Big fish

Dave Wilson reviews Tim Burton’s latest film ‘Big Fish’ and asks whether it might teach a lesson to those in the engineering fraternity.

‘Even in all our might, we are taught humility.’ – Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Director Tim Burton returns to form with his latest ethereal cinematic masterpiece ‘Big Fish.’ The movie tells the tale of a son trying to learn more about his dying father by reliving the highly exaggerated stories that his pa has told him during his life.

At one point, while in hospital, the journalist son asks his dad’s doctor why he thinks it is that his father has embellished the stories of his life so colourfully. The doctor simply replies that the richness of the fantasy is more appealing than just the unembellished facts would be. (Is this e4engineering.com, or Variety? – Ed).

In the scientific world of peer-reviewed articles, there is little such aggrandisement of the truth. Authors stick to the facts, and just the facts, of their research projects in engineering, medicine, or the sciences. There is little use of the word ‘new’, hardly an allusion to ‘innovative’, and don’t even mention the phrase ‘high-performance.’ Nothing pretends to be more that it is.

How different then from the world of the commercial enterprise where even a simple filter can take on a whole new life when described as an ‘innovative, rugged, versatile, smooth and consistent, high-capacity device.’ A resplendent portrait of what would otherwise have been a rather dull product description, don’t you think?

Having said that, perhaps it’s a shame that today’s academics don’t employ more of the ‘Big Fish’ literary tactics like their counterparts in the industrial world. By delivering their message in a more colourful way, they may well be able to gain the attention they truly deserve outside their own narrow peer group. And they might find too that their creative work becomes more accessible by others working in other unrelated engineering disciplines.

On the other hand, it would also be rather splendid if the folks in industry couldn’t be a little bit more conservative and use fewer superlatives when describing their products. It doesn’t matter how high-performance the product is if you aren’t told what it is and what it does! So taking a leaf out of the academics tome might do a few of those chaps the world of good too.

However, what we don’t want, obviously, is scientific truth manipulated in such a fashion that the truth is lost in the noise. The aggrandisement of a story may be one thing, but too much of it and the truth may be denuded by the superfluity. Not enough hyperbole in a story, however, and it just won’t be exciting enough to keep the level of interest among its readers. So we’ve got to have some of that too.

It’s all simply a case of learning how to deliver the facts in a fun form that will appeal to people. A simple matter of style being applied appropriately and in a measured fashion to the content.

Something that we all might consider next time we pick up a pen to communicate our ideas to others. Gosh, if we all started to do that, maybe I’d be out of a job! (In your dreams, pal – Ed.).