Who Should Make Videos for the Scientist?

In the video embedded below, I continue my conversation with Eric Brennan, a researcher with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, who recently published a paper in Frontiers in Communication called “Why Should Scientists Be On YouTube? It’s All About Bamboo, Oil, and Ice Cream“.

That paper inspired us to join forces and initiate a video series to answer questions that science professionals may have about making videos. Each video focuses on a different question. In this one, we discuss who should make videos for scientists.

In case you missed it, here is the first video in the series: Why Should Scientists Use Video as a Communication Tool?

Don’t Be Afraid To Have Fun With Your Videos

As I’ve tried to emphasize in previous posts, scientists need to lighten up a bit when communicating science. I’m certainly guilty of being too stiff and cerebral in interviews and in my own videos. The character of Mr. Spock on Star Trek epitomizes the public’s view of the logical, emotionless scientist; Spock was always being criticized by Bones, the ship’s doctor for his Vulcan nature:

Like Spock, I’m probably not going to be able to go against my nature, but can modify how I say things on camera so that I don’t sound so much like an egghead.

As scientists, we also make the mistake of assuming that the general public will be impressed by facts, facts, and more facts. When scientists approach a video project, our inclination is to present the facts in a straightforward and, yes, logical manner. It’s drummed into us throughout our training to follow set guidelines for our research and strict formats for our science articles. So it’s difficult to break out of these molds and be creative in presenting science information. We also shy away from anything that might seem like fun for fear of being thought frivolous or, worse, ignorant. However, by not being creative and frivolous, we lose a lot of potential viewers.

Before I go any further, take a look at this video that is focused on beach litter:

Now, there are lots of videos out there about beach litter put out by various environmental organizations….and they are mostly deadly dull…. but this one gets the message across in a clever and entertaining way. And I’m guessing it was fun to make. This approach is just one way to be creative about communicating a message or educating the public about an important environmental topic. Humor is very effective. Other approaches, such as stimulating the viewer’s curiosity about how something (a field expedition, a lab experiment) will turn out also works.

I’ll discuss some of these methods in coming posts.