Friday, August 31, 2007

Broadcast Yourself

The National Science Foundation, the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and the San Diego Supercomputing Center have launched SciVee, a website that allows scientists to upload and share short video lectures with paper outlines. The videos get DOI numbers and it is possible to refer to them as citations in future papers (or videos). Bora from PLoS goes so far to say that "Video is taking over science communication" and that "paper is outdated".

I am a scientist, not a movie star. I don't even like to speak in front of people, and should it one day become necessary to upload videos of myself to assure my chances on the job market, I will quit and maybe write a book titled 'Memoirs of an Outdated Scientist'. Uploading 15 minutes clips that summarize a topic might be nice to get a fast introduction to what might be an otherwise very dry and technical issue. But the success of videos depends greatly on professional support, rhetoric skills and, yes, also on the looks. These are all criteria that I'd rather want to stay out of scientific research. I appreciate attempts to make science more accessible for a broader audience, but when it comes to professional publications, I would not welcome a situation in which videos were taking over papers that I can print and read in bed.

Bottomline: I certainly don't think the paper is outdated.

[via Slashdot]

15 comments:

Christine said...

But the success of videos depends greatly on professional support, rhetoric skills and, yes, also on the looks. These are all criteria that I'd rather want to stay out of scientific research.

But Bee, that is very old already. The only difference is that is now being *recorded*.

Besides social capital, being an impressive speaker is a fundamental prerequisite for a successful career in science. Writing papers of good scientific content is just a small detail.

Best,
Christine

Peter Woit said...

I've always been completely mystified why anyone who doesn't have a serious case of dyslexia would choose to watch a video of someone trying to explain something rather than read it. More and more blogs have postings that largely consist of youtube or other sources of video. The few times I've clicked on the things I've always regretted it, cursing the blog owner for not just putting in words the point they thought people would be interested in. Sometimes you get really lucky and have to sit through an advertisement before getting to the actual video content.

Now, instead of having scientists make short videos explaining what is going on in their paper, a radical proposal would be to encourage them to write this up and put it at the front of the paper. They could call it an "introduction".

Anonymous said...

"Writing papers of good scientific content is just a small detail."

I am just a poor little graduate student, but I have to ask - Eh?!

Christine said...

Eh?!

Sorry if I sound too pessimistic, but you'll find out. Or perhaps you will be lucky enough *not* to find out.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so your statement was about the prevailing atmosphere, not your own belief, correct?

I understand that one has to make a very strong case in front of a funding agency, and that this process necessarily involves excellent presentation skills, but how can you justify all that money spent, public attention etc. WITHOUT solid scientific content?!

I have attended enough poorly given talks to know that one's skills as a speaker matter a whole lot. I agree this is a fundamental part of being a scientist, but the basic REASON is for one to contribute actively to useful research...?

I admit I am a little confused. Care to enlighten me? And I should say that any inputs from experienced scientists such as yourself would help me a great deal in my career - prepare me for the future and so forth, so what I have said above is not merely an argument, it is an attempt to learn.

Thank you.

- Poor little grad student

Christine said...

but how can you justify all that money spent, public attention etc. WITHOUT solid scientific content?!

I did not write "without". What I mean is that there are many important elements that count for a successful career. Sometimes you will find out that some of those elements are social in character and eventually end up counting more than pure scientific content. Or maybe not. Do what you think it is right. I wish you good luck. I am sure other people will have more helpful comments to give you.

And yes, my previous comment was supposed to be ironic.

Bee said...

Hi Christine,

But Bee, that is very old already.

Sure. But not in peer review. I am really serious about that. It is obvious that humans are greatly influenced by visual information, even by the sound of a person's voice. I wouldn't approve of authors putting photos on their papers that are being peer-reviewed, and I don't want to promote anything that has a risk of influencing judgement on scientific quality with nonscientific criteria. That might sound harmless at this stage but imagine in the future one gets sent a paper for peer review, and the first reference is a link to the authors video that the referee can access with one click.

