Dang that Ken Burns

I’d love to have a long rambling conversation about the new and improved academic logo that Tech has unveiled. However, that train left the station in class. Instead I will turn to a story on the Chronicle of Higher Ed. website about why historians dislike Ken Burns and his new documentary on the Vietnam War. There are a few ideas worth exploring with the article; but, I’d like to focus in on how Burn’s has managed to reach such a wider audience than academic historians. The author speculates that academics are merely jealous of the size of the audience that Burn’s can reach, as they are mostly limited to an academic audience. I don’t blame them for being jealous, I know I fall into a similar trap with entomology related articles I see in the mainstream media. As the author states, “He (Burns) is a simplifier; we complicate.” Every time I read an article about GMO’s or organic agriculture, that is always my first thought, it’s not that simple. Things are always more nuanced than a simple cause and effect relationship, but the burden of knowledge is what you get with investing your time and energy in graduate school. When you don’t worry so much about the nuance, you are more free to craft your message to connect with a lay audience. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t important details, but rather we need to carefully consider what is essential.

The biggest take away I had from the communicating science night is that an emotional appeal is a better strategy than a logical appeal to connect with people. For me, that is a hard thing to do. When I started my Master’s degree, the creative aspects of writing were beaten out of me with a red pen. Instead, I needed to focus on clear and concise sentences motivated by logic. It is difficult to then turn around and try to connect with people on an emotional level. I have this data that says you should do this, so why wouldn’t you do that? Maybe that’s what I need to realize about social media. I have forums to discuss my research with fellow academic using all the jargon I want. Social media is the opportunity to reach the lay audience and to craft my message in a way that still includes the details that are necessary, but has a better story than a publication. So,  I am asking myself the question, why should you care?

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