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Scientific journals publish videos to make research and experimental results more transparent and educational

The growing use of images in the place of the written word, which has given rise to the creation of video channels on YouTube (at the cost of internet blogs), is also beginning to be reflected in scientific communication. Recent years have seen an increase in academic journals that publish video articles—scientific papers that, besides the text and occasional photos and graphics, are accompanied by videos that usually demonstrate the details of procedures performed in the study. Titles released by the Dutch publisher Elsevier have exclusive sections for video articles, such as the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology. The journal The Anatomical Record, by American publisher Wiley, has been releasing video articles since 2014. “Conducting a laboratory experiment is a physical act. Videos are able to more efficiently show how a method is applied,” said Russian biomedical researcher Moshe Pritsker, one of the pioneers of this publishing model, in an interview with Pesquisa FAPESP.

In 2006, following a failed attempt to replicate a stem cell study at Princeton University where he was working, Pritsker created the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), with the aim of visually demonstrating what researchers do to achieve their results. “Videos help you perceive subtleties, such as the angle at which a Petri dish should be held, which is sometimes crucial for an experiment to work.” Pritsker started investing in video articles as a strategy for increasing the availability of detailed information and assisting other scientists to replicate research findings.

After Pritsker’s experience, other periodicals of this kind were released. And conventional journals have also opened the way to this type of publishing. One example is Fungal Genetics and Biology (FGB), which has been in circulation since the 1970s. In 2015, they began to publish video articles in a special section called The Dynamic Fungus. In the view of American biologist Nancy Keller, FGB’s editor in chief, the main advantage of videos is to give dynamic motion to images that are usually viewed as static pictures. “As the tools for studying cell biology have been improving, we’ve realized that moving images of living cells capture fungal action better than photographs,” says Keller, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States.

The appeal of videos for scientific communication is not exactly new. Prestigious journals, including Nature, Science, and Cell, have long provided audiovisual content, called video abstracts, in which authors briefly explain the goals and findings of their studies. Cell, for example, has a YouTube channel, the Cell Press, for weekly releases of some of the principal research published in the journal.

reproduction In a video article published in 2018 at JoVE, biologists from three universities in Spain demonstrate how to collect and analyze sediment samples to estimate the accumulation of nitrous oxide at the bottom of a lakereproduction

The advent of video articles lends itself to more than just facilitating the comprehension and reproducibility of research, notes biologist and science communicator Átila Iamarino, of São Paulo. “Publicizing research using graphics resources or animations to explain complex concepts helps attract the attention of the public and journalists,” explains Iamarino, host of a YouTube science channel called Nerdology. “Researchers who successfully disseminate their work have a greater ability to obtain funding. The academic environment is increasingly competitive, especially in major countries like the United States, and researchers use all the strategies available to them to compete for resources.”

There are also examples of videos being used as didactic material, produced and provided by periodicals. In addition to publishing video articles, the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE) has a division dedicated to science education. Their educational videos offer classes and orientation for students and laboratory technicians. One of them explains how to operate a centrifuge, a machine that’s widely used for separating samples in labs. Access to pedagogical content, as well as the video articles, is restricted, granted only by subscription. JoVE also charges video article authors from US$1,200 to $2,400 to cover expenses for the teams of videographers, screenwriters, and editors the magazine hires to produce the videos with the researchers.

Authors can also pay an extra fee of US$1,800 for their work to be released as open access. More than one thousand universities, institutions, and companies have subscribed to JoVE. “Brazil accounts for more than 15% of the total subscriptions in Latin America, and that number is growing,” says Pritsker. The journal currently publishes a monthly average of 100 video articles in areas such as medicine, chemistry, and bioengineering, and its site has received over six million hits per month. In total, JoVE has published 43 articles by Brazilian authors.

One of them is Thiago Cabral, a medical doctor and professor at the Cassiano Antônio de Moraes University Hospital, which is connected to the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES). He participated in a study, in partnership with researchers from the United States, that analyzed protein biomarkers in the retina, the region of the eye responsible for forming the images sent to the brain. Given the variety of techniques and processes involved, the authors were interested in the idea of publishing a video article. “The results, the discussion, and the conclusions were presented as text. The ‘sweat and tears’ of the research, i.e., the dissection and collection of distinct fractions of the human retina, is in the video,” Cabral says. Protein analysis using the mass spectrometry technique is also presented in the film.

“Videos can more efficiently show how a method is applied,” says Moshe Pritsker

The video was recorded in a lab at the University of Iowa in the United States. The images were captured and edited by professionals provided by JoVE, which has a network of videographers in 28 countries. A team is often organized shortly after the article goes through the peer review process. Videos are produced for all manuscripts accepted for publication. There are cases where the videography team is unnecessary, when the researchers themselves are expert at filming and editing techniques.

Launched in 2014 by Elsevier in partnership with the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, the journal VideoGIE is one of the few exclusively open-access periodicals dedicated to video articles. It aims to inform doctors, patients, and students about new techniques and procedures. Many of the videos are from endoscopy exams, in which a thin, flexible tube with a built-in micro-camera is moved through the digestive system. The written part of the papers are no more than three pages long, says Dr. Everson Luiz de Almeida Artifon, a professor at the School of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (FM-USP), and associate editor of VideoGIE. “It’s a publishing model that’s on the rise, especially in the medical field, where professionals often don’t have time to read long scientific articles,” Artifon observes. “Recently, publishers have adopted various strategies to diversify their revenue streams, and a model based on video articles can add value to their business.”

There are, of course, obstacles to distributing this type of publication. One of them is the difficulty of identifying the topics of the video content using internet search tools. “In the case of texts, it’s easy to search for words or expressions contained in an article. With the videos, this isn’t possible,” Iamarino explains. JoVE is in the principal international databases such as PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science, which increases its reach, but internet searches can only track the texts of the video articles. Another challenge, says Moshe Pritsker, is encouraging study authors to produce the images. “They usually want to publish their results as quickly as possible. And making a high-quality video requires production time and cooperation from researchers in an activity they aren’t accustomed to,” the researcher adds.

There is evidence that the model is already being appropriated by predatory journals, those which agree to publish articles without doing the proper peer review, most often merely in exchange for payment. In March, the Ottawa Citizen news organization in Canada exposed three predatory journals that agreed to publish an outlandish finding in evolution: the discovery of a defective species, the “Florida Man,” which supposedly proved that the evolutionary process can work in reverse. The supporting material was a video, a fictitious piece done with humor, in which a journalist posing as a scientist dumps a bottle with a blue liquid in the snow and presents graphics that are complete nonsense.