Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Power(Point) Corrupts?

This morning was a rare occasion where I skimmed through the New York Times while enjoying my first cup of coffee. One of the first stories I saw was this:

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

The story is about the near obsessive use of PowerPoint presentations in military briefings. It found it both fascinating and entertaining--there are some really fantastic quips and phrases coined by officers regarding the Powerpoint epidemic. Among others, I found this sentence particularly striking:
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.
Although the topics we discuss do not carry the same weight, I could not help but think that we should perhaps have the same concerns about the PowerPoint (or, for the elite few who have broken free of the chains of Microsoft, Keynote) treatment of our research. PowerPoint infiltrates every data presentation time from conference talks to group meetings. It certainly has its utility and, when applied effectively, can bring order and clarity to a presentation that perhaps cannot be achieved by other means.
But how often does that happen?
Instead we end up in lecture mode: the presenter saying "As you can see here...", "I'll address that in a few moments", etc; the audience, at best, following the linear order of the presentation, expecting their question to be addressed momentarily or, at worst, switching to nap mode. And some of the atrocious slides make it all the more difficult to really think critically about what's being said.
What do you say? Does PowerPoint ever interfere with the discussion of science?
And whilst we discuss this bane of our profession, I think a poll is in order!

Note: Apologies for the technical difficulties. Thanks to several tweeps for letting me know! Sorting them out as I can. Thanks for your patience :)