Menus Subscribe Search


Academic Publishing Flirts With the You(Test)Tube Age

• June 04, 2013 • 5:48 PM


A look at the Journal of Visualized Experiments, the first journal devoted to publishing scientific research in a video format.

Pacific Standard keeps a watchful eye on the academic press, both for social science-oriented story ideas and because our major benefactor is SAGE Publications, a big player in the journal world. A lot of that observation focuses on weighty issues, like the future of open access or peer review’s feet of clay.

Then there’s JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which bills itself as the “first scientific video journal.” They also describe themselves, in somewhat more Ivory Tower-y terms, as “the first and only PubMed/MEDLINE-indexed, peer-reviewed journal devoted to publishing scientific research in a video format.”

What this means in practice is that the experimental portions of technical scientific papers, instead of being laid out in a couple of dense paragraphs, is videotaped and moves from a necessary if clumsy part of the narrative to center stage. Science is developing wonderful ways to visualize data, but rarely process. Sure, there are a few things you might stumble across on YouTube, and SciVee posts various journal-related videos, but those are clearly sideshows to the heavy lifting in print.

Let’s say you were studying how creatures learn, and you wanted to do a paper on training honeybees to stick out their tongues when their antennae touch something. You could, of course, prepare a lovely academic paper, titled, say, “Tactile Conditioning and Movement Analysis of Antennal Sampling Strategies in Honey Bees (Apis mellifera L.),” as Samir Mujagić and his three co-authors at Germany’s Bielefeld University did.

In a release on the paper (or should we called it a “taper”?) co-author and cyber-biologist Volker Dürr, whose lab was the experiment’s home, explained the rationale for the work: “We work with honey bees because they are an important model system for behavioral biology and neurobiology. They can be trained. If you can train an insect to respond to a certain stimulus, then you can ask the bees questions in the form of ‘Is A like B? If so, stick your tongue out.’”

But rather than immediately run to a leading journal in their field to publish the results, the authors made a beeline for JoVE to present their methods. That journal both presented their words (online), and hosted a 10:14 video that demonstrated preparing the bees, conditioning their tactile responses, and then recording their movements and analyzing that data. Believe me, unless you’re a real devotee of the kinematics of fine-scale antennal sampling patterns, it makes much more compelling viewing than reading. That’s actually more true on JoVE, where much of the written material is in the form of numbered points so you can read along to the video.

Of course, after prefacing by saying we at PS look at weighty matters, I chose a quirky example to illustrate JoVE’s approach. JoVE’s intentions, however, are absolutely serious. To set the scene, here’s Alice Bonasio at Mendeley:

As science advances, processes and tools also become more complex. Procedures and techniques such as growing stem cells are tremendously complicated and difficult to accurately follow with just a set of written instructions, and visiting labs in person can be a very expensive alternative beyond the resources of many researchers. This challenge of poor experiment reproducibility is what JoVE tries to address, claiming that traditional written and static picture-based print journals are no longer sufficient to accurately convey the intricacies of modern research. Translating findings from the bench to clinical therapies rely on the rapid transfer of knowledge within the research community.

Reproducibility—remember Kayt Sukel’s piece “Replicate This” in February?—is a bugaboo across the sciences. JoVE won’t make the problem go away, but it might make it less frequent, as Josh Fischman discussed in a nice article for The Chronicle of Higher Education last October:

While many scientists believe that the video approach will ease the replication problem, it isn’t clear that visuals will make the issue go away. [Bayer HealthCare’s Khusru] Asadullah, author of the Nature Reviews report, believes—along with other researchers—that the primary culprit is the predilection of scientists for publishing positive results and omitting negative ones. So scientists reading JoVE may follow a method faithfully but still be unpleasantly surprised when the results differ from their expectations.

[Aaron] Kolski-Andreaco, the content director of JoVE, agrees that the video journal is not going to mean an end to irreproducible results. “We aren’t claiming to solve this problem,” he notes in an email, “but rather contribute to making methods more reproducible from lab to lab.”

JoVE has been around since 2006, and as of today has an archive of 2,410 articles. Since last year its profile has been rising as it adds more disciplines—chemistry, behavioral sciences, and environmental sciences so far this year alone–and branches out from its origins in biology.

We’ll be watching. Literally.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.

August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.

August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.

August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?

August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.

August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”

August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.

August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.

August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.

August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.

August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.

August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.

August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.

August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.

August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.

August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.

August 26 • 4:00 PM

Marching in Sync May Increase Aggression

Another danger of militarizing the police: Marching in lock step doesn’t just intimidate opponents. It impacts the mindset of the marchers.

August 26 • 3:03 PM

The Best Reporting on the Federal Push to Militarize Local Police With Riot Gear, Armored Vehicles, and Assault Rifles

A few facts you might have missed about the flow of military equipment and tactics to local law enforcement.

August 26 • 2:00 PM

How the Other 23 Percent Live

Almost one-fourth of all children in the United States are now living in poverty, an increase of three million kids since 2005.

August 26 • 12:00 PM

Why Sports Need Randomness

Noah Davis talks to David Sally, one of the authors of The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Soccer Is Wrong, about how uncertainty affects and enhances the games we watch.

August 26 • 10:00 AM

Honor: The Cause of—and Solution to—All of Society’s Problems

Recent research on honor culture, associated with the American South and characterized by the need to retaliate against any perceived improper conduct, goes way beyond conventional situations involving disputes and aggression.

Follow us

Subscribe Now

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

How Gay Men Feel About Aging

Coming to terms with growing old can be difficult in the gay community. But middle-aged men are inventing new strategies to cope.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.