If I was teaching a class in logic, I would frequently use the Chronicle of Higher Education as a rich resource– of faulty logic. Hardly a day passes in the feed reader without some preaching headline that one cannot get from point A to B without a psychic leap of thinking.

Try this one on.

YouTube Better at Funny Cat Videos Than Educational Content, Professors Say
While many students turn to YouTube when looking for help with their homework, it can be hard to find good-quality educational clips there, according to two professors who did a preliminary analysis of several video search engines.

The research was typing the word “mitosis” into various video search sites, and analyzing the top 20 results. And thus, in finding not prime source materials, ergo, everything is Cat Videos.

Or, Because You Can Find Some Crap in a Large Pile, the Whole Pile Smells Like Crap.

“You go into YouTube and you put in “mitosis,” you’re going to get 3,000 videos back,” said Mr. Bell. “But no one looks at all of that. You’re only going to look at the top 10, so the ranking algorithm is really important.”

This feels like a sentiment repeated often enough that people assume its true. Sure, there is data on general search activity that many people dont go past the first few, but do we truly know that students seeking resources fall that short? If I have to learn something about mitosis, and I come up with 20 Funny Cat Videos, am I really going to shrug and say, “Oh well, better see the latest Lady Gaga vid?”

And even if this is the dominant search pattern, this “research” says nothing about the value of web video- it says more about the shortcomings of a shotgun search strategy- toss one key word and pull the slot machine lever.

Furthermore I can’t find anything to support the professors even mentioning Cat Videos (Actually, I cannot find much on them at all, no links in the Chron’s web page).

Let’s see…Jeffery Bell’s research expertise is “molecular mechanisms that control development of animals, the role that these molecular mechanisms have played in evolution, and the genetic diversity and structure of local animal populations” and Jim Bidlack has been working on “Weed Control in Pigeon Pea – Wheat Cropping Systems”. Apparently, this is the forefront of web search mechanics and informatics?

Two experts in biology looked at web videos for keywords in their discipline, and they found it wanting. Therefore, the only thing YouTube is Funny Cat Videos.

In their estimate, the researchers suggest student made videos are less valuable than ones their profs made– “perhaps because those videos attracted more comments than professionally made ones”. Or could it be the ones their professors made… suck?

The Chronicle laps up the opportunity to be perpetuating stupid stereotypes that support their downward peering viewpoint.

So besides Funny Cat Videos.. hmmm, what do we have?

Well there is the virally spinning Old Spice Guy, if you have been living in a media cave, this commercial turns the old whistling guy in the raincoat inside out

16,000,000 views and climbing, as a carefully planned and executed media campaign, it hits the modern message square on. I like its swagger. And.. hmmm, no funny cats.

But what people like old fuddies in the Chronicle Tower miss is that this is not just broadcast. It is a participatory media.

So there are parodies. And I would be that the Chronicle types would look down their noses and snipe how shallow it is to redo an existing piece. “There is no creativity nor originality any more, its just more Funny Cat Videos.”

There are many flavors of creativity, and if you look a little more carefully about many parodies, and what it takes to produce an effective one, its hardly flicking on the camera on Sweet Kitty and waiting for her to fall in the toilet.

Look into the eyes of New Spice: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar and tell me this is the equivalent of Funny Cat Videos:

The video celebrates a swagger in the Harold B. Lee Library… at Brigham Young State University. The team that produced it, two employees and a 10 student team, documented the behind the scenes in a blog (is there anything more perfect for a succinct web site than a free blog platform?).

The production quality here is on par with the original. Check out the production photos on that blog again. There had to have been an incredible amount of planning, coordination, editing, team effort to pull it off. No simple feat, No cat in sight.

Nothing but Funny Cat Videos, my arse, Chronicle.

The best thing about mocking the Chronicle is… they never respond. Unlike the rest of the internet when a company, product, brand is mentioned and people respond to a snarky blog post… The Chronicle stands aloof. They never wade into the comment sludge their posts generate. They in fact, do not get the participatory nature of the Second Web. It’s just pronouncement. They remain up in their towers, arms crossed, peering deep and far into the abyss we all live in… and cast their Funny Cat Video conclusions on the waves.

And besides… some of those cat videos are pretty damned funny. At least they make more logical sense the the writings at the Chronicle.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Did I say en fuego already?

    Absolutely right about the wihdrawal of the Chronicle from comment, and the way it sucks communities in to engage in an almost Ralph Ellison-like scene (something out of his classic Invisible Man’s first chapter Battle Royale) over the worst elements of a broekn system while they watch from their seats smoking the proverbial cigar.

    In fact, your blog these days is pushing me back towards Ellison for some reason, seems like you and he have your fingers on the slippery slope of ideology, indoctrination, and existentialism.

  2. It’s another example of “I have a Ph.D. in x; therefore I am in expert in . . . well, everything.” Pisses me off. There are experts in YouTube, web search, etc. And thank you for pointing out what their research areas were. Too many people fall for the idea that if a professor said it, it must be true.

    And cat videos are awesome, better than most tv I say.

  3. Wonderful post, cogdog…thank you. You handled this topic with much better grace and ease than my angry, coffee-spluttering tweet this morning.

    I realize that the lack of control of the medium is hard for many of our seasoned academics out there. So, rather than fighting the rip tide of social media, why aren’t teachers teaching their students how to go with the tide and use its force and momentum to move us along as learners?

    I daresay a quick YouTube search for Old Spice mashups might have returned the BYU one…and about 700 more…so let’s teach of faculty and our studnts the skills they need to find the stuff they want or to question the stuff they are not certain about.

    Is it just me or have we been barking up this tree for way too long?


  4. No one brings the laughs to a serious issue like you Dog, no one. Well, sometimes Jimbo.. but you’re both New Spice. I am spreading your post right through my place of work.. sadly, I think the Chronic projects a dominant attitude and ignorance in Hollow Higher Ed. Perhaps your post will rock just one boat. I’m on a mechanical bull!

  5. Don’t you love laggards like me that read posts long after you posted them, thus keeping the comment stream going? I’m a charter member of the Long Tail Gang.

    Actually, that doesn’t sound quite right, but it is a great way to launder my lateness.

    I’m not sure that sounds right either.

    But the points are here even if my brain is not (or perhaps this IS my brain, shudder):

    1. You’re absolutely right about the Chronicle. I enjoy Inside Higher Ed a lot more. What I really want, though, is some regular and serious investigative journalism about Higher Ed. The new book “Higher Education?” may spark some movement in that direction–hey, it’s blurbed by Jonathon Kozol, whom I trust.

    2. You and all the commenters above point to the real tragedy here: what counts as “academic,” and who gets to determine that, comes out of an increasingly self-serving set of privileged voices. Leigh will say I’m being too moderate here, and maybe he’s right–but I’m not giving up on colleges and universities (or the Bill of Rights) until I have to.

    3. Along those lines: I hadn’t seen the Library video. Wowser. How lovely that no one asking about FERPA or credit hours or “how would you grade that?” got in the way of the students’ flourishing imaginations–or their determination to make something cool. Good to know school can still inspire such things….

    Thanks for this post.

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