JoVE journal’s videos take strain out of new science

Model is saving research from ‘scourge of irreproducibility’, says founder Moshe Pritsker

October 24, 2013

Video star: Pritsker’s journal unveils the little details that make the difference

The co-founder of a journal publishing video-based papers has said he is hoping to save research from “the scourge of irreproducibility”.

Every article published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Visualized Experiments is accompanied by a video. By showing rather than just telling peers about their methods, scientists make their work easier to reproduce, JoVE’s chief executive Moshe Pritsker told Times Higher Education.

Established in 2006, the journal publishes scientific methods papers from across the biological sciences as well as bioengineering, applied physics, chemistry and environmental science.

The model is more expensive than other forms of publication, with each video costing around $10,000 (£6,300) to produce on top of traditional journal costs, but advocates say it can save labs months that they would otherwise waste attempting and failing to reproduce experiments.

Scientists are supposed to be able to replicate each other’s work based on articles alone, but when following new methods, nine times out of 10 they fail, said Dr Pritsker, who before founding the journal was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School.

He recounted one incident from his own career: after being unable to replicate a method described in a paper by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, he was sent by his boss from the US to Scotland just to see the work first-hand.

“I said to myself: ‘It’s the 21st century – it should not be that to get the method you have to cross the ocean to see the grandmaster doing it,’” he said.

Interviewed ahead of the Internet Librarian International 2013 conference on 15 October, where a presentation on the journal was expected to feature, Dr Pritsker said the journal worked on the basis that video, unlike text, was able to show the “small but necessary” details you need to do experiments successfully.

Creating each video involves sending a film-maker from JoVE, one of 15 based around the world, to the original lab to film the experiment step by step, based on a script converted from the paper’s methodology. A team within the journal, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then edits the footage.

Passing the screen test

Despite the additional costs involved, JoVE exists on a subscription basis, albeit with an additional author fee of $2,400 an article, said Dr Pritsker. In the age of austerity, “someone will always think twice before deciding to publish”, but it nonetheless produces about 70 articles a month.

The journal has 550 institutional subscribers, including the universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, University College London and King’s College London. Despite initially making a loss it now turns a profit, he said.

The New England Journal of Medicine is among a handful of other journals using video within research papers, but Dr Pritsker predicted that the model will spread.

“Today the text-based method of scientific publishing is not sufficient to transfer the knowledge and that’s the root of the problem. Eventually I think video will become one of the main methods of scientific publishing,” he argued.

Dr Pritsker cited a 2012 study by former head of global cancer research Glenn Begley at biotech firm Amgen, which found that just 11 per cent of “landmark publications” over the previous decade had been reproducible in labs.

“That’s a shocking number,” Dr Pritsker added. “The definition of science is something that should be reproducible.”

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