People tell me that they can lose hours on YouTube. I don’t get it. Sure, there are millions of good things there. But they are buried among squillions of not such good things. I seldom find anything of stunning interest just by goofing around. So I was pleased, astonished, surprised and delighted to find myself losing hours at a place called Web of Stories.

I arrived via one of my Google alerts, to find John Maynard Smith telling Richard Dawkins about J.B.S. Haldane’s reaction to T.D. Lysenko's nonsense -- and found it absolutely chilling and very illuminating. In essence Haldane criticised within the inner Party but failed to say anything critical in public. Haldane was also deeply upset after a visit from a Party enforcer called Glushenko and a couple of goons. But you really should go and listen.

From there, via Web of Stories’ recommendations, it was easy to trip over to Crick, Brenner, Lewis Wolpert, Aaron Klug, Dorothy Hodgkin and zip, there went that hour.

The big difference, of course, is selection. And quality. Someone is scrutinising submissions to Web of Stories, getting transcripts done, putting in biographical information and metadata, in effect adding tonnes of value. So it is a little scary to see a “coming soon” feature that will allow people to Tell a Story. Will they, too, be curated, or will Web of Stories descend into a YouTube maelstrom of mediocrity and worse? 1

There isn’t a whole lot about the project or who is behind it on the site, although Wikipedia is more informative. And while the stories were initially from scientists, the scope has broadened lately.

Of course, having arrived via Lysenko, I searched for Vavilov; not one, to Lysenko’s 10. There’s a moral there somewhere. But there’s also a need, to record more people before they pop their clogs. Neither Jack Hawkes nor Jack Harlan -- two people who knew NI Vavilov personally and have died relative recently -- are listed. Is there anyone left alive who worked with Vavilov? I’d like to hear their stories. Not to mention all the other greats of agriculture (which you can search for almost in vane.).

  1. Hey, Science Navigation Group, gissa job.  

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