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Video-based science journal makes its mark, by JoVE!

Online journal’s vision of scientific publishing is as much YouTube as test tube.


A U.S.-based video journal is looking to overthrow text as the definitive medium for scientific publishing in the 21st century. Moshe Pritsker, co-founder and CEO of the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), said text-based articles fall short as a vehicle for efficiently communicating research protocols between scientists.

“It’s a really typical problem in science: you read the paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal coming from a top research university and you cannot reproduce what they wrote there,” said Dr. Pritsker from JoVE’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “It’s really problematic because that’s oftentimes the only way to advance with your work. This is a problem that video publications can solve.”

Dr. Pritsker hit upon the idea for creating the first video-based, peer-reviewed science journal in 2003 as a PhD student at Princeton University. His supervisor had instructed him to reproduce a newly published experiment on embryonic stem cells. He couldn’t do it. Neither could his more experienced lab mates. To rectify the situation, the supervisor sent him to Edinburgh to learn the experimental technique straight from the source. It was on his way back from the two-week trip that Dr. Pritsker said he was struck by the amount of wasted time and resources that went into this process. “I asked myself, ‘Is this how the transfer of information is supposed to work in the 21st century?’”

Launched in 2006, JoVE publishes high-quality, how-to videos of current scientific research from around the world. To date, JoVE has published more than 3,500 step-by-step demonstrations under nine different categories. More than 900 institutions have contributed to the journal, including the University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, McGill University, Harvard University and John Hopkins University.

Each video is accompanied by downloadable text versions of the article, materials lists and citations; a public comments section; and a metrics section containing charts of cumulative pageviews and top referrers to the article, and a table listing the number of pageviews by institution. Shortly after publication, the article gets indexed in academic databases such as PubMed.

While JoVE accepts unsolicited manuscripts, the majority of its content comes through contributions solicited by the journal’s editorial team. Denise Wernike, a PhD candidate in the department of biology at Concordia University, hadn’t heard of the journal until someone at JoVE contacted her supervisor, Alisa Piekny, looking for “novel” research in the area of cell division. Ms. Wernike said that once she looked into their request, she became intrigued by the platform’s potential.

“Let’s say you’re at a conference and you hear a researcher talk about this essay that he or she developed,” she said. “Then you go to the literature and you find yourself the protocol – it’s usually like 10-pages and very tedious [to follow].”

Earlier this month, Ms. Wernike, Dr. Piekny and researcher associate Chloe van Oostende published a paper with JoVE called “Visualizing Neuroblast Cytokinesis During C. elegans Embryogenesis.” The video article runs just under 10 minutes and demonstrates how to visually capture the process of cell division in the deep tissue of a late-developing worm embryo. From start to finish, Ms. Wernike said the publishing process with JoVE took about nine months, compared to a minimum 12 months with a conventional journal, and involved far fewer hoops to jump through.

“Everything they proposed and suggested was feasible to put into motion,” Ms. Wernike said. Her 20-page manuscript was edited in-house at JoVE and treated to a single round of peer review by three scientists. It was then crafted into a script and sent to a local videographer, who contacted the research team to coordinate a one-day shoot. JoVE staffers then took just over three months to edit the video and post it on the journal’s website.

The past two years have been a time of major growth at JoVE. Total subscription sales have gone up by 57 percent and now 620 universities subscribe. Subscription rates vary depending on the size of the institution, but Dr. Pritsker said large research institutions pay US $5,000 annually per video category they subscribe to. This spike in interest – and funds – has allowed the journal to publish 70 videos a month, up from 50 in 2012 (they’ve also hired 30 new people, bringing total personnel to 100). And in response to requests from instructors, last year JoVE introduced a new science education database, which features a collection of videos demonstrating basic lab techniques.

Ultimately, Dr. Pritsker wants to offer a subscription category for “every experimental science.” He also wonders what other disciplines my benefit from the approach, citing economics, psychology and sociology as possible candidates for the JoVE treatment.

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