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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 25 2013: Because our societal structure has promoted through hundreds of years the innate and instinctive abilities instead of the cognitive capacity, therefore is more burdensome for us to pursue and attend to mental processes that require analysis than to use simply our instictive abilities such as hunting, territorial dominion, sense of power, reproductive necessity, species perpetuation and others that are activated through the media very easily, when the cognitive abilities get involved we tend to block this messages and become "bored" by these otherwise useful concepts.
    We are animals that want to eat the chicken not to analyze how the chicken came about.
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      Feb 26 2013: I like the way you're thinking about this. Cultural studies tends to forget instinct / evolutionary advantage.

      But I've heard that orangutans have been observed to be very curious. Upon seeing a camera, for example, they might take it apart and put it back together.

      Also, it looks like the human species has thrived because of our cognitive abilities that enabled us to develop agriculture. Wasn't agriculture built from scientific research?

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