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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: Hi Jay - Thanks for your post!

    I agree with Hindi that video footage in combination with scientific articles would be most effective. However, the level of interest in something like the Hodgkin and Huxely experiment might never be high for the general public. This is because that level of detail regarding the functioning of a nerve does not have any use in their day to day lives or their field of work.

    That being said, I love the idea of launching a video campaign with general education in mind (Tedtalk is accomplishing this). This would not be useful to researchers as much as it would be useful to the general public, but it would amass interest, new students in the fields of STEM and, hopefully, funding. Imagine if something entertaining but educational went viral.

    In order for these educational videos to be monetized through web advertising they need to invite web traffic. This is most difficult for the "boring" subjects. How do we make videos go viral and invite this web traffic?

    It's all about proper marketing!

    Look at this tedtalk by Kevin Allocca, discussing the subject: http://tinyurl.com/a7fqnjn
    Kevin says that the videos need to be unexpected, have a tastemaker point of interest and have a large tech based community to spread them about.

    We can also pay people to make videos go viral: www.virool.com
    How do they do it? They target the audiences we want by looking at cookies on everyone's servers. They then place the video on the sites frequented by those people.
    Thus, the people who will most likely want to the video will have access to it and then spread it around.
    Virool explains how they work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRag4eCkqU4
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      Feb 26 2013: That's an interesting TEDtalk (For others: it was about how videos go viral. It argues that tastemakers and sharing within a community are what make videos popular. Not just the content of the video.)

      In "The Chair" by Galen Cranz, Cranz argues that chairs that encourage a C-shaped slump are terrible for our spines, while squatting on the floor or chairs that promote autonomous sitting are more healthy. But Western culture will continue to love our slump-encouraging chairs until the social elite can convince them to switch. He argues that a designer's responsibility in society is to change culture for the better, by designing body-conscious chairs in a way that is also stylish and likely to be adopted by the social elite.
      It's related to the MAYA rule of design: design the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable form of something to create the greatest impact.
      Good marketing is also an important part of the process.

      So until our culture's "tastemakers" are excited about understanding science at a high level, it won't become popular? Then maybe we have to design science information in a way that's conscious of today's popular tastes. That's tough.

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