Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


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

Tags: , ,

If you would like to comment on this post, or anything else on Pacific Standard, visit our Facebook or Google+ page, or send us a message on Twitter. You can also follow our regular updates and other stories on both LinkedIn and Tumblr.

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

Follow us

Subscribe Now

Quick Studies

What Makes You Neurotic?

A new study gets to the root of our anxieties.

Fecal Donor Banks Are Possible and Could Save Lives

Defrosted fecal matter can be gross to talk about, but the benefits are too remarkable to tiptoe around.

How Junk Food Companies Manipulate Your Tongue

We mistakenly think that harder foods contain fewer calories, and those mistakes can affect our belt sizes.

What Steve Jobs’ Death Teaches Us About Public Health

Studies have shown that when public figures die from disease, the public takes notice. New research suggests this could be the key to reaching those who are most at risk.

Speed-Reading Apps Will Not Revolutionize Anything, Except Your Understanding

The one-word-at-a-time presentation eliminates the eye movements that help you comprehend what you're reading.

The Big One

One state—Pennsylvania—logs 52 percent of all sales, shipments, and receipts for the chocolate manufacturing industry. March/April 2014