FANTASTIC!" A good dad, a good communicator, wouldn't have had to think things over and chimed right in, but I took a bite and my dumb old scientific b
Thomas Edmund
Aug 01, 2010 Thomas Edmund rated it it was amazing
Taking a title from his ex wife’s admonishment Randy Olsen produces a book that is a must read (but likely to miss 1/3) by all scientists.

This book is a must read as it addresses a serious concern: that the general public is getting further and further away from accepting the information presented to them from scientists and academics, and as a result the political powers that be are responding less and less to science and more to populist input.

Certainly scientists are always going to be the ne
D. Paul
Sep 07, 2009 D. Paul rated it it was amazing
Although ostensibly aimed at scientists, “Don’t Be Such A Scientist” offers specific advice to anyone on communicating a message, particularly a complicated rational one, while at the same time chronicling Randy Olson’s transformation from tenured professor of Oceanography at the University of New Hampshire to struggling filmmaker on the mean and venal streets of Hollywood. High-minded and serious at times, hilarious and filled with pathos at others, Olson’s book is an inspiring, entertaining, a ...more
Jul 27, 2009 Mike rated it it was amazing
Over the course of the last half century, the teaching ability of professors at Universities has declined to a point that when a student actually gets a good teacher as a professor, it is an unexpected surprise. Those of us that have worked in the university research environment know the focus of most professors is their research, while the education of the student is an unfortunate but necessary requirement that allows one to continue his/her research. Scientists have forgotten that they actual ...more
Ty Carlisle
Jul 27, 2009 Ty Carlisle rated it it was amazing
This book should be a paradigm shift for anyone who's interested in the fate of our little blue planet. Funnily written, with cute little anecdotal stories about the author's life dealing with scientists (including himself, the author points fun at his own mistakes as "such a scientist" including an hilarious story about making a fool of himself in front of Spike Lee). Yet the book doesn't simply poke fun, it also hammers home on some very interesting and timely messages about what everyone can ...more
Nov 09, 2010 Andy rated it did not like it
I was extremely disappointed by this book. The author mentions people like Carl Sagan, but does not get into how they managed to combine scientific substance and style. From the subtitle and the cover blurbs, it seemed to me that that is exactly what this book was promising. Maybe it was my mistake to expect that but I would imagine many other potential readers would be thinking that too. The reviewers below agree that this book doesn't do that but they liked it anyway.

It does have a bunch of s
May 21, 2011 Charlotte rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I have mixed feelings about this book. I am very glad exists. I believe it is enormously important for scientists to be able to communicate their ideas to the general public. However, within the scientific community there is little concern about science communication or knowledge about how to do it well. This book definitely fills a void and I respect it for that. I'm not convinced it does it well, though.

Olson give a series of suggestions along the lines of "tell a story" and "be likable" and a
Sep 27, 2010 Caleb rated it it was ok
An enjoyable, quick read with some unique insight to offer. Olson seems to have a pretty good handle on what scientists are like. I'm not entirely sure that his personal journey from academia to Hollywood is the absolutely best vehicle for making the point he wants to make, but it works okay. Among the 170 pages, there are about 5 that are really valuable. Maybe it's worth reading the whole thing to get them, but I kind of wonder if it couldn't have been a shorter essay. I would have rated the b ...more
Nia Wright
Jun 19, 2016 Nia Wright rated it it was ok
**Thank you to the author and Netgalley for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review**

I only got 45% through this book so I can only review that much of it - the premise was excellent:

"Scientists are fact driven and poor at communicating, so the majority of their work, no matter how important and world changing, never sees the light of day to receive funding or change the world"

