Short Attention Span Science Theater

Ecological sustainability is of interest for more and more people as they realize that maintaining quality of life is entirely dependant on maintaining the ecosystems that provide our resources. However, it is often hard to find simple and clear information on this topic. The need to provide this information inspired Dr Stephen Palumbi (Stanford University/PISCO researcher) and long time collaborator Dan Griffin (Garthwait and Griffin Films) to create “Microdocs: Short Attention Span Science Video” website.

This website revolves around a collection of 35 short, 2-4 minute micro-documentaries, or ‘microdocs’. Each microdoc focuses on a single idea taken from the fields of ecology and sustainability. By breaking this, often complex, subject into single ideas, viewers can quickly each topic by watching several microdocs they build up an understanding of the entire subject. Each microdoc is written by leading scientists, and filmed on location across the world. Microdocs are eye-catching and full of the newest science, with a style that is direct and accessible - not loaded with technical language.

More than 30 microdocs have been made, providing over an hour and a half of information. But rather than show this information sequentially, as in a traditional documentary, this innovative website lets the viewer control the information flow. Instead of a single 90 minute film, the 30+ microdocs are provided in an internet ‘notebook’ that lets the user control the topics and the order they are viewed in. Accompanying each microdoc is text that ranges from a single sentence summary up to links to peer-reviewed papers. Users of this site also control how deeply they delve into a subject, as well as the order in which they learn.

Science Notebooks

Microdoc Screencapture - Sustainability; Ofu Island, American Samoa

The first Short Attention Span Science Notebook, the Elements of Sustainability, demystifies ecological sustainability - the basis for the green movement around the world. What is sustainability? What promotes it? Threatens it? What are the tipping points that push an ecosystem into ruin, or keep it functioning forever? This section explains the basic elements of sustainability and explains how they apply to marine ecosystems.

Microdoc Screencapture - Human Impacts on Coral Reefs

The second Notebook “Sustainability on coral reefs” expands on the basic principles in the first and explores the coral reef ecosystem in depth to provide examples of these principles in action. In this section, we find out how much coral reef is needed to feed a person, why you should throw back the big fish that you catch, and how to grow a giant clam, among other subjects.

With this groundwork laid, the next microdoc ‘notebook’ can be produced. This section, which is currently in the planning stage, will focus on PISCO’s work in the marine ecosystems along the west coast of the US. In the near future, users of the Short Attention Span Science Video will be able to directly compare how the underlying principles of ecological sustainability apply to all ecosystems by contrasting between the coral reef ecosystem and the temperate marine ecosystems that are the focus of PISCO’s endeavors.

This project provides material that supports the PISCO’s goals of providing open access to information on ecological processes, climate change, and the responses of marine ecosystems to different management practices, such as marine protected areas.


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