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Jay Dalal
  • Jay Dalal
  • South Ozone Park, NY
  • United States

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Why don't we treat science experiments like primetime TV?

Hodgkin and Huxley are credited with explaining the ionic mechanisms that underlie action potentials in neurons. Their experiment involved thrusting an electrode down the giant axon of a squid. They demonstrated their experimental methods on video, which can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/5vqscw There's something hypnotizing about watching meticulous lab preparation. On YouTube, the Hodgkin-Huxley squid video has over 14,000 views. I think it's reasonable to say that there are far more people today watching the video than there are people reading about the experimental method as described in their 1952 papers: http://tinyurl.com/ayta342

But low readership should be expected. Scientific papers are filled with jargon because they're written primarily for people who are an expert in the field. Videos, on the other hand, use visual language and can be appreciated by anyone.

When the findings of elaborate experiments have mass appeal, news sources may reduce the procedure and apparatus to only one paragraph. Imagine if news journalists supplemented their headlines about latest cancer-preventing diet with video footage of the experiment. I think the audience would be more critical, and some would be more likely to look for the original paper. Videos invite curiosity more effectively than text, and can inspire new uses for highly-specialized lab equipment.

But the biggest barrier to that ideal is intellectual property law. The Journal of Visual Experiments ( www.jove.com ) has an archive of high-quality, well-edited videos of research experiments, but the audience is limited to paying customers and institutions. Perhaps the distribution of such videos can be funded with web advertising alone.

The show "How it's Made" glorifies the manufacturing industry. Do you think footage and video editing of will similarly transform the public's perception of scientific research someday? If not, who or what is standing in its way?

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    Feb 24 2013: Jay, Thomas Edison once said invention is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent prespiration. IMO when we take the "short cut" of showing the video of the results the viewers would miss all of the effort that went into the "final" results.

    A good instructor would allow, within reason, mistakes. It is through these errors that we review documentation and findings that will lead us to victory. Failure is a important component of research. Failure can mean growth or death to a project depending on the researcher.

    Reality is that one bad teacher can turn off a generation in his classes. Whereas one good teacher can make a generation appreciate science and a few to go on to greater heights.

    TV shows a photo of a snow leapord ... it does not show that a photographer camped out for over a year to get the picture.

    Good luck. Bob.
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      Feb 24 2013: That's a great point: a fuller picture of the research field would not only be more honest, but also more appealing. If we limited film to successful perfected experiments, we miss out on the people and the decision-making. When we can have an audience that forms opinions on the research, maybe we've succeeded in engaging them. ("You should give up because it didn't work three times" versus "Keep trying, you'll get it!" for example.)
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        Feb 24 2013: The importance of documenting each step ... following the scientific method .... isolating ... triple blind applications ... all the biggies.

        Communications and collaboration are factors that I encourage. Some people want to go it alone. That is okay too. But I always point out that sometimes even the best of us get stuck in a rut and do not see it in ourselves.

        Thanks for the reply. Bob.
    • Feb 26 2013: agree with you wholeheartedly in principle, but i must out that teachers are obliged to follow the policies set by education department bureaucrats, psychologists, school boards, and principals, none of whom teach now and most of whom never did. it's not about the teacher being good or bad these days, it's about how good they're allowed to be.
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        Feb 26 2013: Ben, Often the school administrators have no input either. IMO ... The most power in education is held by the book publishers and the test writers. They provide a daily teachers guide to follow that will teach the test. Additionally Arne Duncan who wants complete control of education has added Common Core Curriculum to the teachers load ... the states add a standardized test that is still required by No Child Left Behind ... The only person not represented here are educators ... and I might add no regard for the student either.

        The hoops that teachers are required to jump through are higher and smaller than ever before. They literally have no time for anything other than to prepare the student for the test ... pay attention I am (literally) only going over this once .... you don't get it tough ... absent - tough .... sick - though ...

        The USA got its butt whipped in the PISA Exams so the government has the red tail and is acting like they care when in fact it is a brused ego that is being treated. In doing so the feds state do it my way and by my rules or we cut off your funding.

        That being said ... if the states maintained the rights given to them this threat would be hot air. IMO ... I do not see the Dept of Education listed anywhere in the Constitution nor many of the other Departments. So the problem could be resolved by going back to a Constitutional government and allowing teacher to do what they are trained to do. Just sayin ...

        Thanks for the reply.

        Bob.
        • Feb 26 2013: thanks for the follow-up! the book publishers and test writers publish under the direction of the education department, which actually thinks it's helping students by forcing schools into tests, they don't actually teach themselves so they are misguided and don't realise how counter-productive these edicts are. the school administrators then fail the teacher by giving school boards (who also don't teach at all) the power to adopt or veto texts and curriculum material, and punish teachers who don't toe the line no matter how terrible it is, instead of helping those who try their best to make the most of a bad situation.

          these standardized tests are absolutely terrible. a properly written test that tests student communicative and analytic abilities instead of just rote knowledge that may not even be properly comprehended are what's needed; a test should be to determine what a student can do, not a test of whether they can pass a test or not. state education boards are just as much to blame. you want good students? ask the teachers instead of telling them. i'm even hesitant to go as far as "what they are trained to do", remember teachers are usually trained by university professors who've been out of the real classroom for at least a decade. personally i learned how to teach by trying a lot of things and throwing out that which didn't work, which means i don't use any of the methods i thought would work or i was taught were the way to go!

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