As a research presentation medium, the Internet has been designed to offer vastly more to publishers than easy text access. It’s astoundingly simple to incorporate photographs, diagrams, illustrations, sounds, animations, movies and all kinds of non-text content into a website using today’s user-friendly web development software. This subject, Networks and Multimedia in Science and Technology, has been designed to open its students’ eyes to the exciting multimedia possibilities available that can communicate research findings more accessibly, effectively and concisely than plain text. A look through some of the research presented by many of these students, found linked to the NAMIST CONFERENCE PAGE, makes it clear that well-designed web sites can make even the most potentially boring topics (statistics? butterflies?) attractive and interesting through the use of intuitive structures and appropriate multimedia.
However, a browse through the web site of Australia’s principal government-funded Scientific organisation, the CSIRO AUSTRALIA page, reveals myriads of research papers published almost exclusively in text-only format. The http://www.nobel.se/announcement-98/physics98.html official 1998 Nobel Prize award announcement for the field of Physics includes some diagrams, but nothing one would not find in a 1970’s textbook. Many of the links from american science organisation www.Sigmaxi.org’s science resource page, http://www.sigmaxi.org/scienceresources/scienceresources.htm, have a small amount of graphical content, but only one site I found, http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/ – a site dedicated to volcano research – made consistent use of movie files, sounds and animation, and this site was filed under “fun for kids” on sigmaxi’s resource list.
I believe there are many reasons for the scientific community’s apparent dislike for multimedia. Not a small factor could be the possible perception that research that is presented in a flashy, colourful way is lacking in substance, that researchers who spend large amounts of time on presentation are compromising the research itself. The traditional presentation of research has been through publication in scientific journals, not renowned for their attention to visual appeal, and the use of extensive visual or multimedia assistance to focus the reader’s attention could be viewed as condescending.
Furthermore, making use of the available technology, whilst relatively easy using today’s advanced, user-friendly development software, is nonetheless far more time-consuming than the use of simple text. In the context of a scientific report, visual cues are far more labour intensive to include than equivalent
textual explanations in most cases. Furthermore many researchers are unfamiliar
with the techniques required to produce them, and more willing to attempt
written explanations than commission graphic artworks.
Many of the technologically maxed-out sites connected to the NaMiST Conference page distract the audience from the information they intend to provide. This is reflected by one group’s client requesting a very simple, uncluttered and movement-free page. High-tech pages also take longer to download, and often require plug-ins that may themselves take a lot of time to download. And how often have you waited for a large file to download only to find it has been somehow corrupted and is useless?
Perhaps in many fields of scientific research, such material is simply inappropriate. Explaining quantum physics research on any level but the most basic would be extremely difficult to do using graphics and sound.