Annual Meeting Reports

Will Video Kill the PDF Star?

In most scientific journals, publications of original research are rounded out by commentaries, letters to the editor, and even podcasts. Many articles are accompanied by data supplements, which might contain additional figures, raw data, or any other material that the authors think would be helpful to enhance the impact of their research. But what about video? Is there a home for it in scientific publication?

Gillian Shasby started this session by describing the process followed by the Journal of Neurosurgery for setting up a video program, which it calls the Video Atlas. The idea came from neurosurgeons who had been making videos of various types of surgery and needed a way to share them because they believed that they would make good training tools. The program took about 9 months to set up and has been fairly popular, with about 93,000 views in just over 2 years. (The Video Atlas is hosted on the American Association of Neurological Surgeons YouTube channel.) Shasby cautioned that it took longer than expected to work out the kinks in the video program and that setup costs have to be considered. Publishers would also be wise to consider whether they want to allow the ability to comment on videos; it takes time to monitor these carefully. Publishers considering adding a video program might want to start with just a few videos to see how well they are received before going all in with a video collection. Moshe Pritsker spoke next about the possibility that video could bring greater clarity to descriptions of scientific experiments. In scientific disciplines that rely heavily on laboratory experimentation, small changes in how an experiment is performed can make a big difference in the results. In those cases, text may not be adequate to explain the intricate steps involved in obtaining a specific result, and video can be valuable in demonstrating how to perform an experiment properly.

Pritsker cofounded the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) in December 2006. It was the first video journal to be indexed in PubMed. According to its website, JoVE “is devoted to publishing scientific research in a visual format to help researchers overcome two of the biggest challenges facing the scientific research community today: poor reproducibility and the time and labor intensive nature of learning new experimental techniques.”

The videos in JoVE follow the same format as a normal research article. They each start with an introduction and move on through methods, results, and discussion. Even the review process is similar to that of a print journal. Authors are asked to submit a manuscript, which is peer-reviewed. The journal uses a network of videographers in major cities around the world. Once an article is accepted, a videographer is sent to record the experiment in the authors’ laboratory. A typical recording may last several hours, but it is edited down so that the final video is 10 to 15 minutes long.

So far, JoVE has produced and published more than 3,000 video articles in a variety of disciplines (such as neuroscience and bioengineering). These video articles were filmed in laboratories of research universities in North America and Europe. The JoVE website received more than 6 million views in 2013, and its list of institutional subscribers includes nearly 700 research universities, colleges, and biopharma companies.

Video has great potential to clarify scientific communication. But Pritsker cautioned that although video is useful for demonstrating techniques in surgery or biochemical experiments, it may not be as useful in other fields, such as mathematics and computer science. And it does not apply to more theoretical subjects.

In scientific communication, authors need to be as accurate as possible, and readers need specificity if they are to understand and reproduce results. And when words fail to adequately describe what researchers need, video can often bridge that gap.