Chobani Learns That HowMatters – and so Does Science

HowMattersChobaniDuring the last Super Bowl, Chobani debuted an advertisement focusing on their use of natural ingredients and limited preservatives. It was an innocuous, somewhat bland, typically feel-good commercial, emphasizing that how things are made matters. And it probably would have gone largely unnoticed by media critics, science writers, and scientists, save for one wee problem:

Chobani extended the thought of the commercial to messages inside yogurt lids. But a commercial is 90 seconds of words and images; a yogurt lid is a lot less space. And in that space, they opted for the fatefully bad phrase:

Nature got us to 100 calories, not scientists. #HowMatters.

They might as well have painted a bullseye on the label.

Since then, Chobani’s social media team mistakenly tried to take the tongue-in-cheek approach, realized it was backfiring even further, apologized, explained they use science, and reassured consumers that the #WordsMatter and they’ve discontinued the lids.
ChobaniDiscontinued
Overall, I’ve seen worse responses from companies, and chances are excellent that this will blow over and be nothing but Google search memories in another week or so. But a couple of us were chatting on Twitter about what Chobani’s ideal response would be, even if it included a bit more risk for the company.1 We spitballed for a bit and then the conversation moved on, but the idea didn’t leave me. During what was undoubtedly procrastination on another project over the weekend, I realized that my ideal? Would be for Chobani to modify their #HowMatters commercial with the opening voice-over from Numb3rs:2

Chobani uses science every day:
to pasteurize milk, to tell temperature, to isolate probiotics.
Science is more than formulas or equations;
and it’s not something to be afraid of.
Science is using our minds to solve the biggest mysteries facing food production and safety in America.3

How does matter, and so does the science behind our yogurt. At Chobani, we’re committed to using the best advances in science to benefit everyone. We’re not saying we’re perfect, but our minds are in the right place.

#HowMatters
#SoDoesScience

Chobani is right: how they got to 100 calories matters, and they have a great opportunity to support and boost the positive benefits of science and STEM in America, peeling back the curtain a bit to let people see how science is truly part of everyday life. In a society where fear of chemicals (and thus science) is growing, thanks in large part to misinformation4 and lack of education, and when we need more rather than less people interested in STEM, this would be a small but significant gesture of goodwill–and it’d probably generate some positive PR, too.5

  1. Yeah, I’m giving more helpful feedback even without being paid. What can I say, I’m inconsistent and it became an interesting problem to mull. []
  2. Numb3rs was an absolutely fantastic TV show created by Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci. No disrespect or infringements intended in using their voiceover sequence to illustrate how to make something “scary” and “alien” accessible; Numb3rs had several strengths, and one of them was how it demystified science. It remains one of my favourite teaching tools []
  3. They could even go for a much cheekier take on the final sentence, although I think it might be too much: “Science is using our minds to solve the biggest mysteries we know–like how to get great-tasting yogurt from farm to factory to your refrigerator.” Note: If you’re from Chobani and reading this, talk to Heuton and Falacci to find out who owns the rights to the Numb3rs sequence and properly secure permissions, okay? []
  4. This is not a page of misinformation, but about. I try not to give links to bad information if I can help it. []
  5. According to David Kroll, Chobani also has a personal apology to all scientists: if you were miffed by their message, follow this link to their customer loyalty contact page. Kroll says, “Simply fill out the form with your name and address and indicate in the message box that you are a scientist who was miffed by their message. You might also consider elaborating with a message like that of commenter memsomerville below. You’ll receive a coupon in the mail.” []

Shame, Stigma and Angelina Jolie’s Breasts

As reactions continue to race around the internet about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery – the actual discussions, not the Monday-morning quarterbacking of her decision or the utterly vile “but what about her boobies” reaction from that particular subgroup of men who manage to amaze me by their continued ability to manage basic functions like breathing – I’ve been sent links. And more links. And then a few more. Most are relatively easy to dismiss because they’re quarterbacking a personal decision or they’re vile, but then you get the ones that tiptoe closer to decent – and they still have problems.

One that’s been flying around the internets today is the Maria Konnikova piece on Salon. I’m actually not terribly fond of this piece, or other pieces that hinge their complaint on the cost of testing and Jolie’s supposed privilege by virtue of her wealth. For one, let’s put the cost of testing squarely where it belongs: on the fact that Myriad owns the patent for the test (something that is being challenged in front of SCOTUS this June).

Secondly, almost no one remembers that the Affordable Care Act considers BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests to be part of preventive care, and that by January 2014, it must be covered for everyone, period. Yes, the pre-existing condition limitations and grandfathered insurance clause limitations means some women won’t have coverage for the test between now and January, but it’s not the doom and gloom exclusionary process that seemingly everyone wants to focus on when it comes to cost.

