Use Video to Debunk Bad Science

You’ve probably seen viral videos claiming some medical breakthrough and cleverly titled “Use this weird trick to cure [insert ailment]”. People seem to find this teaser title irresistible. Jonathan Jarry and colleagues at McGill University’s Office for Science and Society use a similar title for a video that has a surprising twist in store for gullible viewers: “This natural trick can cure your cancer”.

The video initially claims to present a cure for cancer based on a species of moss (Funariidae karkinolytae), that has been known since the 1800s. The reason you’ve not heard about it, the video claims, is because the knowledge has been suppressed by pharmaceutical companies. The video then shows an old, black and white photograph of a Dr. Johan R. Tarjany, who looks very professorial in his three-piece suit and bow tie, and describes him as the discoverer of the moss’s cancer-killing trait. The video then goes on to tell the story of the moss and how it kills cancer cells by altering their DNA. And, of course, Dr. Tarjany added the moss to his diet and guess what? He never developed cancer.

At this point, the viewer is probably impressed with Dr. Tarjany and his discovery. Except there is no Dr. Tarjany and everything so far presented is untrue. In the remaining minute, the video deconstructs the claims it made earlier about Dr. Tarjany and the cancer-killing moss. In the process, the video’s creators provide a blueprint for viewers to follow when confronted by such a claim–how to evaluate the “evidence” and look for inconsistencies in the “facts” presented.

In just a couple of minutes, this video shows how viewers can be fooled into believing a pseudoscientific idea and how to avoid it–and did it in a way that was entertaining. Using the pseudoscience playbook to make the video was particularly clever and effective. Check it out below (the comments are also interesting–see the link to YouTube):

How to Add Video to Your PowerPoint Talk

Have you watched colleagues give a conference talk or seminar containing video clips and wondered how they did it? Or perhaps you’ve tried embedding a video in your PowerPoint presentation, but it did not play well or at all? In a new tutorial, I walk the viewer through the steps to preparing and inserting a video into PowerPoint so that it plays properly. I used PowerPoint Version 2016 and a Mac for the tutorial, but the tools and options covered are also available for PCs.

If you have an earlier version of PowerPoint, some of the options I talked about may not be available. Also, if the host computer (used to project the slideshow) is running an old version (prior to 2013) of PowerPoint, you may have problems playing your embedded videos. The reason is that older versions of Windows and Mac use linking rather than embedding, and the path to the videos may not work. I’ve gotten around this problem (going from a Mac to a PC running older versions) by putting the PowerPoint file in a folder with all the video files (it’s good practice anyway to put all images and videos used in your presentation into a single folder). I transfer the entire folder to the host computer, and most of the time the videos play fine. If that doesn’t work, it may be a problem with the video format/codec not compatible with the host computer. The only fix is to convert all your videos to the format/codec compatible with that computer.

But the best way to avoid playback problems is to use your own computer during your talk.

Video As A Scientific Research Tool

Video has been used to record scientific phenomena for decades. Such recordings may simply serve to document an important event such as a volcanic eruption or give a glimpse of a rare animal, even one that no longer exists. For example, thanks to audio-visual records, we can watch footage of now extinct animals such as the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (1935) and the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger (1933). Wildlife recordings were not only made by scientists, but by naturalists, resource managers, and professional photographers. Over time, researchers expanded the use of video to record experimental subjects—especially in fields such as animal behavior and child development—in an attempt to capture ephemeral behavior and transform it into more objective, quantitative information.

In a few cases, researchers have used video to create the experimental material presented to study subjects. For example, a study of wild marmosets used film footage of laboratory-trained monkeys performing tasks (opening a lid or a drawer) to see if the wild animals could learn by watching a video.The researchers made an “instructional video” with the laboratory footage of trained marmosets and set up a monitor in the field to display the video to wild marmosets. Then they tested the wild marmosets to see if they adopted any of the techniques shown in the video. You can watch the video here to see what happened.

The Heider-Simmel animation is another example of how video might be used in research. I’ve written before (Bully Triangles and Terrified Circles) about the fascinating animation video used by psychologists Heider and Simmel in their research on people’s propensity to anthropomorphize everything they see, including inanimate objects. The researchers showed the video to participants and assessed their reactions to it. If you’ve not seen this animation, I’ve embedded it below. It’s almost impossible not to make up a story about (or assign intent to) the geometric objects in the film clip.

Prior to digital cameras, personal computers, and editing software, however, film-based research required expensive equipment and technical skills to capture and process footage useful for research purposes. Consequently, video was not a common research tool, particularly in my field of ecology. How things have changed! The use of video in scientific research to record physical, chemical, and biological phenomena has exploded in recent years, and researchers in many disciplines are discovering video. Scientists now have access to affordable digital cameras that can be used to conduct research in various environments, such as underwater to measure fish populations or inside a colony of leafcutter ants.

Despite the recent uptick in use of video to conduct research, there are not a lot of technical guidelines or how-to manuals. Most scientists are working out the filming, editing, and analytical details themselves. For example, a student, Austin Taylor (Bodega Marine Laboratory Spring Class, 2012), studied the effect of wave action on the behavior of the intertidal black turban snails, which he filmed with a GoPro Hero 2 camera attached to a DIY tripod designed withstand waves. In addition to figuring out how to process the video to extract data on snail movement, he and his coauthors had to design and fabricate a unique camera mount to withstand the force of waves striking their intertidal field site.

You can read his technical paper, “Underwater video reveals decreased activity of rocky intertidal snails during high tides and cooler days”, published in Marine Ecology, to see details of camera setup and post-processing of the footage to quantify snail movements. Below is an example of the film he captured during the research:

As more researchers become aware of the possibilities of video, we’ll likely see more researchers experimenting with how video can be used to attain new research insights.

Yanny vs. Laurel

By now you should have heard about the audio clip in which a spoken word is perceived as “Yanny” or “Laurel” depending on the listener (I hear “Laurel”). Here is a brief video by AsapSCIENCE that concisely explains this auditory illusion and reveals which of the two words was actually recorded.

It’s a good example of how video can be used to explain the science behind a fascinating phenomenon. The creators used an electronic white board to create their video (see this post for a how-to tutorial).

How to Avoid Wind Noise While Filming a Video

You’ve spent the day filming and have recorded reams of footage for your video. Unfortunately, you discover during editing that much of that footage is marred by wind noise. Even clips filmed during a mild breeze sound terrible, with the speaker’s voice almost obscured by the noise. There is not much you can do at this point because it is exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to edit out wind noise. For this reason, it is essential to take precautions during filming to minimize or avoid the sound of the wind blowing across the microphone.

In the following brief video tutorial, I cover several tips that will help you avoid wind noise in your videos.