We sat down with the wonderful Jon Perry of Stated Clearly to chat about the bible belt, choosing your audience and about our scientific culture of talking fancy. You can watch our video with Simon Clark here, or with Ines Dawson here.

Transcript is below.

More about Jon 

Jon Perry is an artist and science advocate. He founded Stated Clearly in 2012 with the creation of his first science animation What is DNA and how does it work?

He started the project after noting that the scientific community is having trouble engaging the public through traditional means of lectures, journal publications, and book sales. Though Jon has little formal training in science, he believed that if he could create just one good animation on his own, scientists and educators would realize the potential of this project and help him create more.

"I could not be happier with my decision to start this project. Dozens of people have since joined our team, many of them give their talents for free. Researchers in the field have contributed hours of their time, pouring over my scripts, answering my ridiculous questions over the phone, and analyzing my illustrations for accuracy. These include scientific giants like Dr. Beatrice H. Hahn who helped discover the origin of HIV, famous whale paleontologist Dr. Philip D. Gingerich, and many others."

In his free time, Jon can often be found at Chintimini Wildlife Center. There he works with birds of prey in the Raptor Conservation Program.

More about Stated Clearly

Science is for everyone.

"Our Passion:
We are in love with the scientific process and the art of critical thinking. We feel that an enhanced ability to think critically and ask probing questions will enable people to become better scientists and also aid them in every aspect of life from work and politics to family life and personal relationships.

Our Mission is simple:
To promote the art of critical thinking by exposing people from all walks of life, to the simple beauty of science. We do this by taking complicated scientific topics such as "What is DNA and how does it work" and creating short, information rich animations that explain the topic in clear language.

Science is for everyone:
At Stated Clearly we focus on the theory of evolution which is often misunderstood and even rejected by many members of our society. Our animations and writings aim to explain the science in clear language that anyone can understand, and in a friendly tone with a sensitivity to the cultural issues that many people have with the science. We feel that the basic principles of biology should be freely accessible to all, independent of race, age, gender, creed, or level of education."


Ali: Hello, everybody! Welcome to Collab Lab, we've done a series of interviews with big YouTube creators asking them how they got started, what their influences are and what kind of advice they've got for people just starting out. In this video, we talk to Jon from Stated Clearly about the bible belt, about choosing your audience and about our scientific culture of talking fancy. Enjoy!

So Jon, what's your YouTube channel and what's your real name as well?

Jon: So my name is Jon Perry and I run Stated Clearly. It's a YouTube channel, it's also a website statedclearly.com and what we do there is we take complex scientific concepts, mainly in genetics and evolution and we simply them for the general public. This started out of a frustration with me, frustrated with how genetics was being taught. The way that we learned it in school was super confusing and I felt like it was actually simple and that we should teach simply and so that's the first video I did, was What Is DNA and how does it work? Teachers started using that in their classrooms and so I started making more. A lot of it came from, a lot of my friends didn't understand this stuff that were there in the South. It was the bible belt, most of my friends were either Baptist or Mormons. I was thinking a lot about them when I was creating these videos, you know how can I explain this in a way that they're going to understand it without a strong scientific background. Some of my friends in Tennessee didn't know how to read, they were adults but illiterate, slipped through the system somehow. But I'm trying to be extremely friendly and communicate as much as I can with the combination of images and words. Also I've been actually going into forums, creationist forums, and posting this stuff and having discussions with people on there and it's working really well when I do that. Just talk about the science, why these things are important instead of doing the thing that's kind of typical with a lot of popular science writers and even YouTubers is to kind of bash on the religious people. I feel like as a teacher my responsibility is to teach and if my audience hasn't learned then I have not taught and I have failed and so it's, um, it's my responsibility to meet them where they're at.

A: So when you're talking to, certainly with people who have very little scientific, sort of, background, how do you tread the line between, I guess, between like dumbing it down and between simplifying it without losing important content.

