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My First Three Shows—Reactions?
Posted: 19 March 2010 04:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Dear Listeners,

As one of your new hosts, I’ve now done three Point of Inquiry episodes. Next week I will be taking a week off, and another DJ Grothe show that was in the can will apparently be used.

So now is a very good time, it seems to me, to ask what people think of the shows I’ve done so far—what you liked, and what you didn’t.

The shows were on vaccine denial with Paul Offit, climate denial with Michael Mann, and then science journalism and disaster with Andrew Revkin. Here they are:

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/paul_offit_the_costs_of_vaccine_denialism/
http://www.pointofinquiry.org/michael_mann_unprecedented_attacks_on_climate_research/
http://www.pointofinquiry.org/andrew_revkin_the_death_of_science_writing_and_the_future_of_catastrophe/

Thoughts? Let’s throw it wide open and see what folks think. Your feedback will be invaluable to me.

Chris

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Posted: 19 March 2010 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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OK, well I guess I’ll go first. I thought that overall the first shows were really excellent. I particularly liked the new intros, and I don’t just mean the mentions of the Forum grin . I also liked the backgrounders that you included. Lots of good information.

The one thing I might quibble with, which others have mentioned on prior threads, is that it does sometimes seem as though you are very close to your interview subjects. (This was also true of Robert Price in his first interview). It’s not that an interview has to be terribly antagonistic, but it does make the subject more interesting when the interviewee is pressed a bit, and that can be hard to sell if it seems that you’re completely on the same page. FWIW I think there’s a good middle ground here, where we know your opinion, and that (e.g.) you agree with the person you’re interviewing, and yet you’re giving him or her a good cross-examination nonetheless. It may even amount more to a matter of tone than of the particular line of questioning you pursue.

But I consider that a minor issue in the context of the ones we’ve heard so far. Thanks!

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Posted: 19 March 2010 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree with Doug’s post, mainly because of the open buddy status between you & Mann.  However, I think the lambasting dished out in a few posts were over the top. 

I’ll admit until recently I only occasionally listened to POI, though I always enjoyed it.  In light of some reviews I went back and listened to an assortment from the past years.  And have relistened to the Mann & Revkin interviews a few times.  POI seems to be a friendly discussion forum and not the ‘firing line’ some seem to think it should be, so it is unreasonable to expect you to turn it into one.

As for suggestions, the only one would offer is listen to a lot of NPR’s Fresh Air. I find Terry Gross an incredibly insightful interviewer that can get at the tenderest of topics and ask very incisive questions, yet do it in a non-threatening manner that has produced ground breaking, information loaded interviews time and again. 
Now that you’re focused on the art of interviewing, consider spending some time studying a true master.

[ Edited: 19 March 2010 11:36 AM by citizenschallenge ]
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Posted: 19 March 2010 09:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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There’s no need to be confrontational at all.  These three interviews were very interesting, informative and have elevated POI to NPR-level quality.  The Mann interview was particularly engrossing; he’s a scientist on the front lines under attack by some pretty serious foes and I wanted to hear his side of the story, not that of the opponents - they’ve already been quite successful at spreading their views everywhere. There was no need to press him since he’s already been well-pressed by the likes of Inhofe etc.  The interview provided a direct connection to one of the major figures at the center of the maelstrom, was well executed and drew out interesting details.  I hope there are more shows like this in the pipeline.

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Posted: 20 March 2010 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Thanks, everyone.

While Sean disagrees, I am hearing that a lot of folks expect me to be a bit tougher with those who are obviously on my “side”—even when the other side is scientifically discredited. This is something I’m going to have to weigh. I tend to recoil at phony “balance,” but at the same time, perhaps there is a way of doing this that does not compromise that principle.

Thanks so, so much for the feedback!

chris

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Posted: 20 March 2010 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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CMooney - 20 March 2010 08:55 AM

I tend to recoil at phony “balance,” ...

Excellent point. I believe a form of gentle cross-examination is possible without expressly taking seriously unscientific notions.

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Posted: 20 March 2010 12:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The emphasis on science is great, period—for the reason that there isn’t enough popular discussion of science—as you’ve noted.  It is important for CFI to link into this area and broaden focus from just ethics and humanism.

One idea—As Chris knows every year Houghton Mifflin produces a volume on
” The Best American Science Writing of the Year”—if he could interview the editor of the volume each year and perhaps the author of an article best aligned with science & policy this would really anchor this podcast.  [Start with Natalie Angier and work back]

The CFI forums have a “science and technology” section and a “politics and social issues” section and Chris’ topic area bridges these which is kind of neat.

I admit that I can learn a lot from Chris Mooney and listen to his podcasts multiple times.  I was a “Chris Mooney skeptic” at the beginning of this because I am by nature more one of the Joe-Friday-just-the-facts-accuracy-is-everything scientists and pooh-poohed the importance of ‘framing’ or ‘telling a good story’ a la Randy Olson (Flight of Dodos). But as I read the Mooney-Olson books and listen to this podcast I increasingly think he has an important point to make. Thinking about the story seems to be a good way to organize the explanation.

