Gathering dust: the Web of Stories

A beautiful project: watch Anthony Hewish talk about his life as astronomer and Nobel laureate, honoured for his role in the discovery of pulsars. Or watch the clips featuring Hans Bethe (“Beginning physics at Frankfurt University”) or Dorothy Hodgkin, the British pioneer of X-ray crystallography and discoverer of the structures of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12.

Web of Stories began, in 2003, “as an archive of life stories told by some of the great scientists of our time” and recorded on film. After some time it also expanded to other disciplines like architecture, theatre and even social activism. “Our aim has been to provide an archive of stories from people who have influenced our world”, the founders state.

Now the website is getting dusty. The most recent blog posts and videos are from 2019. Only its twitter account is still active, taking anniversaries as occasions to dig through the archives for cinematic gems, and post them.

Some of the clips are of historical interest already. In this episode Anthony Hewish talks about how his PhD student Jocelyn Bell “saw” a pulsar for the first time. Bells achievement, however, was ignored by the Nobel committee (a story nicely told in the Washington Post in 2018). The prize, in 1974, was only awarded to Hewish (and Martin Ryle).

James Watson’s story, recorded in 2008 and 2009, deserves a close look, too. The American geneticist is one of the discoverers of the structure of the DNA, but since two decades he also became famous for his inglourious comments on race.

Webofstories.com is owned by the Sciencenow Group. In the course of some decades this group has launched a whole series of companies “active in science publishing and services for professionals and the public”. One of the most famous among them is the open access publisher BioMed Central. Let’s hope, Sciencenow will also keep their film archive alive. One of the latest user comments on the Web of Stories is from 2018: “Wow!!!! I have just discovered this webpage … absolutely fascinating and inspiring!!”

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