The Science Communicators (2)

Last week I talked about science communication. As promised, this week I’m making a list of the various web-based science communication outlets I’m subscribed to.

1. Numberphile, Sixty Symbols, Periodic Videos, etc. The three listed here are by far my favourite. They’re listed together because they’re all part of the herculean efforts of one man, the hard-as-nails Brady Haran. Brady is a video journalist with no formal training as a scientist. In these channels, and others, he interviews scientists to try to get them to explain tricky concepts from their fields. Numberphile is for maths, and has explanations of everything from the Riemann Hypothesis to Klein Bottles. Sixty Symbols is physics, Periodic Videos is chemistry (geddit?) etc. etc.

Image from Brady Haran @
Brady interviewing Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff

What I love about Brady’s videos is his skill as an interviewer. Whenever the scientist is explaining something I know about, I’m always amazed by how Brady always seems to ask exactly the right question to prompt the interviewee to explain the concept in the most clear way possible. When it’s about something I don’t know about, Brady’s question is usually exactly what I was wondering about this weird new thing. He has an inquisitive mind, but no formal scientific training, making him the ideal person to drag scientists out of their offices into the limelight. If there’s one (set of) channel(s) you check out from this blog post, make it Brady’s.

2. Veritasium is run by Derek Muller, a physics graduate who also has a PhD in physics education. Derek has a knack for pedagogy, and along with general videos explaining physics concepts in clear ways, he has two other cool tricks up his sleeve: firstly, he uses vox pops to see what the average person on the street believes about whatever he’s trying to explain. By highlighting the inaccurate preconceived notions we all have about things, he can dislodge them from our brains more easily, and replace them with the right ideas. Secondly, Derek often sets up puzzle videos, where he waits a week to reveal the answers. Interactivity is always better for making difficult concepts stick in the brain, and I’ll admit to having been stumped by more than one of them.

3. Crash Course is not entirely science-oriented, but deserves a mention nonetheless. Created by the famous Vlog Brothers, John and Hank Green, Crash Course is a collection of short lecture series about a wide range of topics, from World History to Astronomy to Economics to Chemistry. The target audience is high school classrooms, and is meant to be only a brief introduction to the topics they cover, but I can’t stress enough how much I’ve learned from these courses. The World History one, for example, totally changed the way I looked at a lot of historical events, and at the subject as a whole. Definitely worth a watch.

PHIL PLAIT presents the Crash Course Astronomy series, for example

4. SciShow. Created by Vlog Brother The Younger (Hank Green) and company, SciShow is a mix of science news in the vein of IFLS, and science explanation like Veritasium, along with other science goodies. The news aspect is what I like most about it — the news is well-curated and excellently reported. SciShow is the place to go for regular, quality science news.

5. Vi Hart is an exceptionally talented thing-explainer, focusing and specialising in maths. Her unique style and clear, layman-friendly explanations make for entertaining videos, that sometimes even become genuinely moving and heartfelt. Maths is a thing many people express love for, but it’s also a thing few people have a talent for conveying their love for to others. Vi Hart is one of the few who can do that, and she does it well. Sadly she seems to not be making videos as frequently these days, but her back-catalogue is definitely worth a look anyway.

6. io9 (pron. eye-oh-nine) is the first full website I’ll mention here. It’s an interesting case because it features science news and science explainers, but interspersed with news of a more science-fictional nature. io9 is primarily a news & reviews site for ‘genre’ fiction — anything from books to movies to TV shows to comics and beyond, but when it was first created by Gawker Media (a frankly unfortunate relationship, given the site’s sleazy journalism history), its creator, Annalee Newitz, was insistent that the site feature science content alongside the science fiction. The tagline of the website is “we come from the future”, and it fits. By combining real and fictional science news, one is left with a pleasant taste of the future, today. A lot of the science explainers are of more quirky, out-of-the-ordinary topics, too, giving the site a unique style and voice.


7. Rationally Speaking is a podcast from New York City Skeptics. The podcast covers science, and also other areas such as philosophy, skepticism, religion, and rationalism. The host, Julia Galef, regularly interviews experts in interesting and diverse fields on topics such as “Science drives moral progress” and “Most human behavior is signalling”. Be sure to check out the archive, too, as the show used to have two hosts, and some episodes just featured the two of them talking about topics like stoicism, pseudoscience, and the Turing Test.

8. IFLScience is here for completeness. I’ve sung the praises of this particular site enough already. Go check it out!

Other notable YouTube mentions include: Smarter Every Day, Minute Physics/Minute Earth, CGP Grey, Vsauce, Kurzgesagt (In a Nutshell), and Zogg from Betelgeuse. All of these channels have various quirks, merits, interests, and ‘schticks’, and they all merit your time if you’re a science enthusiast. One final thing I’ll mention is that many of the creators of the channels I’ve mentioned are really close friends in real life, having met at VidCon a few years ago. They live all over the world, but often meet up and do crossovers. One notable one was when the creators of the Numberphile, CGP Grey, Minute Physics, Smarter Every Day and Veritasium channels did a panel event together called Random Acts of Intelligence. I mention all this because it means that following these people means following a really lovely community of science enthusiasts. And the more of them you follow, the better the experience!

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