15 March 2013 by Alice Bonasio

research miscellanea academic life  Science Show and tell

Back in 2006, Moshe Pritsker thought to use video technology to capture and transmit the intricacies of life science research, facilitating both the understanding and reproduction of experiments and techniques. This idea of “letting scientists look over each other’s shoulders” led to the launch of JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which is peer reviewed and PubMed-indexed. As a scientific journal, it has an editorial board and hierarchical structure, and ensures consistent quality of its video content by maintaining a network of professional videographers spread across major science centres. Scientists from leading institutions participate by submitting video articles that visualize their experiments.

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.

This month’s issue features an article by Connors et al of Massachusetts Eye & Ear and Harvard Medical School, who have developed an audio-based virtual environment simulator that uses audio cues and a video game context to build cognitive maps of three-dimensional spaces and help blind people improve their navigation skills. Other videos include a new non-invasive method being developed at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School for measuring brain metabolism in new-born babies, and a demonstration of how a biopolymer gel derived from polysaccharides found in brown algae can help patients with heart failure.

There are also other companies operating in the scientific video space, but what they offer is a looser user-generated environment. One of the most successful of those is SciVee, which is backed by the Public Library of Science and features videos that sit alongside traditional journal papers.

So is this the new frontier? Are we actually looking at a situation where most researchers will feel comfortable communicating with their peers using video? Has the scientific community truly given its blessing to such new approaches to science communication? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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One Response to “Science Show-and-tell”

  1. Matthew Watkins Says:

    I don’t know about a new frontier, it feels like a natural progression in the peer-review process that started with the Enlightenment. The idea of a standard scientific method was to write papers so that the experiments could be reproduced and the results verified. We’re just getting better at it, since (as you mentioned, Alice) paper-and-ink descriptions are nowhere near as effective as videos of the same techniques. I think the one-step-better approach would be to do demonstrations in a live video conference, so viewers could ask clarifying questions, but that has its own challenges and setbacks.