Finally, and most importantly, the notion of reducing stigma and shame by simply talking about these things – and in Jolie’s case, taking ownership of a body that has been extremely sexualized in media and popular culture – is incredibly important. In particular, even though we’ve moved society to a point where people talk about breasts and cancer together, it’s still in a “race for the cure” dialog, rather than in mastectomies and surgeries and things that shame. For example, within a day of Jolie going public about her mastectomies, Zoraida Sambolin (CNN) announced her own breast cancer and the mastectomies she’ll be having in June – and she credits Jolie for her decision to go public with her own health concerns.

This is dialog that’s important. It continues to de-stigmatize and remove shame from very basic aspects of women’s biology, and doing so is only a good thing: we need people to be able to talk openly and honestly about medical issues, illnesses, and diseases that affect women, not just men, and the sooner we can normalize aspects of the dialog that include frank discussions of biology and body parts in non-sexualized terms, the sooner we can embrace the idea that a woman – and her sexuality – is more than her breasts.

Living in Shatner’s World

I grew up in an ecumenical household. There was no battle between the Stars – Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica. As long as it was space opera, it was welcome, and this was the influence of my father. I don’t have any memories of this starting, because it always was.

What I do remember, however, is my first.

Oh, you typically hear of “the first” – genre-wise – with regards to Doctor Who; who was your first Doctor? And while I certainly have a first Doctor (Nine, thankyouverymuch), it doesn’t have the same hold on me as my first captain.

Oh captain, my captain – Captain Kirk.

Yes, Sir Patrick Stewart was wonderful as Captain Picard, and I suspect you can trace much, if not all, of my interest in philosophy and history and most importantly, ethics, to Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his thoughtful troubleshooting and conflict resolution. I will happily debate episodes, quote Darmok to you (and Jalad, at Tanagra), and discuss all the ways in which John de Lancie was a fantastic foil to Picard.

But it’s William Shatner that is my captain. Every afternoon, Dad would make sure he was home in time to watch Star Trek with me (in reruns, obviously). We watched Kung Fu, also, but it just wasn’t the same. There was something about Star Trek. Maybe it was because I had been raised on science fiction, Dad choosing to read me scifi novels instead of children’s books. Maybe it was because of NASA and the shuttle and the sense of the potential out there – space, that final frontier. Maybe it’s because as they’ve aged, William Shatner and my father have become similar, in posture and appearance and voice. Maybe it’s a little of it all, bound together with those afternoons watching the TV, rapt, with Dad.

It’s that ephemeral thing that makes something yours, and that fondness hasn’t faded over the years, even if I haven’t always followed Shatner’s career closely.

So it was with some apprehension I looked at the Philadelphia ticket sales for Shatner’s World, William Shatner’s one-man play. While I came of age after that particular incident that was so soundly mocked on SNL, I was a con-goer when I was young, and I’d heard the stories, and I was wary. I have these wonderful memories and an enduring warmth for Shatner; did I want to risk it on a play that might snuff that out and, for lack of less poetic a term, shatter illusions?

I did what any girl in my position would do: I called my father and asked him what he would do. Was it my only chance, he asked me. I confirmed that it was, and Dad held the beat for just long enough before asking, nicely, if maybe I was a little wrong in the head.

William Shatner. When would I ever have the chance again? Sure, he’s going to be here for a comics convention in May, but that’s crowded and… different. Perhaps it’s my con-going youth, but crowds of people paying large amounts of money for a signature and perhaps a photo is just not what a con should be, and not how meeting someone you admire should be. You can call me old-fashioned, I’ll do the yelling to get off my lawn.

So I shrugged and I bought a ticket. The play, after all, had been getting wonderful reviews – at worst, I would lose a few more of the illusions that I had clung to into adulthood. At this point, there aren’t too many left, so they’d be in good company if they did go away.

But oh, oh, they didn’t. I came out of the theatre more starry-eyed and head-in-clouds than before, and so did everyone else. I have never left a show where everyone is talking about the same thing: how amazingly profound what they just saw was, and yet, that’s exactly what happened.

Shatner’s World is a retrospective of William Shatner’s life. It’s a narrative, so while it starts with him as a young man, the stories are what link the show together, rather than strictly linear narration. Shatner’s. Famed. Delivery. is not on hand here, save for casual mocking – instead, it was more like listening to a good friend tell a story – a long, engrossing story that you don’t want to end. This play wasn’t polished; he stuttered and stammered, he got lost in his story, he slipped up and misspoke and corrected and laughed – or then again, maybe the play was just that polished, that these slip-ups that felt natural were worked in to feel natural.

