1) How did Stated Clearly get started – some of us can guess – but give us the details.
I started making animations because I love biology and am disappointed by how many people miss out on the beauty of it all. The anti-evolution movement has turned many curious and brilliant minds away from biology. I think that’s tragic. With Stated Clearly I want to win back as many of those deceived minds as I can, I want to spark curiosity in those who are simply disinterested, and I want to protect the younger generation of thinkers from falling victim to anti-evolution deceptions.
I’d like to point out that I use the term “anti-evolution movement” instead of “creationist movement”. I do this because there are many people who believe in a Creator, yet still understand and accept evolutionary theory. Though I am not religious, I consider those kinds of creationists to be on my team. These are religious folks like Jeff Hardin who was recently quoted in Slate Magazine, Kenneth Miller who defended evolution in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, Francis Collins who started the Biologos Foundation, and my wonderful high school science teacher Tom Cochran. Tom now volunteers with us at Stated Clearly.
2) How has reception to your project been? How has coverage been?
Reception has been overwhelmingly positive. I figured we could get a good following on YouTube just by making quality animations but I originally worried the scientific community would give me grief for my lack of official science credentials. All my professional training after high school is in art. To my surprise, every scientist I’ve contacted for help has responded. Dr. Nicholas Hud at the Center for Chemical Evolution even hired us to do an animation with his team.
On YouTube we see a fairly constant string of attacks from the anti-evolution movement in the comments section but this is to be expected.
Coverage has been pretty good but we’d always love more. Our work has been promoted by The Royal Institution of Great Britain, Slate Magazine, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, and numerous science blogs. Local schools invite me to come in and do lessons with students from time to time. I’ve spoken at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Corvallis, several secular clubs, and I will be speaking at a science teacher conference this summer. I love speaking events and time in the classroom. If anyone needs a speaker, let me know!
3) What makes a good explanatory science video?
That depends a lot on your target audience and the intent of your film. We create introductory films. The point is to give viewers a healthy but simple overview of the subject. We have two target audiences that might not seem related but really are:
- Those who don’t yet know how fascinating biology is and need a jump start
- Those who are stuck inside the anti-evolution movement and need a hand pulling themselves free
I’ve found that these groups both share several of the same needs:
- Both groups are initially disinterested in what we have to say. Our films are short and to the point. This allows us to immediately perk interest while also showing respect for people’s valuable time.
- Members of both groups often feel they’ve been talked down to. People who are uneducated might feel that the scientific community is overly prestigious or unwelcoming. Religious folks find that popular scientists sometimes attack and make fun of religion. Our scripts are written in a friendly tone. We make a point never to make fun of religion. Our animations are colorful and simple. We do these things to create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
- Both groups tend to hate superfluous jargon. The word “superfluous” for example, is just too highbrow, I would never use it in an animation. Scientists often need to invent new words or “science jargon” in order to talk about their discoveries. This is fine when needed but many researchers take it too far. One of my biggest frustrations when reading scientific journals is all the unnecessary vocabulary used. There seems to be this idea drifting about that the bigger your words are, the smarter you must be. It drives me nuts! In our animations we never introduce more than 3 words outside plain English. Every time we use jargon in an animation, we have the word written on the screen and show an image of it as well so that viewers don’t get lost in new vocabulary.
4) How do you make these, what people, technology, etc. let you produce these?
I did the first one myself using Adobe Flash to draw and animate, my laptop microphone for the voice-over, and a free trial of Sony Vegas video editor to put it all together. Seattle musician Anthony Danzl did the music you hear in the intro and credits. I had a few friends help me research and edit my script to make sure I wasn’t teaching the science wrong or saying anything offensive.
I still write, do the voice-over, and most of the illustration and animation myself but we now have a team of 16 science advisors in a variety of fields who I correspond with when needed, 2 copy editors, several illustrator/animators who currently help on a volunteer basis, a real recording booth with a good mic, and we have the help of professional sound guy, Tyler Proctor, who does sound effects and voice mastering.
I start a project by writing a script and then arguing, in a friendly way, with editors and science advisors. Once we like the script, I record the voice-over, we draw and animate to the voice-over, send it to Tyler for his sound magic, get feedback from the team, then publish it on YouTube. It takes about 2 months start to finish. If everyone were getting paid we could speed that up a bit.
5) Let’s be frank – what’s the state of science knowledge in America and the world today,and where are the places we could do better?
The state of knowledge varies from topic to topic. Sadly, genetics and evolution are horribly misunderstood. Almost half of the American public flat-out rejects evolutionary theory.
As advocates for biology, not only do we have the anti-evolution movement to deal with, pop-culture also screws things up. Aside from the fanciful (and totally fake) versions of evolution taught in comic books, the Discovery Channel recently decided to make a fake evolutionary documentary about mermaid evolution. Even Star Trek TNG (my favorite TV show of all time) gets evolution horribly wrong.
Though I don’t think entertainers should be required to teach genetics and evolution accurately, I sure would appreciate it if they did. We live in a world undergoing global climate change with huge ecological/evolutionary side effects, we use genetics to prove guilt or innocence in the court of law, we create and consume Genetically Modified Organisms on a massive scale. It’s more important now than ever for the public to have an accurate understanding of how biology works.
6) Are there any other people doing similar efforts to get science awareness out there?
7) How can we get more people involved and aware of science? What would you recommend people do?
- Start choosing science education as a form of entertainment! Subscribe to science channels on YouTube. Next time you sit down to Netflix, watch a few TED talks that interest you. When you have a scientific question, Google it!
- Share what you find! Next time you’re at a party, start a conversation about the butt breathing apparatus of the Fitzroy River Turtle. It’s way more interesting than football. Share your favorite thoughts, articles, and videos on social media. No matter what you do for a living, make science part of your every day social life.
8) What do you think of the role Citizen Science can play in increasing scientific knowledge – and community involvement?
If you’re talking about official Citizen Science Programs I’m the wrong person to ask. I’ve never participated in one. They look pretty awesome though. I especially appreciate the fact that they bridge the gap between scientists and the rest of us.
9) How can people help *you* out at the site.
- Use our videos as tools to help spark curiosity in others, and to help your friends who may be stuck in the anti-evolution scene. If you are a teacher, use our stuff in your classroom.
- If you know any bloggers or big names in science, ask them to post about us in social media or write about us in their blogs.
- If you have extra dollars, we won’t complain if you send a few our way 🙂
10) Any final advice to share with our readers?
Stay curious! It makes life worth living.
Thanks Jon. Remember to chip in and help – and if you want Jon as a speaker, let him know!