TED Conversations

  • J D
  • South Ozone Park, NY
  • United States

This conversation is closed.

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?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Feb 26 2013: Yes Jay, thank you for your comments, however curiosity is not a cognitive ability but an instinct developed through innate abilities for search, defense and attack, when you see a dog apparently recognizing the word ball and chasing the round object in a payful manner the reality is that the dog is training its skills of defense, attack, hunting and curiosity, although humans may seem curiosity as part of the analytical capacity of the brain, it seems that curiosity is a more simple task with its origins in the survival skills necessary on any species.
    Humans have definitely improved (used loosely) due to the cognitive and analytical abilities of our brains, the development of agriculture yes is definitely the result of a series of observational, learning and deduction processes, however the beginnings of agricutlure were mostly rudimentary and aimed at satisfying a necessity more than a scientific analysis, empirical learning has been with us up until modern times and even games played by children tend to enrich the instictive nature of our brains more than the logical or deductive capacity of our brains. the evolutionary advantage has blurred the separation between our instinctive nature (stronger in primtive times) than the cognitive and analytical abilities we have improved and developed through our evolutionary process, hence the conclusion in my opinion is that our brains and mind have become more analytical, yes, but in most cases the hunting, perpetuation, defense, feeding, curiosity and even love as natural insticntive abilities of our species are the predominant factors in determining what represents an interest to us, no wonder that prime television has a sexual,violence, even the sense of integration innuendos that are very popular among humans, whereas the mental process required to advance a logical conclusion or a mental process tends to be tedious and burdensome. that seems in my opinion why science is not a prime time material.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.