Put a Human Face on Science by Filming Your Research

In my latest series of posts, I’ve been focusing on why scientists and other science professionals should be using video to share their experiences and to explain why their work matters to society. One reason is to combat the false information about science topics (the Earth is flat, NASA faked the moon landing, vaccines cause autism, etc.) and the anti-science movement, which questions the need for research and the motives of scientists. Such groups are technically savvy and understand the power of video to spread their message.

Now I’m not suggesting that you take on these anti-science folks.

Instead, you can make a video highlighting why your research is important and at the same time show your enthusiasm and dedication to finding solutions to problems. In other words, put a human face on the science. Videos featuring women and minorities are particularly needed to help inspire a more diverse scientific community. The following video accomplishes that objective by interviewing a South African scientist talking not only about what she researches but what attracted her to science in the first place.

Another video showing a large team of scientists on an expedition to collect deep ocean cores counters the outdated idea of the lone scientist working in an isolated laboratory. The video features scientists from different countries working together, day and night, to accomplish their research goals. In addition, the video shows the great care the scientists take in collecting, storing, and analyzing their core samples. Such videos give a more accurate picture of how and where scientists work and the diverse makeup of scientific teams.

Preparing for a Life on Mars and Filming the Experience

An increasing number of scientists and science organizations are using video to show how science is conducted and why scientific research is important to society. Such videos are particularly effective when they not only show what scientists do, but show who scientists are and what motivates them. The video I’ve embedded below explains how a NASA-funded project is studying the effects of isolation on a group of people—in preparation for establishing a colony on Mars.

To make such a video interesting to viewers, the videographer needs to use a variety of perspectives. In the following tutorial, I describe 20 basic camera shots that filmmakers use and that you can easily replicate, even with a smartphone.

How to Film Your Science and Overturn Stereotypes about Scientists

In a previous post, I talked about how the public’s view of science and scientists is skewed toward the laboratory as a primary location where science takes place. I pointed out that for many scientists, their laboratory is a rainforest in Central America, a desert in the US Southwest, the bottom of the Pacific ocean, or a cave in Canada. Yet the layperson’s image is most often of a white-coated scientist working in a sterile laboratory (google “draw a scientist” and see what images you find).

To raise awareness by the public (especially prospective science students), more field scientists need to film where they do their research and post them on media-sharing sites. The video embedded below (Spelunking in Search of Antibiotics) is a good example. It is only two minutes long and required only a brief break during their field trip to film. Yet the message it sends is that scientists work in fascinating places and are often intrepid explorers seeking answers in the most remote corners of our planet.

Such a video is incredibly easy to film and edit with a smartphone. The following tutorial provides a few, basic tips (using an iPhone, but the tips are relevant for all smartphones):

Use Video to Promote the Mission of Your Science Society

This week, the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) rolled out their new media initiative and YouTube Channel. Their website explains how video can be used by SWS members to share their work and why video can be beneficial to the SWS mission:

Exposure: Video can raise awareness of wetland issues, new research, and society activities.

Communication: Video augments other forms of communication, such as technical articles, but is a more accessible and modern way to share information that appeals to a broad audience.

Education: Video can enhance the public’s understanding of the importance of wetlands, can inspire current and future wetland scientists, and help in recruiting students to the study of wetland science.

The SWS New Media Team is currently soliciting videos from members and non-members with an interest in wetlands. If you are a wetland researcher or student studying wetlands…or just a wetland enthusiast, consider submitting a video (see the video preparation and submission instructions). If you’ve never made a video before, the following tutorial provides some basic guidelines for making a video with a smartphone.

My Natural Laboratory: What (Field) Scientists Really Do

Google the sentence “What do scientists really do?” and you’ll likely get a lot of links to pages describing people working in antiseptic laboratories on molecular biology of the cell, chemistry of iron, optical physics, or human diseases. For those of us who are ecologists, geologists, oceanographers, archeologists, limnologists, or behavioral biologists, however, the image of a lab-coated scientist hunched over a lab bench under bright fluorescent lights does not fit. Yet the latter is most often the image conjured in the public’s mind when they are asked about the work of scientists. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing inherently negative or unexciting about laboratory work. I’ve spent many hours in the lab happily running analyses of plant, soil, and water samples. Some of my most thrilling moments in scientific research happened in a laboratory watching the output of an instrument that revealed an important finding.

My point is that the public’s image of scientists and where we work is skewed toward the laboratory as the primary or only location where science is performed. Always portraying scientists sequestered in a sterile laboratory paints an inaccurate picture of where science is done and what kinds of challenges different types of scientists face. The average person on the street might be surprised to hear that there are thousands of scientists whose laboratory is a mangrove forest, a glacier, a barrier island, a river, a volcano, an alpine meadow, a sea grass bed, or a coral reef. Or that scientists spend weeks or months away from home conducting research in the Caribbean, the North Sea, the Pantanal, the Okavango, or the Antarctic. Students who have no interest in being a laboratory scientist might be attracted by the prospect of field research to discover how overfishing impacts lobster populations in the Caribbean, how salt marsh plants are affected by an oil spill, what causes sand dunes to form, or what damage hurricanes do to coral reefs. Unfortunately, most laypeople are unaware of the mind-boggling variety of settings in which scientific research is carried out.

The scientist videographer can change the public’s perception of scientists and where we work by making short videos of the different habitats, animals, and plants that they study. For example, this recent video shows scientists studying the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on coral reefs in the Caribbean. It not only depicts information about important natural disturbances of coral reefs, the video sends the clear message that the scientists studying the effects of hurricanes carry out (at least part of) their work, not in the traditional laboratory, but in the field. Such work requires additional skills, such as scuba, and time away from home. But the scientists also get to work in a beautiful, living laboratory.

If you conduct research in a “natural laboratory”, make a video about it and explain what you like most about working there. Then share it via social media. #MyNaturalLaboratory

Below is a video tutorial showing how to film underwater with a GoPro: