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  • J D
  • 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: I don't know the answer unfortunately. All I can speculate is that TV is ALL about the ratings. Perhaps the execs out there in TV land simply don't see any money in scientific experiments?

    I get frustrated by it all, especially day time tv(in Australia) where not only is intelligent tv not on the menu, but it goes completely in the other direction. Psychic Bullshit artists are regulars for example. They sell their trade unopposed. The host presenters don't question the legitimacy of these con artists at all. Now I don't believe for a second that the TV execs buy into that rubbish. They don't care that the constant bombardment of unintelligent TV is dumbing down our societies, all they know is $$$ & ratings.

    Want science on TV? Find a way to make it interesting, accessible & don't show stuff that directly or indirectly contradicts the supernatural. Cause the supernatural is exciting!
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      J D

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      Feb 24 2013: Hahaha. Yeah, the media likes to say that they decide what to show based on what the consumer wants. The media does not fully realize that they partly control the taste of the public. (Think fashion magazines and the way they choose models.)

      When people have learned something interesting, they feel some pride and they want to share it with their friends. I have faith that someday, current scientific research can be popular on television (or whatever form of media takes over), but we have to take baby steps in the right direction.

      Channels separate topics -- and people. TV-watchers identify with a list of channels. There is a channel for news and a channel for science, appropriately called Science in the US. Why do they need to be separated in the first place?
      • Feb 24 2013: Well I hope your right :). A science channel? No fair! I for one would love it. There is so much we don't know, even for those of us who like the sciences. Such limitless potential. And to think how some smart tv could teach & inspire a children as they grow up.

        I went to watch a show called wonders of the universe. & not for the first time I had to turn it off when joined by my girlfriend who's reaction to seeing anything with science/politics/religion is always, 'what is this shit your watching.' That's what your dealing I suspect in a lot of cases. I'm not sure about this, but I think I recall hearing that females in general(not all females!) aren't interested in theses subjects... Perhaps there's an underlying reason behind it, and a little bit of psychology research may clarify whats going on there?

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