Oceans of Opportunity

Since 2008, this Blog has been a communications priority providing shorts, op-eds, and bramblings that communicate our evolution to ‘a new life in the sea’.

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'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael LombardiHrrmppff – the ‘D’ word strikes again: dangerous.

Last night I received an email from a colleague that spread the word about the opening of ‘Deepsea Challenge 3D’, the film highlighting James Cameron’s epic descent to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. With big ocean exploration projects far and few between in recent years, this one is sure to reach a broad audience, and I have no doubt that its cinematic excellence will set a new bar. I’ll be in line to see it for myself, and will be particularly keen to see the sub in action, as I’ve spent the last 4 months working alongside its current resting place at Woods Hole. Beautiful piece of hardware, and there of course remains much to be learned from the engineering that went into building the vehicle.

Now back on the ‘D’ word.  I may take some criticism from my peers for speaking my mind on this one so publicly, but so be it. This is my ongoing niggle with promotion and public presentation of human exploration activities, and frankly why we are stalling in making real progress. The public wants to see ‘danger’ and ‘drama’ for entertainment purposes. That is plastered all over pop culture, reality television, and other hocus pocus. That level of dramatization seems to catch attention, despite, in my opinion, discrediting the effort itself. The marketing pitch for this piece is even written as such:

James Cameron's childhood dream was to reach the deepest part of the ocean. To achieve his goal, he put his life on the line. See all of the drama and danger of Cameron's epic expedition!

If its so dramatic and dangerous, then why the F would any parent in this country encourage their kid to pursue this line of work – which is what we really need to promulgate human exploration. Lots of tickets will be sold, but let’s look at the real metrics in ocean education and follow-on pursuit of related careers 20 years from now. I have a feeling we’ll still be disappointed. What we need are true motivating factors, and a broadly encompassing positive perspective that the work stands to benefit all of us, and not be communicated as a publicity stunt, with lots of ‘drama and danger’. Sheesh – now you wonder why my family still gives me a hard time about diving after being in the business for 20 years – if everyone thinks its so dangerous, we’ll never make progress.

This level of marketing is just poor form. I don’t for once suggest that Cameron’s dive was not impressive, as it certainly had value for the science and engineering fields. The problem is science communications as we feed into what mass media tells us we want – drama and danger – rather than stick to high morale value, ethics, and taking a leadership role in societal advancement.

In my recent Exosuit musings, I’ve been approached with lots of stunt hungry media propositions, and despite dollar signs, have rejected them all, as its just poor form. For me anyway, its about effective science communications, not publicity, and I’m sticking to that at all cost.

Nevertheless, the world will benefit from an ever so brief glimpse of the alien world right here at our doorstep, so do go check out Deepsea Challenge 3D at a theatre near you.

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