Media prep, Skeptical Radio, and science-y books for all

Several weeks ago it occurred to me that we should have a Canada Reads for non-fiction – and more specifically, for books that appeal to scientists and sceptics (or skeptics, as they call themselves) – to be known as Skeptical Canada Reads.

Naturally I couldn’t keep this idea to myself, and proposed it to the wonderful folks at Skeptical Radio out of Edmonton. Of course, I wanted to do this before Christmas too, because it’s THE season in the book business. I must have forgotten I’m no longer working for a global PR firm with a bevy of assistant consultants at my beck and call (ha!) and enough clout to pitch this to my former firm as a pro bono project (ha! ha!).

Luckily wiser heads than mine prevailed, and the good folks at Skeptical Radio came back to me with a twist on my idea (brainstorming by email): a special pre-Christmas show devoted to great science books (many, but not all of them, written by great scientists). Much to my surprise, I found myself invited to be a guest on the show.

Cue cold sweat. Here’s my dirty little secret: I do know how hard it is to be a spokesperson, and I don’t like being one. Nor, as a PR person, am I supposed to be part of the story – my role is a combination of cheerleader, counsellor, and stage mother. I’m not the star: my clients are. This is why I work so hard on their behalf to develop key messages, ensure they’re media trained, do comprehensive interview preps for them, try to catch all their appearances/read and analyze their media coverage so I can help them do it better next time around.

However, every once in a while it’s good for me to get a taste of my own medicine and a reminder that as I’m issuing ‘say this, don’t say that’ orders and tweaking phrases, this isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. The good news: I had done a four-page interview prep for myself, and had even arranged the pages so I could see them all without rustling while recording the interview via Skype. The bad news: I was nervous. The worse news: I had neglected to ask that most fundamental of questions, what form will the interview take? So I was little startled when it turned out I was expected to talk for three minutes (Desiree Schell, the host, said she’d prompt me and edit out her prompts afterwards, but that seemed like too much work for her to have do, so I just swallowed hard and told myself I could do this). Apparently I could – she said afterwards no one had ever talked for three minutes straight without being prompted. Wind me up….

Here are the books I talked about:

Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle – Ian Sample
Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America – Barbara Ehrenreich
Bad Ideas?: An Arresting History of Our Inventions – Sir Robert Winston
Newton and the Counterfeiter – Thomas Levenson
Inventing Green* – Alexis Madrigal (due in spring 2011)
The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth* – Stuart Clark (due in spring 2011)
Solar – Ian McEwan
The Honest Look – Jenny Rohn
The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse – Jennifer Ouellette
Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and our Place in Nature – Brian Switek

And here’s the podcast in its entirety (I’m on starting at about 31:00). It’s a great show, with a wonderful variety of suggestions for the serious, the curious, and the hard-to-buy-for on any gift-giving list (don’t forget December babies need birthday presents too). Oh and that word I swallowed when trying to talk about Bright-Sided? That was ‘Calvinism.’ Erm – and I seem to have taken closer to six minutes than three. But mercifully my mispronunciation of both Tycho and Brache got edited out.*

* This cannot be considered proof of God’s existence, but should instead be considered proof that I am, in fact, both loquacious and garrulous.


About ruthseeley

Ottawa born, Toronto educated, lived in the Lower Mainland and southern AB for more than a decade. Passionate about community, democracy, and good books. Fond of the Oxford comma.
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