The Rise of the Science DJ

The Rise of the Science DJ – Part 1

The Rise of the Science DJ – Part 2

After dramatic changes in the late 19th Century, music was transformed by the arrival of the Disc Jockey in the early 20th Century. The advent of the vinyl record and phonograph meant that music could be recorded and stored for later playback. In place of live music with performing musicians the public could now listen to recordings. The quality of these recordings could be assured.

Now instead of the composer or the musician, it was the Disc Jockey who engaged the public in the music. Radio stations broadcast to large audiences and soon the role of the Disc Jockey became ever more important. Seeing the large audiences that listened to the popular radio stations, musicians and record companies were keen to engage with the Disc Jockeys. The Disc Jockeys added the personal element with casual conversations and comments. They became popular.

As well as the radio DJ in much later decades new music equipment supported the rise of new types of DJ’s. These DJ’s spoke or sang over a background rhythm, or combined two pieces of music together. More recently the ability to mix video tracks in real time in response to music gave rise to the Video Jockey or VJ. The Video Jockey would take video sequences, make an aesthetic judgement of the suitability for the music and then mix the sequences. This was technically demanding just as mixing music was for the DJ’s.

Transforming How Science is Communicated

We are now in a period where science is going to undergo a cultural transformation in just the same way as music did over 100 years ago. The availability of current technology and licensing of media means that science can be communicated in entirely new ways. Traditionally science has been communicated through the textbook and lectures to the student and via television, newspapers and periodicals to the general public. The written word has taken precedence. When science has been communicated on television this has usually been in the format of a documentary or science show. There is usually a presenter or narrator who explains the subject matter to the audience. The scientist is interviewed or may advise. Television programs have traditionally been state sponsored or commissioned by large private corporations.

However this environment has been completely transformed through social media forums such as YouTube. YouTube makes a large number of videos available online. Many of the videos have a standard license. With the right settings, other YouTube users can view these videos. However some videos are in the Public Domain. Others have a Creative Commons Attribution license which roughly speaking means that they can be reused with attribution. Of course it is slightly more complicated than this. In practical terms though there are large numbers of videos that can be remixed by other users on YouTube.

Additionally YouTube allows people to add soundtracks to these videos. The simple addition of music to a track can provide atmosphere and hold the attention of the viewer.

Whereas music was central to the radio DJ in the early 20th Century, in the early 21st century both music and video sequences are the building blocks which can be used by the science narrator. The technology means that any user of YouTube can become the producer of science media. There are many high quality video sequences licensed under a Creative Commons License. There are many music tracks available to mix with the videos. This means that the YouTube user can create high quality science productions by remixing media in just the same way as the DJ has done for music and the VJ for video. YouTube users are also able to make use of related programs which allow them to edit movies. YouTube users can also upload their own footage to build a library. This library can also be remixed.

The technology and available material increase the creative potential. People who want to communicate a message now have a means to do that.

Scientists Versus Science Journalists Versus Science DJ’s

Sharing science with the general public has typically been the domain of the science journalists. However science journalists are now in the position that music journalists were in the early 20th century. Newspapers would provide readers with a review of music concerts or performances by popular musicians at a time when it was otherwise inaccessible to them. Now it is easy enough for people to get access to the recordings of musicians and see if the music or performance appeals to them. The musicians now have the means to engage directly with a global public.

In just the same way scientists now have the means to communicate directly with a global public. Already science is undergoing a transformation in terms of collaboration and sharing of work. A movement referred to as Open Science is changing the way science is done.

With social media forums like YouTube, communicating science is being similarly transformed. Here is an example of a scientist explaining one aspect of the experimental method.

Now there is the possibility that as well as science journalists relating science to the public, the scientists can do this themselves. This has already happened with the TED talks.

Here though we are still not tapping into the full potential of these exciting new media. As well as the scientist and the science journalist there is a third player in town – the science DJ.

What Will the Science DJ Do?

The Science DJ will take make the best creative commons explanations of scientific principles iconic. In other words if someone is prepared to give an explanation of a scientific principle that is good and assign to their material a  creative commons license then the Science DJ will take that out to the public. If a difficult scientific insight needs to be communicated to the public, the Science DJ will not only be able to create an explanation but will be able to turn it into a great video. If students find science boring, the Science DJ will turn it into something exciting which even competes with the videos of popular musicians. The Science DJ may be the narrator or they may avoid narration altogether. The Science DJ may perform live or mix multiple clips together or add effects that hold the attention of the audience.

The Science DJ can support one side of the argument or balance the argument. Scientific paradigms are based on assumptions. These assumptions can be transformed into video clips. These assumptions and their corresponding video clips can form the building blocks for explaining the larger structure of the paradigm. During periods of scientific revolutions Science DJ’s will play an increasing central role in highlighting the struggle between paradigms. The public as well as cultural anthropologists will be able to get a sense of the scientific community from the Science DJ. Science DJ’s will be generic, specialised or even superspecialised. The most popular will be generic.

Large media organisations will increasingly make their archived material available for remixing in order to make their brands visible. All of this will benefit the public, the scientific community and the student. Scientific developments will enter popular culture more quickly. Science will become ever more relevant. The best Science DJ’s will have specialised equipment, specialised libraries of material, tours, concerts, teams to support them. The science of Science DJ’s will help them to better understand how to reach out to their audience. The Science DJ will make use of cultural material and structure it. The Science DJ has the organising architecture of the scientific paradigm to provide an overarching structure to their material.

Here is a simple example. By mixing together a number of neuroscience related videos with music the audience can see just a fraction of the exciting work that is currently taking place in neuroscience.

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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