Friday, August 22, 2008

Visualizing science

This article from the Boston Globe on opening up science* pointed me to some really exciting online resources that are free and open for anyone to access. Most interesting is the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JOVE). This site publishes videos of experimental protocols submitted by researchers. Each is reviewed by a panel of experts, so quality and relevance are ensured. The videos range from basic wet-lab techniques and equipment-care tips to highly specialized imaging and brain recording methods. It's all free and open from the start, you don't even need an account.

This is extremely useful for other scientists, particularly those attempting to learn a technique for the first time. It's also a great example of transparency and camaraderie within the scientific community - a group that unfortunately, faced with trickling grant money and declining job prospects, are often forced to be quite competitive and opportunistic.

I see sites like this, however, as really important for educational purposes, for getting the word out on what scientists do day to day. Videos are especially useful for this because they get around technical learning curves that prevent most from comprehending scientific journal articles. You don't need to have an extensive background knowledge to understand what a scientist did in the methods section of a scholarly paper if you can see it. Ever wanted to know how scientists image individual neurons within a living brain? How stem cells are collected and analyzed? Now you have videos with pretty pictures to watch.

Any effort to remove some of the secrecy and mystery associated with research, to help the public see that science isn't just for stuffy Ph.Ds and nerds, but rather, can be an interactive, dynamic, and open exchange of ideas among researchers and everyday people, is worthwhile and necessary for progress.

*I plan to comment more about the open science movement. The linked article discusses some of the reservations old guard scientists and journal publishers have about giving everyone access to their data (so read that too), along with several web 2.0-esque science resources new to the internet. I think it's an interesting generational issue, sort of the Napster debate of science.

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