New Video Project

Here’s an experimental project I’m involved in: a prospective web-based video series in which I talk to groups of people about exciting science topics. All very new and untested, but did one recording session, and would love to get feedback.

The topic we tackled was neuroscience, and in particular the idea of brain-machine interfaces. I had three guests, all of whom (unlike me) know something about the field. There was Philip Low, a computational neuroscientist and Founder/CEO of Neurovigil; Crystal Dilworth, a molecular neuroscientist and PhD student at Caltech; and Ricardo Gil da Costa, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Salk Institute. My job was to ask non-expert questions, which shouldn’t have been that hard since I am a complete non-expert.

This is the “main” part of the show, in which we talk about how brains can interface with machines.

Then we have a couple of “supplements.” Here we are talking about brain spying:

… and here we’re trying to decide what it means to be a cognitive neuroscientist. (Are there neuroscientists who don’t work on cognition? Of course there are, duh.)

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40 Responses to New Video Project

  1. Fred says:

    I enjoyed the topic, the material covered, the camera work, and the editing, but the audio levels could have been more consistent. The intro music is much louder than the conversations, and some of the mics didn’t pick up the voices clearly or loudly enough, or sounded a bit echoey. Closed captions would also be appreciated, because YouTube’s auto-captioning has trouble with technical content. I think it’s a good first episode, and I’ll be interested to watch future episodes.

  2. Joan Hendricks says:

    I think this is a great idea! Putting some science on a mainstream platform and hoping people see it and learn some things that are going on in scientific research. I might have liked to hear a little more detail from Crystal about what is going on in the brain with how the messaging works in our minds.

  3. Good idea

    1] Agree with Fred re audio levels
    2] Trying to cover too much ground in one short video
    3] A one-on-one conversation [rather than one-on-three] might simplify productively

    Hope there’s plenty more of these Sean

  4. Yomismo says:

    That was awesome, I look forward to watch new episodes soon!

  5. Gizelle Janine says:

    Personally its a great way to get a better understanding of a field that has alot to do with physics. In addition, what a fantastic idea! I was involved in film once. The hardest part of filming anything involving a camera and interviews is having an interesting subject to get your interviewees to talk about. I was never the best at asking engaging questions, so be a master of space, time, and interviewing. Granted, editing and all this was good for a first shot.

  6. Gizelle Janine says:

    One problem now that I look: I love the camera shakes and all, problem is the edit. A little too quick its a bit invasive.

  7. Polly Prissy Pants says:

    Put some blankets on the furniture that isn’t in frame; try covering as many hard surfaces with quilts, pillows, and couch cushions and your audio should be good enough for youtube. If that doesn’t bring it up to par, then you can talk an undergrad into helping you out by using a directional mic of some sort (shotgun mic). If your ego has been bruised by this audio mishap, then you can go full commando and have someone EQ the audio for you and run a noise reduction plug-in. You can make the best video in the world, but if the audio sucks, people will perceive it as amateur. Like George Lucas said (when he was good), production value is 49% visual and 51% auditory.

  8. Polly Prissy Pants says:

    and it was a good topic and conversation.

  9. Polly Prissy Pants says:

    If you don’t want it to look like an opium den and this is going to be a long term thing, then there are also some pretty good (professional looking and performing) “acoustic management” options out there that don’t cost all that much. Here’s one:

  10. Erwin Schrody says:

    Excellent idea!
    Indeed, audio can be improved.
    Perhaps the talks can also go in-depth. To boldly go into technicalities, not just generalities.

    Idea for a future video: The Economics of Scientific Research. Who pays the research? How do the researchers make a living? Do they pay themselves from grants? How is a grant proposal written? Who evaluates it? How can one become a paid scientist? How can one quantify the economic value of scientific research? Does it have to have an economic value? Who owns the intellectual property? How is its value established? Is it the same for all fields of research? Can we do science without economics?

  11. @missus_gumby says:

    I agree with the folks above ^^^ concerning the sound. The program was quite informative and, I suspect, aimed at a general audience – which is not a bad thing. Enjoyed what I saw, and hope it becomes popular.