This is all the first half of the book had to say. Scientists are boring and they should lear
Apr 16, 2012 Jean rated it liked it
The basic ideas of this book are great, but I don't think the author needed a full book to explain himself. The author spent too much time talking about himself, instead of exploring interesting issues with science communication and film as an art-form. He also seemed pretty obsessed with making himself out to be so "cool" which really wasn't necessary. However, that said, I agree with his main premise, that scientists really need to re-think how they communicate to each other and to the general ...more
Anne Martin
Feb 21, 2016 Anne Martin rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley-arc
This book was needed, but I'm afraid it is not read by the proper persons.
It is meant to be read by scientists to change the way they communicate with the world, but actually it is read with interest by people like me, who agree with the author from the beginning on.
Yes, the scientific community must change to inform the rest of the world, but it won't happen soon. There are a few examples of scientists who have been able to touch and move the non-scientists. Stephen Hawking has, probably more b
Jan 31, 2016 Milly rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I firmly believe that everyone needs to read this book - regardless of discipline, job or interests. Olson highlights a number of important issues that surrounds science communication, but to be honest can be applied to any discipline. Olsen discusses the importance of storytelling, audiences, tone and a number of other ways people communicate, both verbally and written. I found the book fascinating to read and I would highly recommend to anyone who both wants to improve their communication as w ...more
Danielle T
Mar 20, 2014 Danielle T rated it liked it
Shelves: science, pop-culture
This has been on my to-read list for ages, and now that it's semi-relevant to grad school goals, finally took it off my amazon wishlist. I watched Flock of Dodos during Darwin Week 2010; my review of that is here. Curiously, my opinions of his other work reflect what I got four years later in his book.

Dr. Olson argues that since we live in a world of short-attention spans, scientists need to learn to let go of some of the jargon and embrace subjective emotional/sexual/whatever appeal. Arouse th
Susan Chambers
Oct 12, 2009 Susan Chambers rated it really liked it
A clear and well told examination of the cultural gap between scientists and the entertainment industry.
Fred Kohn
May 17, 2015 Fred Kohn rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This looks like a book by a scientist for scientists, and it is that. But it is also good for folk like me that pose as scientifically minded on Facebook and Blogger. In a nutshell, the book says that scientists are far more likely than the general population to kid themselves into believing their discipline is all about logic, to be arrogant and unlikeable, and to be horrible communicators. The book is spiced up by the author's stories of becoming and working as a film producer. And, BTW, if yo ...more
Lis Carey
Jan 20, 2011 Lis Carey rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-science
Randy Olson is a marine biologist who did his research, did his publishing, and became a tenured professor at the University of New Hampshire.

And then he resigned to become a filmmaker.

In Don't Be Such a Scientist, Olson talks about his own journey from scientist to science filmmaker, and explores the problems of communicating science to a broad audience. He finds the problems to lie mainly in a disconnect between how scientists learn to communicate with each other and the kinds of communication
Jul 07, 2013 loafingcactus rated it really liked it
I majored in philosophy, where we put the conclusion at the end and if people don't want to suffer to get there that is their problem, and then went into medical science so my communication style is double-da**med. This book, this book is THE THING. One of the best parts of the book is where the author compares the tension between accuracy and boredom to the tension between risking Type I and Type II errors- spot on! (pp. 104-106)

If you want to see someone who excels at science communication, ch
I received an electronic copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley.

The original Star Trek and its reboot delighted in the contrast between the stoic, logical Spock and passionate, instinct-driven Kirk or McCoy. Not long before that, over fifty years ago, C.P. Snow gave his famous lecture on "The Two Cultures" and the divisions between Science and the Arts, providing voice to sentiments that existed long before then. So, the topics of Olson's book aren't exactly new. But they are still necess
Steev Hise
Apr 20, 2010 Steev Hise rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, filmmaking
The author is out to instruct scientists and science communicators on how to communicate more effectively with a mass audience. he uses his own experiences as tenured marine biology professor who became a filmmaker.

I saw Olson's film about climate change, "Sizzle" and was intrigued enough to buy the book in the lobby afterward. Basically his whole thesis is that you can't just dump a bunch of truth on people and expect them to be convinced of your position. You have to entertain them and appeal
Linda Lombardi
Apr 09, 2012 Linda Lombardi rated it it was amazing
The author was a tenured marine biology professor and quit to become a filmmaker who makes funny films about serious conservation issues. A man after my own heart obviously. It is full of brilliant observations about why everyone else on earth seems insane to me - because I think like a scientist and they don't. It's actually rather depressing since the book's main point is that most people cannot be reached by logic and you have to use other methods to convince them. But on the other hand, you ...more
Nov 10, 2009 Linette rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone in the science field or who will be working with scientists
Recommended to Linette by: Rancho
"Don't Be SUCH a Scientist" had me chuckling in the first three pages! Olson uses countless real-life anecdotes to portray his points. His vignettes are both serious and humorous, which make for an overall easy read. Olson goes so far as to call academics "eggheads," leaving the reader unsure what to expect next!

