I LOVE RISK BITES!!! Ok, there you have it. I confess. Here is part of why I like them so much. You see, I don’t just love Risk Bites. I love a LOT of Youtube science education channels. But of the top science channels on Youtube, the ones with a huge fan base and almost aggressive vitality, most of them are either created by kids, young adults, and hobbyists, or they are from huge big money operations. (Please see the APPENDIX at the bottom of this post for more about “What do popular science channels look like?”) What’s missing? Academics and professionals.
And why not? Why shouldn’t there be popular science video channels from academics? WHY NOT?
Yes, universities have Youtube channels and make videos highlighting research by their faculty. Typically, they don’t go viral. Look at them, and you can tell why. They’re good, but dry. They are just not going to get the eyeballs in the same way. They aren’t, well, FUN! A lot of the reason why they aren’t fun is that they’re afraid. They’re afraid of not looking academic. They’re afraid of what their peers will say. They’re afraid of taking the risk, and maybe having someone misunderstand what they said. They’re afraid of looking silly.
Academics tend to judge other academics. They complain bitterly when the general public won’t listen to them, but on the flip side, God help any academic who does succeed in getting public attention for communicating science well. Typically, they are ridiculed and undermined by their academic peers. We, as academics, as institutions of learning, need to cut that out. When we belittle and criticize other academics for communicating effectively with the public, it makes all of us look bad. It undermines the credibility of all of science. It weakens our justification for funding, and the understanding the public has of what we do. If you have to criticize another scientist or researcher, stick to the science, and don’t blame them for “being popular.”
Risk Bites is brave. They take the risks that other academics are often afraid to take. They talk about important and sometimes controversial topics. They do so in an engaging and still accurate way, sticking to the good science, and providing more resources in the notes for people who want to explore or learn more. They engage in the conversation with people who comment. They even make videos responding to points brought up in conversation. They are building a community.
Risk Bites is the best example I know of an academic or professional voice that intentionally, purposefully, and responsibly positions itself in the space inhabited by FUN science education videos. Here is more about the background and thought behind what they are trying to do.
So, when I say I love Risk Bites, I am not just talking about the great videos, or the quality of the content, or the awesome and relevant timely selection of topics. I’m talking also about the vision, the mission, the willingness to take risks, the BRAVERY of what they are doing. And I passionately want others to notice, pay attention, and support this grand effort.
When I heard that Risk Bites has a subscription drive, I wanted to write this. I want you to stop and think about how academic science information in Youtube compares to the popular science channels. Check out Sixty Symbols, from the University of Nottingham. That is the only popular science channel I could find from an academic source. Think about why more of us aren’t there, why WE aren’t there, why YOU aren’t there.
And then I want you to do the right thing. I want you to help to get eyeballs on another strong academic science voice in Youtube. I want you to support the people who are brave enough to try. I want you to go to the Risk Bites channel, watch some of their videos, comment, ask questions, tell them what they can do better, and SUBSCRIBE!
Help us unleash the Elements of Risk Song! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neOQEEAiwQM&list=UU8cxoTk9M0HdZB3gyJNjEtw
APPENDIX: 31 POPULAR YOUTUBE SCIENCE CHANNELS BY SUBSCRIBERS
National Geographic 3,597,161
ASAP Science 3,146,879
Minute Physics 2,573,651
Charlie Is So Cool Like 2,402,791
Smarter Every Day 2,194,233
Mental Floss 1,123,990
Animal Planet 985,375
Minute Earth 918,132
PBS Idea Channel 580,887
Periodic Videos 500,874
The Verge 432,404
Sixty Symbols 426,072
Sick Science 399,926
Discovery TV 330,897
Science Channel 266,605
The Brain Scoop 248,660
SciShow Space 246,757
It’s OK to be Smart 239,810
Bizarre ER 159,184
Spangler Science TV 146,369
Hard Science 131,431
New Scientist 117,609