  12. Plato Hagel says:

    Haven’t had a chance to view videos yet but I think sensor development is the up and coming. This is an important development Sean. I like the scientific position with which to deal with these issues. Consciousness research is important in m view as well.


    Stephen Hawking’s use of neurovigil

    A Little Device That’s Trying to Read Your Thoughts

  13. Brett says:

    On the EQ and noise suppression mentioned above; you should also use some sore of compressor. Audio compressor to be specific; different from information compression or video compression. 4:1 compression ratio, 20 dB threshold. EQ: you can cut off everything below 100 hertz to get rid of room noise / HVAC noise. Sharply cut 250 hz for the muddy / mumble tone in voices. Cut 800 for nasal / chest sounds…wait… you’ve been on tv!!! don’t you know someone who will do all this for you? You live in California; throw a rock and you’ll find someone in the entertainment industry that could help you.

  14. Gizelle Janine says:

    @Brett: LOL.

  15. KK says:

    Thanks for the feedback, especially on audio. No professionals have touched the piece yet, so no audio or color correction has been completed. It is in “raw” form! The detailed feedback is appreciated. Polished versions will go up. – Producer

  16. Les Brown says:

    The content was excellent. Was interesting to watch Dr. Carroll as interviewer rather than being interviewed, and willing to step into a whole different but fascinating field. The interview subjects were all well versed in their fields.

  17. Dan Hass says:

    How picky should we get? If budget isn’t an issue, maybe a second camera facing the trio would’ve been nice to get close-ups of each person as they answered the question. Watching all three while just one is talking is a bit distracting.

    Otherwise this is a great idea and interesting for those of us who find ourselves a few notches lower on the intellectual scale from Sean and his circle of friends.

  18. At the time of writing, the second and third videos seem to be the wrong way around. I mean, the video labelled “brain spying” discusses what a cognitive neuroscientist is, and the video labelled “what is a cognitive neuroscientist” appears much more relevant to brain spying.

    And yet … none of the twelve commenters above have mentioned this … which is baffling.

  19. (Don’t know why I said twelve. I thought I counted twelve. Seventeen. Whatever.)

  20. Liane Leedom says:

    Thank you for your work Sean. I just got your two most recent books on Kindle and I love them. Going to read your Higgs blog posts, for me the stumbling block to understanding is the concept of a field. Other posters have commented regarding the economics of research. The big complaint I have regarding scientific progress in my field (which is not physics) is that few try to translate findings into a form that is useful for public consumption. That Sean does this job for physics is a real service… and unlike others his ego does not seem to be expanding faster than the space between galaxies!

  21. BobC says:

    I had to let my thoughts simmer for a couple days before posting this, because I hate to criticize folks I very much admire. Fortunately, my thoughts gelled to a simple, single proposition:

    Sean, please don’t become yet another science dilettante.

    Please, leave this field to those who don’t have sterling scientific credentials, yet who, like you, also possess passion, curiosity, communication skills and a rapport with the public, such as Alan Alda and Morgan Freeman in video, and your own terrific wife in words.

    Your boundless curiosity is evident in the many links you post to fascinating media. This is indeed valuable, but in this area you are one curious talented person among many.

    From my perspective, your greatest public-facing talent is your ability to explain things you’ve studied and thought deeply about, such as cosmology, time, much of the rest of physics, and skepticism/humanism. Your contemporaries in the physics area would be folks like Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson, though you are by far the most effective video communicator (IMHO).

    I believe you may be the best heir to Carl Sagan we’ve yet seen, perhaps with a touch of Feynman added.

    If you want to host a science talk show, please don’t position yourself as an outsider (as you did in this pilot). I would recommend you instead be the host or chair or interlocutor for a panel of equals, all of whom share overlapping expertise with you in an area of study or a specific issue. Preferably a diverse and divergent panel.

    There is a middle ground, one which Charlie Rose has often used to great effect: When exploring a topic where you lack expertise, invite a true domain expert to be co-host/-char/-interlocutor. If for no other reason than to keep the chickens from taking over the hen house.