I think this podcast will draw more scientists to CFI and broaden the base—we’ll have to see. You certainly brought in some knowledgeable new folks on climate and maybe they will continue to provide info and links.  The prep time you are putting in is very clear and thanks for that extra work, it is worth it.

Other reactions.—I kind of agree with Doug in that we want the opinions of the interviewee to come first, with you agreeing, rather than you explaining something and they agree with you.  Maybe you could get the interviewer to differentiate their views by asking “how does your new book fit in?  How does it extend or complement or contradict other new books in the area” or something like that.  Partly we want to know whether to buy the book or dig into the author’s writings and views online. 

D.J. interviewed Michael Behe and maybe you can tackle something weird like that after 25 podcasts or so. 

Also thanks for interacting with the forum.

[ Edited: 21 March 2010 04:31 AM by Jackson ]
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Posted: 20 March 2010 08:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I am new to the Center for Inquiry, but am appreciating and enjoying what I have discovered so far. 

These interviews are obviously part of CFI’s education, outreach and advocacy.  I think that various forces of non-science have platforms on which they can distill their messages.

I agree with Chris that “balance” would be a phony posture.  I think that confrontation can lead to defensiveness on the part of the interviewee and cause them to retreat to safe sound bites that don’t get to the heart of the issue. 

Rather than thinking of it as even a gentle cross examination, I’d think of it as “zeroing in”. 

I think it would be useful in each interview to highlight (can I call it framing?):
Why this is good science? (if it is)
Eliciting more depth on the subject at hand
Why is it controversial? (if that is true)
Why is it significant in relationship to other things?
What are the key points?
What is the essence of the interviewees position?

And I think very importantly:
How do we get the public to understand?

Interviews can be deep, engrossing, even hard hitting and tough without resorting to making it into a format of a battle between two sides.

Chris is doing a good job with much of this already.  There is always room to improve.

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Posted: 20 March 2010 09:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Jackson - 20 March 2010 12:37 PM

The emphasis on science is great, period—for the reason that there isn’t enough popular discussion of science, just like you see!  It is important for CFI to link into this area and not focus on ethics and humanism.

totally agree !

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Posted: 20 March 2010 10:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Chris, I’ve really enjoyed the new shows. The useful additions are:

- inviting reader comments
- emphasis on science and public policy implications. The climate change and vaccine denial episodes where among the best I’ve heard.

I appreciate that the CFI is focused on issues more pertinent to the US, but somehow the occasional foray into what are issues in say Europe, Africa and Asia would be interesting. It might be interesting to listeners and offer an interesting point of comparison. All these debates transcend US partisan politics. For example: HIV denial-ism in Africa has broader implications not only for public health policy on that part of the world, but by extension everywhere else.

I’d be keen to know what’s going on in China? What’s happening in the former Soviet Union? What’s happening in Japan? In short, thanks to our globalised economies and the Internet, these issues are of global important.

The above may not be the best example, but I hope it serves to illustrate my point.

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Posted: 21 March 2010 09:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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So many great suggestions here. I am listening, and am already considering next steps and how I can grow and improve based upon this feedback. Keep it coming!

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Posted: 22 March 2010 01:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I too have been impressed with the shows so far. Initially I agreed with Doug and thought that the Mann interview seemd a bit “chummy,” but I haven’t felt that about the succeeding interviews. I’m not sure “balance” or a more aggressive style is necessary so much as just maintaining a little distance, the feel of an interview rather than two fellow travellers chatting.

I think it’s very important for CFI to engage contemporary scientific and social/political issues from a rational, science-based perspective as part of presenting a positive world view, rather than merely a critique of theism and other unscientific competing world views. My own area of particular interest is science-based medicine, as opposed to “alternative” medicine, and I would love to see interviews with some of the leading figures in that area (e.g. R. Barker Bausell, David Gorski, Mark Crislip, and so on).

Thanks for taking the time to engage with us on the forum, and for doing such a good job on POI!

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Posted: 25 March 2010 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I have been a POI listener since its inception and, obviously, find it stimulating and informative. There has been a long, ongoing issue that I hope you, Chris, will deal with because DJ and the others did not. It is incredible to me that the show is still running the promo from Free Inquiry Magazine that says the publication:
“cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect.”  NO. IT DOES NOT CUT THROUGH THE COURAGE!!!  IT HAS THE
COURAGE. I have brought this up numerous times over two years with DJ and others at CFI but it never is changed. I heard it again in the interview with Victor Stenger, which maybe was “in the can.” Why is it such a big deal to re-record this promo?

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Posted: 25 March 2010 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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pjbourque - 25 March 2010 01:45 PM

“cuts through the noise and the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect.”

I believe the full line is:

“One magazine is dedicated to keeping you up to date with (1) analysis that cuts through the noise, and (2) the surprising courage to appear politically incorrect. That magazine is Free Inquiry.”

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Posted: 26 March 2010 07:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Man, either way, bad sentence…..

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Posted: 26 March 2010 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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CMooney - 26 March 2010 07:28 AM

Man, either way, bad sentence…..

Shirley, you could come up with something better!! tongue rolleye

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