The first Academic Track session on the first day of Worldcon 75 (the 75th World Science Fiction Conference), on the 9th of August in Helsinki, Finland, promised to showcase the finest minds and the most sophisticated analyses that academics working in Science Fiction (either the science part, or the fiction part, or both) have to offer. The subject was “Uses of Fantasy: The Book, The Film, and Audience Responses – Results of the Finnish Sub-Project of the World Hobbit Project“. The presentations by three academics were, unfortunately, examples of “Do as I say, not as I do”.The three presenters were from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, and from the University of Oulu, Finland, and they presented their findings from the Finnish Sub-Project of the World Hobbit Project. The project was set up and funded specifically to answer questions about audience perceptions and opinions about J.R.R.Tolkien’s books and the films of his books, namely The Hobbit, not Lord of the Rings.
Definitely not good presenting
It was seriously underwhelming, almost at a school project level, though surely academics and Ph.D. researchers like them would know the rules for good presentations, since presenting and teaching are core to their jobs. None of the presenters made any attempt to introduce multimedia, despite this being one of the aspects under discussion. Not one film clip or sound byte was used. All recited their way through boring Powerpoint slides, making the most basic mistakes while doing so, including not connecting with the audience, talking to the screen, and filling an entire slide with one long bullet. Not one used even basic animation to help make the presentations more appealing.
Flaws in data presentation
Also, there were flaws in their presentation of the data, for instance, there was no indication of whether the questions of the survey were correct, what bias was there and where it occurred, why was there a difference in gender responses between Finland and the other countries, and what was the theory they were trying to prove or disprove. The sources that they listed for comments included reader comments on online articles for page for publications like Wired, and film ratings on IMDb.
Since they had used review aggregator sites, they should have been aware of where those reviews get collected and how the ratings are done, and they should not have qualitatively and manually (!!) analyzed those comments, individually, for key words….and so on. We all know how many cranks and creeps vent their inner crazynesses through online comments. In this case, most of them definitely had it in for Peter Jackson, though he was only one of four writers of the screenplay of the three films in The Hobbit series.
The findings, as presented by the team, were pointless, and the research seemed so flawed that I could not even envisage the results, such as they were, being used by, for instance, a film studio or publisher to gauge audience perceptions. They had more than an hour to present their findings, which would have been adequate if they had planned their presentation as a team.
What really got to me was that the entire team seemed mighty pleased with themselves, and the audience lapped it up. They must be used to such low standards of presentation.
I may be over-critical, but this is supposed to be a world stage for both Finland and Worldcon, with people travelling from all over the world to attend. So I really expected to be wowed.
The next project of the research group is an online poll of audience reactions to Game of Thrones, called questeros.com, and you can go there and give your opinion.