Monday, April 26, 2010

A scientist's elevator speech, in 45 seconds: E.O. Wilson

Biologist E.O. Wilson was on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR last week, and toward the end of the hour, this email message came in from a scientist-listener:
I was asked recently by an acquaintance to give him an elevator speech as to why biodiversity is so important. He told me I had 45 seconds to convince him that he should care about this and that humans indeed have an impact on the Earth. I was dumbfounded by the request I have asked a number of ecologists the same questions. I don't feel I've received a satisfactory answer. Can you help?
And we wonder why scientists view speaking to non-scientist audiences with alarm.  But Wilson was up for the challenge.  Timing himself while he spoke, he offered this "elevator speech:"
Because humanity is a biological species living in a biological environment. Because like all species we are exquisitely adapted in everything from our behavior to our genetics to our physiology to that particular environment in which we live. The Earth is our home. The rest of life is the critical part of that home. Unless we preserve the rest of life as a sacred duty we will be endangering ourselves by destroying a home in which we evolved and on which we completely depend.
 Not bad--and with no time to prepare, which of course means he was ready before he ever got the question. So should you be.  I'm heading to Boulder, Colorado, this week for the season's final "Communicating Science" workshop, sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation.  Perhaps this will join our roster of good examples...

If you want to listen to audio of the program, this portion comes very late in the interview--about 47 minutes in.

Scientists and science communicators looking for more tips should head over to my blog on women and public speaking, The Eloquent Woman, and check out "The all-in-one for eloquent scientists: 14 resources and role models."


Anne Hodgson said...

Dear Denise,

Congratulations on a great find! Thank you very much for providing this resource.
I used it and your transcript in a workshop with PhD science students here in Germany who are giving 2 minute talks to invite reviewers to their posters (all in English), and we talked about the border between science and populism, which they are very wary of. This is a great resource to study the language of rhetoric.
Greetings to my hometown, too.

Eric Roth said...

Let me echo Anne's words of praise for this practical, powerful, and poignant exercise.

Like Anne, I work with graduate students in the sciences - and this exercise will make into the next semester's curriculum. Thank you.