Monday, 20 August 2012

Are We Too Flashy?

Today we're celebrating Berzelius Day on the YouTube channel PeriodicVideos.

We're uploading 24 very short videos of our best chemical reactions - each one on the hour.

So because these videos are short highlights, of course they're the best and most eye-catching reactions.

However each video is also accompanied by a written description of the chemistry by Professor Martyn Poliakoff and a link to the original video, putting the experiment in a wider context.

I also went to extensive lengths to tell everyone what we were doing today, both on the channel and via Facebook and Twitter.

Yet, here's a message I just received. It irked me somewhat:

SUBJECT: unsubscribe because of lowering of standards
"I'm sorry that I have to terminate my subscription to periodicvideos. The recent videos of 'bangs and flashes' is in my opinion a caricature of science. It is precisely this image in many people's minds that does science a disservice. Periodicvideos, and your other channels, used to be a very welcome antidote, because they showed so clearly that the exciting aspect of science is not in the fancy show, but in the insight gained. I am truly sorry to see periodicvideos decline and melt into the sea of meaningless fragments that constitutes 99,999% of youtube. I sincerely hope that your other channels do not follow."

I replied to this message politely and respect everyone's right to an opinion.

However, in anticipation of similar comments, I'm writing this blog entry in put an alternative view.

It outlines the previous 11 videos BEFORE today's light-hearted celebration of August 20. You decide if they're "bangs and flashes" and a "caricature of science"?

1. (Aug 16) An eight-minute biography of Berzelius which was mainly discussion and looking at historic documents at the Royal Society. (And a warning about the pending big day of reaction videos).

2. (Aug 13) Nearly nine-minutes from Dr Stephen Liddle about new research on Uranium bonds he has just published in the world-leading journal Science.

3. (Aug 7) An Olympic-themed video in which Professor Poliakoff discusses medals he has won in science and then a contemplative talk about the competitive nature of scientists in general.

4. (Aug 5) Seven minutes on another newly-published piece of research - this time dealing with Fluorine Gas being found in nature.

5. (Jul 27) Loosely based on the Olympics (the biggest news in town) we discuss a recently-created molecule and explain catenanes... Again, this video is just talking and a few props to demonstrate molecular structures.

6. (Aug 24) A heart-felt obituary to a fallen comrade - Harold Booth. Sadly, the deaths of friends is part of the scientific life.

7. (Jul 17) An 11-minute video about caffeine, including a detailed but certainly not flashy lab demonstration of how caffeine is extracted.

8. (Jul 11) Another video on newly-published work showing how Australian researchers imaged the shadow of an atom.

9. (Jul 5) An update of our Plutonium video including footage from our special visit to the National Nuclear Laboratory... very special access indeed.

10. (Jun 19) A video about the newly-named element Livermorium. Six-and-half minutes on an element that doesn't even exist in nature!

11. (Jun 19) Okay, this was our last bangs and flashes video. It is a behind-the-scenes look at a visit from our friend Michael Stevens. Because he was a visitor, we showed off a few spectacular demos.

In conclusion, our recent form certainly doesn't suggest to me that we're too flashy... Personally I think we should do MORE spectacular reactions, not less!

I think judging our whole project based on the colourful videos of "Berzelius Day" is like judging the Olympic Games based on the fireworks at the closing ceremony - and ignoring the two weeks of sport which preceded them.


  1. Brady, I absolutely agree with you! Periodicvideos is a wonderful example of how science should be presented to a broader audience.

    A few bangs here and flashes there is totally okay and makes the videos fun to watch. A little bit of entertainment isn't a bad thing for a scientific channel - it's exactly the opposite. It's the spices that we need for a good meal.

    So keep up the brilliant work!

  2. Hello Brady

    It is true that these short videos just show some flashy aspects of experiments, but you explained this quite well in a video from a few days ago so whoever is judging the entire periodicvideos channel by the measure of today's videos is obviously wrong.
    I have been watching your videos for 3 years now and i can safely say that if there have ever been youtube channels that do a service to science, are educational and also entartaining, then those are your science channels. I come from a country where science, research and scientific education are - to say the least - of lower quality than in the UK and the western world in general. So, it is always a pleasure to see videos with great scientists and awesome teachers (in my opinion, the art of one who teaches some aspect of science lies not only in the number of papers published, but in how he is able to make that valuable information accesible to those in the amphitheatre).
    As you said yourself, today we're celebrating Berzelius, and no matter where one is the world, a celebration always demands a different tone, a different frame of mind, that the one we use in our day to day lives.
    As to the comment of my fellow youtuber, well, that is his personal opinion and he is entitled to it, just like all the other youtubers. That doesn't make him right, or wrong. As for the content of the short videos themselves, well, someome who truly appreciates physics and chemistry can see well beyond a flashy explosion or exotic coloured flame. And for those who are newbies to the realm of scientific knowledge, something cool and flamboyant might be just the kick-start they need to go deeper into science.

  3. This complaint is over the top, it's just one day of explosions. If these were all you were doing for a month, there would be some grounds for complaint but it's not hard to just ignore a channel for a day if you don't like the videos.

    Keep up the good work Brady.

  4. Don't feed the troll. One single criticism does not make opinion so as a single neutron does not make a chain reaction. Don't give the focus to whom probably is a teen with no science background and surely never actually subscribed. The internet works in a non-scientific way so dont give credit to anyone that pretends to be upset, offended or arrogant. Sometimes they just want to challenge a laureated doctor, win a bet or pretend they have the most purist and accurate criteria on a certain topc. Just ignore!!

  5. As it is said in business: not everybody is your client!
    Not everybody can live with such high quality standards and be considered a sane person.
    oh and one more thing: people do science because it´s fun! people who doesn´t have fun in anything just don´t do things innovative or even do things fine.

  6. This is slightly off-topic, but this discussion reminds me of a quote by Frank Oppenheimer (founder of San Francisco's Exploratorium and brother of the Manhattan Project's J. Robert Oppenheimer):

    “Understanding [Science] is a lot like sex; it’s got a practical purpose, but that’s not why people do it normally.”

  7. Brady, trolls are gonna troll. Hope you keep up the good work on all the channels, which so far has been awesome on so many levels :)

  8. To answer your question: no.

    Just keep doing what you've been doing - whether it's noisy, flashy, or just someone talking for awhile - and I'll keep coming back. I suspect many others feel the same, even if they don't vocalise it.