"By now you may be thinking, 'What's this guy got against intellectuals? He's calling them brainiacs and eggheads.' Well, I spent six wonderful years at Harvard University completing
Heather Natola
Dec 02, 2015 Heather Natola rated it it was ok
I think the main message of this book is fundamentally good, but I was so frustrated by Olson's inability to follow his own advice. He harps for pages on being concise, and he agonizes over the need for scientists to be less condescending, all while rambling about how great he is and being generally condescending. If you took out his word vomit, shrunk the book from double spaced to single, it could be condensed into a very good essay.
Dec 29, 2015 Pierre rated it really liked it
It's got some very interesting and important ideas about science communication, particularly about how scientists should approach a wider audience, and also each other's attempts to reach a wider audience.

However, the author is rather irritatingly in love with his own ideas, and constantly trumpets his own supposed success in this field. This is, however, a minor point, and may make slightly more sense to his native US audience.
Aug 27, 2015 Tyler rated it liked it
The central point of this book is not particularly clear I found. Easy to read and enjoyable; however, I feel there could be a bit more of a punch if there were more information provided specifically about how to communicate. Yes he does say there is a tradeoff between accuracy and entertainment, but I think this book could strike a better balance (ie similar to what he describes with An Inconvenient Truth).
Rick Hollis
Jun 23, 2013 Rick Hollis rated it it was amazing
A wonderful book.

My background is science. I have always wanted to be scientist [well, after I gave up on cowboy and professional football player]. When I see logical, fact-filled arguments lose to nutsy discussions by the people who do not believe in Global Warning or Evolution, I am speechless. I cannot understand how this is can be.

The author’s background is rather unique. After working a Marine Biologist; he ended up working in Hollywood. And there is a certain amount of exaggeration and ful
Feb 11, 2014 Marit rated it really liked it
Olson means to jar his staid scientific audience with this book, calling them out for being unlikeable, bogged down in details, poor storytellers, and so much more. And yet, the tone is always one of loving frustration since Olson is a scientist himself and still has great fondness for the quirks and structures of the scientific world. He just wishes it would shape up and start affecting change. By embracing both style and substance. Olson has useful and thought-provoking one-liners and pointers ...more
Feb 14, 2010 Jim rated it really liked it
I'm not ready to start taking acting lessons, but I appreciate this book's point that scientists are mostly terrible advocates. Admittedly, I take for granted that my students are required to take my courses. This book, like the Union of Concerned Scientists' "A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media," tries to address the inability of scientists to reach the general public on issues like climate change, ocean degradation, and intelligent design. The difference is that UCS asks scientists t ...more
Jan 06, 2011 Kevin rated it it was amazing
Alright I've a few days to better digest this one.

I agree with the core tenant that Scientist are not communicating with the public effectively, and that this needs to change. To be totally honest most practicing scientist I know are horrible communicators. I'm just not totally sold on his methodology. Olson is both passionate about this subject matter and faithfully practices what he preaches. I even think most of his ideas and theories about communication are spot on (this is coming from someo
Camille McCarthy
Sep 10, 2013 Camille McCarthy rated it really liked it
This is a book every science and engineering student should read. It explains a lot of the reasons why scientists/engineers are often ineffective at conveying information and at understanding why others don't see things the way they do. It is great that someone is addressing this issue and the issue of negativity prevalent among the science community. There is a lot of advice given by the author, who is himself a scientist-turned-filmmaker and had to learn the hard way that being so literal all ...more
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“This is the dilemma of science-think and yet again a situation in which scientists simply shouldn't be such scientists. Bring in the professionals, and trust them when they tell you to invest in communication. It may be frustrating and seem like a frivolous waste of resources, but what's the alternative strategy—to assume that people are rational, thinking beings? There's a famous quote by Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, who heard a woman shout to him that all the thinking people of America were with him. He replied, “That's not going to be enough, Madam; I need a majority of the public.” 0 likes
“Last week I sat through a day of environmental talks. You know what I remember from that entire day? Only one thing-the story a guy told about how he was sitting on an airplane and the lady next to him asked for cream for her coffee, but when they brought her the small plastic containers of cream, she said, "No thanks; the plastic isn't biodegradable." And he thought to himself, "I can hardly hear her over the jet engines that are burning up fifty gazillion barrels of fuel a minute, and she's worried about a thimble-sized piece of plastic?"
That's all I remember from that day. Why is that? It's the power of a well-told story that is also very specific. Stories that are full of vague generalizations are weak. Specifics give them strength.”
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