    You posses a special talent for sharing and exploring complex topics with the public. Others also have such talent. But none have the expertise of Sean Carroll. It is this combination that is so unique and precious.

    IMHO, of course.

  22. Les Brown says:

    Goodness, Bob C has delivered possibly the most flattering bucket of cold water in history….:) I agree with all of the positive comments, especially the Sagan reference, but I don’t see any chance of Dr Carroll giving up cosmology for this… I’m sure we’ll still have him working and teaching in his primary field. This strikes me as an interesting side pursuit. I question, given the likely mutual respect between the parties, that the guests are “going to take over the hen house”…. and there can be off-screen fact checking to verify that, as needed….. I say “pursue your passions”! I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the efforts……

  23. BobC says:

    I suppose I should reveal my bias.

    I’m a software engineer who has specialized in creating instrumentation (and other embedded systems), and I’ve been privileged to work closely with scientists to move innovative sensors and algorithms from the lab to industry. A surprising proportion of these scientists were completely unable to communicate their craft to anyone outside their specific domain. Which can make my job painfully difficult, since I’m obviously not a PhD in their domain.

    One of the keys to my success has been an ability to manipulate these scientists to create usable descriptions and specifications of their creations, and to accept feedback that requires specific actions on their part. It’s a set of blatant and simple psychological tools, but it works, over and over. Yet I feel dirty for having to resort to using them.

    Working with the rare scientist who can express their work in the vernacular is a supreme treat, a true joy. I try to get as much writing from them as I can, and then, to the greatest extent possible, use their own words in the initial draft of every engineering document and user manual. Then I sit them down with a technical writer/editor to hone the final documentation. This has directly led to articles in industry (rather than academic) publications, a first for nearly all of them.

    As an undergraduate I was also privileged to have some professors who were simultaneously first-rate researchers and amazing communicators, yet who would not ever consider writing for popular consumption (due, I suppose, to having to write so many research proposals and grant applications). I found myself wondering how many kids would have chosen science had they been exposed to the writing these professors could create. Why did I have to wait until I was in college to be exposed to such talent?

    So I see PhDs with effective broad public communication skills to be an extremely rare, very precious, and vanishingly small talent pool. And I get irked in the opposite direction when someone with such talent wants to spend time as a talking head, an interviewer.

    Sure, Sean should have as much fun as possible doing everything and anything he loves to do. That’s what I try for in my own life, and I’d never deny it to another.

    But, damn! We only have so many moments on this planet. And the need for the public to get even a glimmer of understanding of research at the highest levels has never been greater. Especially at a time when states are legislating Creationism and a surprising percentage of the public doubts the validity of Evolution. When support for quality education dwindles as the need for it grows.

    There are so few researchers who have the ability to connect directly with the public within their areas of expertise. So very, very few who are compelling enough to earn a moment of attention from folks besieged by an avalanche of ever-new Facebook and YouTube content.

    All my life I’ve been sharing with my mother bits and pieces of the things that interest me, especially good science writing and videos. Last year I sent her a link to one of Sean’s talks about time and time’s arrow, and for the first time EVER she asked me questions about entropy! Something Sean said created an itch she wanted to scratch. At 82 years old.

    Hence my prior post.

    I am neither PhD material nor popular writer material, despite serious efforts in both directions. It frustrates me (though I do adore my job and career). Just as I am frustrated by having a deep love of music and a total inability to create it, also despite serious efforts. In time I realized the best I can do is to be a fan of the truly talented, and to do what little I can to increase their exposure.

    And, sometimes, gently chide them.

  24. Sean Carroll says:

    Short reply to Bob: I’m actually quite sympathetic. One only has so many moments, and it makes sense to find a mix of employing one’s talents most usefully and having the most fun. There’s no danger that I’m going to give up thinking or doing research in favor of interviewing or journalism. But if we can do something interesting and different with a project like this, without taking too much time, it might be worth a try. Like I said: an experiment.

  25. Tony says:

    Would you please consider making the audio available as a downloadable file? I much prefer listening to these types of interviews without being tied to a computer or internet connection.