Periodic impact

Engaging the public in science is something lots of us are passionate about but how do you measure its impact? This might seem like an unimportant question, but it’s something that funding agencies are increasingly interested in, as they understandably want to check their money isn’t being wasted. It’s also a question addressed by the team behind the popular Periodic Table of Videos project in a commentary published in Nature Chemistry.

Periodic Videos is the forerunner of and cousin to the Sixty Symbols project which I’ve blogged about several times here before. It started out with videos for each element in the periodic table and then expanded to include things as diverse as Einstein’s blackboard, Nobel Prizes, Creme Eggs and Kate Middleton’s engagement ring.

The videos are hosted on YouTube, and the authors initially thought that they could use its statistics for things like page views or subscribers to pin down their elusive impact factor. However, they realised that they couldn’t rely on the YouTube numbers because they didn’t know how accurate they are. Equally, the results could miss people who download the videos or who watch them when they’re embedded into other blogs.

The method that gave them the best impact information ended up being the simplest – they read the comments left below each video. Clearly if you want to know how something has affected an audience, you should just listen to what they say about it! This isn’t necessarily a scientific approach to the problem, but in this case, they seem to be the most accurate. The nicest thing about the comments is that people often ask questions, or make suggestions for new topics, neatly illustrating how engaged with chemistry they’ve become. There’s even a guy wanting advice on building smoke grenades for paintballing!

ResearchBlogging.orgHaran B, & Poliakoff M (2011). How to measure the impact of chemistry on the small screen. Nature chemistry, 3 (3), 180-2 PMID: 21336314