E.g. I know about myself that on more than one occasion my opinion about a singer's quality changed considerable after I saw a video of that person, and it turned out I don't like the way he/she looks or moves. That doesn't change anything about their songs, but it influenced me nevertheless.

Hi Peter:

Yes. But videos make things look easily accessible. I guess it leaves people with the hope that there might be a way to avoid the necessarity to think themselves. It might be fine for cooking recipes, but I don't think this is a very good development in science.

Best,

B.

Paolo Amoroso said...

This kind of communication has potential, especially for public outreach. But right now, the videos mostly look like conference talks (possibly equally boring).

There's another problem. Written English is orders of magnitude easier to understand than spoken English for non-native speakers.

Neil' said...

This sounds very cool, and what I'd like to know is: how do they screen the submissions? I mean, more by who sent it from where, or how well it looks, etc? Do you need a sponsor, like ArXiv? etc. thanks

estraven said...

I actually think that being able to give good talks and lectures is important, and that your looks are irrelevant for that.
Peer reviewing videos seems pointless, but I tend to learn more on first exposure to a topic from a lecture than from a book. So, we are not all alike.
paolo amoroso: I find that spoken english is easy to understand, so long as the speaker's native language is not english :-).

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Here are two possitive examples of physics broadcasts:

http://www.br-online.de/alpha/centauri/archiv.shtml

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/elegant/program.html

best

Klaus

Anonymous said...

Dear Christine,

Thanks very much. My apologies - didn't realize your comment was supposed to be ironic, but I see what you mean, since I see senior colleagues say the same thing.

Best,

PLGS

coturnix said...

Well, video is not supposed to replace text, just to add to it. Having everything on paper restricts what one can put in a paper. Having everything online allows for the use of additional methods of conveying information. For instance, one can put up all of the raw data for other people to mine and analyze. Or, one can put up a video.

If you go back to SciVee.com, you will see that the second video that was uploaded is NOT an example of the author summarizing the Abstract, but is a video that shows the apparatus used in the experiment (something that words cannot describe) and shows the animal behavior that was measured in the experiment (also something that words cannot describe). If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then a video can be, in some instances, worth a 100000000 words.

Bee said...

Hi Eastraven:

actually think that being able to give good talks and lectures is important, and that your looks are irrelevant for that.

Sure. But if you give bad talks, then your looks might become relevant ;-)

Peer reviewing videos seems pointless, but I tend to learn more on first exposure to a topic from a lecture than from a book. So, we are not all alike.

Sure. Videos can be useful in some regards. What I tried to point out is that a video is an entertaining, and more easily accessible source than reading a paper with many equations. If it becomes common to add a brief video clip as a link to a paper, that contains a summary/introduction/conclusion of a research program, those who don't do so will have a disadvantage. As I have mentioned above, making a good video depends on many factors that don't actually have anything to do with the scientific value of somebodies research. I'm just asking for caution that this doesn't happen.

Regarding language: if somebody's English is *really* bad, more equations usually help to understand what he's doing.

Hi Bora:

Videos can definitely have advantages, and yes, visual information can be helpful. What I am worried about is the presently very obvious tendency to advertise scientific work in all manners possible. Now I imagine some scientists working in an Institute where money is not an issue. They can easily get all kinds of professional support for making cool and hip and great looking videos. And then there's the guy sitting in central Iowa with his digital camera in an small office with bad light, you PICTURE it?

See, I really appreciate the possibility, and I definitely think it can be very interesting - and is a great idea to make science more accessible for a wider public. I am just afraid that it might in some cases not be beneficial for neutrality and objective judgement on scientific work, and wanted to mention that concern of mine. One can probably circumvent possible 'side-effects', like maybe uploading videos only about work that is not (or no longer) in a peer review process? Best,

B.

Anonymous said...

There is always the podcasting option.... no need to show anything but a voice.