That, right there, is the genius of the experience – while clearly being rehearsed, it felt not-rehearsed-at-all. And Shatner is fast on his feet; he had quippy remarks for the crowd, especially as they reacted to young and shirtless images of him, and the poor person handling the spotlight had a rough time of it when his (or her) aim was off, and Shatner started deviating from his story to give staging directions.

Or was that scripted, too? I couldn’t tell you.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been a fan for my entire life, so I know these stories. I know about his horses, I know about the tragic death of his beloved Nerine and how he found love again. I know the Star Trek saga inside and out, the rivalries and friendships. I know the jokes about him doing anything for money, about the CDs and Priceline and on and on…

And yet I sat, rapt. I was leaning forward on the edge of my (very nice, thank you again lovely usher who moved me to a plush box seat with generous leg room) seat, absorbed in everything Shatner said. And I wasn’t the only one. When I did pull my eyes off the stage to see how the crowd was reacting, rather than just hearing the sighs and laughter, it was hard to miss the fact that almost everyone else was leaning forward, too. Drawn in, and to, attention.

I don’t know that I expected to laugh, but I hoped, and I did – hard and often. What I didn’t expect was to tear up, which I also did at several points, and where I also know I wasn’t the only one, because you could hear the sniffles traveling through the crowd. And it wasn’t at the necessarily expected points, either – it was in moments like hearing his sorrow over his horse, his acceptance at being Captain Kirk, his pride at the house his kidney stone bought, in his first trip to NASA and his final recording for Discovery.

It was in the tender, and the funny – and he was able to turn a story from one to another in the span of a few steps across the sparse stage.

Shatner gets mocked a lot for saying yes – he’s known for doing almost anything put in front of him. But he explained this philosophy in his show, and it makes sense: it’s easy to say no. It’s easy to stay inside, away from the world, disengaged. But one of the hardest things you can do is say yes. Yes to opportunity, yes to life, yes to potentially making a fool of yourself, yes to wonder and awe – yes to love.

Is it Shatner’s World? It is while he’s on the stage, and I’m lucky enough that – even in such a culturally distant way, he’s so central to mine. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I think the ultimate answer to that question, is yes.

TV Thursday: A Eureka Moment

Being a pop culture junkie has it’s ups and downs, and one of the downs is having to embrace a suspension of disbelief on shows in order for the premise to work. I won’t name names, but we all know of shows where if The Lead wasn’t there, life as the Characters in Peril know it would be over. Someone wouldn’t receive their life-saving surgery, someone would go to jail (or get away with murder), a dirty bomb would go off in LA (oh wait), or whatever. This is necessary because the premise of the show is that Lead Character is A Badass That the World Needs. (I’m sure there’s a TVTropes for this, but if I go into that website, I’ll lose the next few hours of productivity, and I don’t have time for that.)

And this is why Eureka is one of my favourite shows on TV. The ostensible lead of the show is Sheriff Jack Carter, a no-nonsense, applied theory sort of guy who tends to Save the Asses of the scientists in the military-industrial research town of Eureka, Oregon. Carter’s not a genius in the sense that the numerous scientists populate the town are, and he often serves as the stand-in for the audience, requiring that the complex science-y ideas that drive the plot be explained to him (and thus the viewer). But Carter often (frequently) saves the day because his outsider perspective as a non-scientist allows him to suggest “outside-the-box” solutions that the trained scientists are too knowledgeable to see – a scenario that anyone versed in interdisciplinary science knows is very true to life. (In fact, Bad Astronomy’s Phil Platt makes a very convincing argument for why Carter is a scientist in this Blastr post.)

The fact that Carter is both Not A Scientist and Saves the Day a Lot is something that is lampshaded at least once a season on Eureka, which in itself is refreshing – the show knows that the premise of the Everyman Hero is a bit worn. But Eureka has started to take it a step further: they actually have episodes where Carter is indisposed, because he’s getting a training certification or off to visit his daughter at her out-of-state college, and in these episodes? The world does not end. In fact, even though there’s threat of world-ending, and in the case of the Carter is indisposed because he’s being re-certified someone repeatedly suggests getting him, other characters are competent and able to deal with the problems in Eureka without Carter.

Which is a relief, because the town certainly existed before Carter – and managed not to blow itself up in that time.

Eureka is one of my favourite shows for a lot of reasons, including the fact that it celebrates science and the scientific method, and does so in a way that makes science fun, sexy, and desirable. In Eureka, being smart is the default, and the geeks are sexy and acknowledged as – and what’s not to love about that?

But more than appreciating the geek love and pro-science stance of the show, I love the fact that the writers realize that although Carter is an amazing character, there is literally an entire cast of smart, funny characters to work with – and while the audience may miss their clear stand-in without Carter, the city doesn’t need Carter to survive.

