Collaborations, Internet Style

KELWEN PENG

A news-centered channel could refer to other science channels by inviting guest hosts to do a feature on the latest research. Cinematic and film-oriented channels could create a storyline around a science discovery.

Debate 1, Kelwen Peng FeaturedResearchers are currently designing experiments to eradicate allergies, design quantum computers, and recreate the atomic clock—and yet few know of their work. We live in a world where big news consists of celebrity breakups, tragic transportation accidents, and viral kitty videos. It’s not that we, the general public, are simply uninterested in research breakthroughs. We simply aren’t exposed to them.

While the news is like a blockbuster TV series, constantly bombarding us with new events and storylines, research articles and findings are more like movie sequels. Some are worthy of being on the front page, but they only happen a handful of times per year. By the time something does come up, people are no longer interested. The buzz and updates on research findings are just not frequent enough to reach a larger audience.

This is where the internet and social media come in. People are spending more time on Facebook and Twitter feeds than ever before. While these sites are meant to connect people with their friends, some Facebook groups and Twitter accounts resemble any traditional news station in that they provide the latest updates on a specific topic to their follower. Research-centered institutes already have groups, but their audiences are relatively small. One way to fix this is by seeking partnerships or collaborations with other groups, which can potentially expose followers to other research-related pages. Even groups or accounts not relating to research can help out by sharing links or doing features on findings that appeal to their audience.

Similarly, YouTube channels are notorious for their collaborative efforts. All channels have their own audience, but they rely mostly on either collaborations or viral videos to gain subscribers and views. Since the latter is a rarity, YouTubers seek collaborations.  With this, audiences that were once limited to a few channels can now expand and explore new ones, especially those relating to research and the sciences.

An example of a successful collaboration that brought together many YouTube channels is “10 Unanswered Science Questions”: topics ranged from alien existence to the purpose of dreaming. The success of this collaboration resulted not only in simply sharing videos, but also in the diversity of its audience. Some participating channels, like Minute Physics, make videos about quantum and physical phenomena, while others, such as The Brain Scoop, look at wildlife and evolution. Even non-science channels contributed to this collaboration. The popular YouTube channel Alltime10s, a channel devoted to creating “Top 10” lists about virtually anything, made a video that summarized and brought together each of the videos.

We need more collaborations like the one above, especially with channels from different genres.  A news-centered channel could refer to other science channels by inviting guest hosts to do a feature on the latest research. Film-oriented channels could create a storyline around a science discovery. Or, since many of the gaming channels spend their time making playthroughs, perhaps a multiplayer Halo 4 game with the science channels might just be enough to reach out to those audiences.

Although these methods expose people to individual YouTubers, one drawback is they do not refer to specific research organizations. One solution is to collaborate with university professors; for example, Veritasium produces videos with faculty demonstrating their own research findings, taking care to ensure that the videos are visually appealing and can easily be understood. For audiences well-versed in current research, larger institutions like the National Institute of Health or NASA might consider similar collaborations.

At the broadest level, mass collaborations and site-wide events provide an even greater reach. Gay Pride Week and Geek Week are successful YouTube projects. Why not a similar campaign for the lab rat or book worm? Ultimately, exposure is what we need to bridge the gap between research and the public. Just like any other group of dedicated individuals, researchers need to be championed; their work needs to be publicized. Light bulbs and atom bombs aside, most research affects our world in invisible ways—ways that can be made just a bit more visible our new digital age.

Kelwen Peng is a Brevia staff writer. He can be reached at kpeng@college.harvard.edu.