J: Yeah, well I found that honestly, most of the complicated things in science/scientific literature is our culture of talking fancy. So I just cut out all that. Just by ignoring all the stuff, all the jargon I don't have to use, that's 90% of the jargon that people normally use and then for the jargon that's leftover that I do have to use, again, I explain what it is and then every time I mention that word again it flashes on screen and there's a picture of it and that's been, it's just doing that has made this stuff accessible people I never thought it would be accessible to. 

I started out with a question. I want to know how this thing works. And I don't know how it works. So I start reading about it on the internet. And then I start finding links to the actual, like, research that was done on the subject and if the people who did the research are still alive and if it was fairly recent research, I email them and I ask them to help me on this video and i send them, it's a super short email, and I ask them to help me and I send them a sample of one of my videos and almost every time I do this I get a positive response. And if I don't get a positive response, I look to see if they are a professor and if they are a professor, I look to see when their office hours are and then I call them.

A: That is, that is a really really healthy, sorry for everybody watching that is a great attitude, like and it's a really hard thing to hear as well that really, like, the academic community, they want you to, kind of, reach out and be like 'Hey! I wanna talk about your subject".

J: I have all these epiphanies as I'm learning these subjects, all these Aha moments and I know what those epiphanies were and what things triggered those and I can make sure and write those into the script.

A: That sounds like it's incredibly creative in terms of what it brings you and it's very very fruitful. Just to have that kind of, like, for a big YouTuber, or a YouTuber, to meet a scientist and just to chat about those ideas and from what you're saying that will give rise to just a huge quantity of stuff that neither one alone would necessarily have reached by themselves.

J: Right. There's this curse of knowledge which you've heard of I'm sure, where once you understand something really well, you don't remember what it's like to not understand it and so to teach it to someone else is really difficult and a lot of these professors are working with just PhD students, they're not teaching like, you know, 101 classes anymore, a lot of these researchers aren't. So they're not really, you know, being able to sit down and talk with me, someone who's hungry to understand what it is that they're talking about and is also completely ignorant about it, I think it is helpful to them to uh...

A: You know what, I've forgotten what it's like to not, I've forgotten what it's like to not think that cell membranes are cool.

J: I actually am starting to get to a point where I might be making things to complicated. I kind of worry about that, the video I'm working on right now, I'm a little bit worried that it might be over some people's heads because I am getting, I am getting myself getting to this point with biochemistry where some things just make sense to me because I've been talking about them, thinking about them for three years now. 

A: Who are your inspirations, your YouTube inspirations?

J: Um, my inspiration didn't actually come from YouTube so much as it did from Rosemary Mosco, she does comic strips called "Bird and Moon" comics and my other big inspiration was lynda.com.  

Why should we do science outreach?

Oh you should just go make a video because uh, it might end up being interesting and helping a lot of people! The internet, it's amazing, it's amazing what gets popular on YouTube and it's amazing what gets ignored but just don't worry about that, make something that's important to you and get that out there. Because there might be a huge hunger for what, what you have.

A: When you're making your video what's one thing you should definitely do?

J: Um, I think you should definitely have a, a target audience in mind. And what I've done is I've focused on a target individual which for me is myself 5 years before I cared about science. Um, just focus on that person and communicate to that person so that your level of conversation can be consistent.

A: And one thing to avoid?

J: One thing to avoid when making videos? Uh, don't be a dick. Don't belittle the people who don't yet understand your subject or who might be on the opposite side of your philosophical viewpoints. Just reach out to them, be nice.

A: And finally, one video definitely go and watch. What would it be?

J: Ugh. Planet Earth. David Attenborough is the man. He knows what he's doing. Look up to that man, he will guide you well. So long, people of the internet. I hope to see you on my channel at statedclearly.com and my other channel, statedcasually.com.

A: That is very important, let's be very clear about that. Stated Clearly - Stated Casually. Links are here, go and check them out.

J: Alright, awesome.

A: What a lovely piece of transatlantic wisdom and if you liked that, there's links to Jon's channel here on screen as well as to an interview that we did with the delightful Ines Dawson from Draw Curiosity and if you just stumbled upon this video and you don't know what you're looking at but you like what you see then click subscribe and watch more. I've been Ali for Collab Lab, thanks so much for watching. Bye!