Book breakdown – “Don’t be such a Scientist” Part 1

Introducing Dr. Randy Olson, a marine biologist who left the world of academia to find out what Hollywood could teach him. He became a writer/director and couldn’t help but see how all his new skills could be applied to science communication.

His book, “Don’t be such a scientist: Talking substance in the age of style” is one of my absolute favourites. It’s a curious combination of scientific convincing and acting class insights. This short book is split into five parts, each of which I will cover in a post.

“Don’t Be So Cerebral”

The first thing Randy Olson introduces us to (besides some crazy snippets of his old acting teacher screaming at him!), is the idea of the four organs of mass communication… the head, the heart, the gut, and the lower organs.

Olson says that people tend to have different driving forces, different places that they’re coming from most of the time. The head thinkers are quite logical. They like thinking things through and getting things to make sense. Not surprisingly, most academics fit in here, but very few other people do. Attempting to communicate from this perspective to a global audience reaches the least amount of people.

Next we have the heart. Heart thinkers are the passionate, empathetic types. Olson talks about actors and religion fitting here. To me this is where most charities, disaster appeals and petitions speak from. Heart thinkers form a larger group than the Head thinkers, but still don’t include everyone.

Then comes the gut. Olson says that in the gut lies instinct and humour. It’s full of impulses, and also contradiction. When you feel something but can’t explain why, that’s when you’re listening to your gut. Reaching out to people from this perspective will allow you to influence most everyone out there.

And finally the lower organs. Down here there’s no logic, but it is powerful nonetheless. I can’t help but feel that the majority of advertising and movies lives here, and as the old adage says, “Sex sells”. From here you can reach pretty much everyone, and some people won’t pay any attention to anything else.

So why is this at all important for science communication?

Because if you as a scientist want to communicate, explain, persuade or get through to anyone who isn’t a head thinker – you need to be able to speak the language. Or at the very least, be able to take the different perspectives into account. Having to tell others about your research is a non-negotiable part of being a scientist. You will always have to do so, so why not try to get more comfortable with doing it well?

As Olson says – there’s two parts to communicating, the substance of what you’re saying, and then the style of how you say it. You’re more effective, interesting and engaging when you use both.

If you’re interested in reading, “Don’t be such a scientist” yourself, you can purchase the kindle edition from for $13.03, or get the paper version for $26.50 from, or from Angus& for $26.99. And no – I’m not getting anything to tell you. I just think it’s a brilliant read. Enjoy!

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