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It’s Okay To Be Smart – It Really Is

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A few months ago Joe Hanson premiered his new video series called ‘It’s Okay To Be Smart‘, a joint project with PBS Digital Studios. In addition to being a true science geek, Joe has a flashy on-screen charisma that make for some pretty entertaining short films. In its first few months online, the series has seen almost half a million views! I asked Joe a few questions about the methodology behind his craft:

CB: What inspires you to make these videos?

JH: My inspirations for the videos come from all over the place. It might be an article or blog post I read, or a random picture or video I come across, or something I’ve written on my blog that I want to explore in more depth, and even questions that people send in to me. My only rules are that it has to make me say “wow” while researching it. I also really love to tie science to other parts of our culture, like music or art or creative works. But my number 1 inspiration is being curious myself, and then I just try to share that curiosity with others.

CB: What is your academic background?

JH: I am a biologist by training. I have my undergrad degree in biochemistry and just defended my PhD in cell and molecular biology. I’ve done research in everything from cancer biology to drug design to genetic engineering along the way. My PhD research studied mobile elements of bacterial genomes, the ancestors of our introns, and how they jump around genomes like primitive retroviruses (plus how we can use them for genetic engineering).

CB: What are your aspirations for science communication?

JH: About halfway through grad school, I got hooked on communicating science. I started a blog on Tumblr which has become more successful than I ever imagined, and that led to my YouTube show with PBS Digital Studios (which began in Jan 2013). People aren’t dumb, and people do care about science. Many of them just haven’t been able to connect with it or they’ve got a bad taste in their mouth from a boring class or a bad teacher. I know that people are thirsty for awesome knowledge, and they want to understand where we came from and how we tick. I think of myself as a teacher, just like if I was in front of one of my biology classes here at my university. Only my class is thousands and thousands of people. Now that I have my PhD, I am going to continue teaching as many people as I can, through writing and videos and who knows what else? For the time being, at least, I’m not pursuing more research. Instead, I’m going to help communicate science to the world.

JH: This summer I’ll be working as a AAAS Mass Media fellow at Wired in San Francisco, continuing to write my blog and make my YouTube show, and beyond that? The sky’s the limit. The world is ready for a new generation of science communication ninjas like Carl Sagan and Neil Tyson. I’m going to strive to get there.

All the best Joe, I’m a huge fan!

Carin Bondar About the Author: Carin Bondar is a biologist, writer and film-maker with a PhD in population ecology from the University of British Columbia. Find Dr. Bondar online at www.carinbondar.com, on twitter @drbondar or on her facebook page: Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist. Follow on Twitter @drbondar.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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