It’s rare to see a show so clearly acknowledge the elephant in the room that comes with having the premise of a show based on an outsider saving things, and to do so in such a graceful manner.

If you don’t watch Eureka, you’re really missing out. The second half of season four starts up on July 11th, and SyFy is running several marathons prior to that so you can catch up. Plus, the first three seasons are available on Netflix Streaming. Trust me, if you love science, have a sense of humour, and can appreciate not only geek jokes but self-awareness in writing, Eureka is a show you should be watching.

Counting the Coverage: The Daily Show and Dicks*

For the past week plus, there have been rumblings in the blogosphere that Jon Stewart has not done enough to mock, slam, satirize, or otherwise shame New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, and the charge is two-fold: Stewart won’t because Weiner is a Democrat, and Stewart won’t because they were, for a time, college roommates, and have remained friends.

The charge that Stewart isn’t as hard on Democrats largely and unsurprisingly comes from conservative commentators (feel free to read “FOX News and fans” here); Stewart and The Daily Show shot to prominence in a post-9/11 world, and a lot of viewers (and/or detractors) didn’t have the experience of Clinton years for context. And it can be a bit hard to compare administrations against one another – it’s rare that political situations are ever similar enough that an apples to apples comparison can be done. (And this would be one of the reasons you literally get apple to apple comparisons on The Daily Show – it’s easier to show Rand Paul being a hypocrite and why than it is to try to show contrasting clips across different administrations.)

But for good or bad (and/or “reasons I moved out of New York state”), the Weiner “scandal” is something that has an almost direct one-to-one correlation: NY Rep. Chris Lee, Republican, who resigned in February after emails and a shirtless photo were sent to a woman in response to a Craigslist dating advertisement.

Now, clearly these situations are not precisely parallel. While Lee and Weiner are both married men, Weiner (so far) has not been caught trying to lie about his identity or do more than send photos that were in bad (or at least juvenile) taste**. Lee, on the other hand, a self-described “classy guy”, lied about being a divorced lobbyist (and his age and other such things). He was looking for more, and the young lady involved wasn’t interested in liars. A quick Google search confirmed her suspicions; one eMail to Gawker later and Cuomo was holding a special election in Western New York.

So, not identical, but really damn close. Clearly the best thing to do, then, is to directly compare the coverage of these two events on The Daily Show. Now, Lee resigned Wednesday the 9th of February, which I believe was a dark week for The Daily Show. There is, of course, a problem here with a news cycle moving quickly, but surely something of such magnitude would be mentioned, right? After all, it’s a Republican resigning over a sex scandal, and given how “easy” Stewart has been on Weiner this past week and change, it’s inevitable that the Chris Lee resignation would be stretched out over several days.

Or, well. One.

Segment.

On February 15th. That was interrupted by John Oliver’s need to discuss the Harry Baals government center in Indiana. You can view it here.

Note the similarities: jokes about the fitness of the representative, R.Kelly-esque R&B music with Stewart grooving in his chair. There’s even John Oliver involvement. But it was an entire “scandal” covered in approximately 2.5 minutes, highlighting the fact that Lee got lucky – he resigned the same day the Egyptian Revolution started. Lucky guy – the media was largely distracted.

Do I really need to compare the time dedicated to Weiner versus Lee, at this point? No, but I will anyhow.

The “event” begins on the night of May 27th, a Friday. While The Daily Show doesn’t film on Friday, rather coincidentally, they were dark that final week of May, as well. This means a lot of material to come back to on Monday – eerily similar to the Chris Lee scandal. The Daily Show even begins coverage on May 31st, a Tuesday. And this is how it breaks down:
May 3st, Tuesday: 6 minutes, 51 seconds
June 1st, Wednesday: 2 minutes, 59 seconds
June 2nd, Thursday: 4 minutes, 10 seconds, as well as an additional 2 minutes, 57 seconds and 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
June 6th, Monday: 4 minutes, 4 seconds
And for the most recent episode, Tuesday the 7th of June, we have:
5 minutes, 55 seconds
2 minutes, 49 seconds
4 minutes, 46 seconds

And that is not including several Moments of Zen.

Now, math has never been my strong suit, and even less so at nearly 6am. Nonetheless, it would seem that math is rather firmly on the side of “Weiner’s received far more coverage than Lee”, even though Weiner is actually a friend.

Any way you try to slice it, Stewart has given more time and attention and mocking disbelief to his friend than he did a Republican representative in nearly the same situation. 34 more minutes of time, just to be exceedingly precise.

*Metaphorical or otherwise.

**Have you met the internet? Let me introduce you to it, where everyone under the age of 35 has done at least one stupid thing involving it, and many, many people have done many stupid things involving body parts typically best only seen through the haze of beer and dim light.