If I could reclaim all the time I’ve spent talking about the article of the future in the last few months, I could probably – I don’t know –watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Extended Edition. Twice. I have to say, I’m not sure I was any the wiser for all these discussions, but something I saw this week at UKSG has helped me clarify what a, if not the, article of the future might look like.
The organisation producing these articles is the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), the only PubMed listed video journal in the life sciences. I must say, it’s pretty nifty. Articles are submitted as text and sent out for peer review. If they’re accepted, the JoVE video team get to work. A PhD-qualified scientist/director produces a script, which is sent back to the authors for review and validation, and then filmed by high-quality videographers. The video is returned to JoVE for editing and post-production (including, in some cases, whizzy 3D), then sent out for a second round of peer review and then, finally, published. The whole business takes 6-9 months, making it roughly comparable with other life science journals.
Now, lots of that sounds really Star Trek. Video! 3D! But what I think makes this model so compelling is that the innovation exists, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the science. Video is a great way to explain complicated techniques and procedures, and many JoVE publications are focused on methods. (This presents some problems in terms of citation measures, but that’s a separate issue.) The results seem impressive: reproducibility of research is a major problem in life sciences, with a 70% failure rate being fairly common in commercial labs, but JoVE has reduced this to around 35% when scientists use their video articles.
The insistence on peer review at several stages of the process also shows the underlying commitment to research outcomes. Apparently the peer review of the final video is a relatively recent addition, done in order to qualify for an impact factor rating, but to this laywoman the videos didn’t look like promotional tools; they certainly looked like Proper Science. And their insistence on underlying text, published alongside the video article, suggests that the video is seen as an enhancement, rather than a replacement, for traditional content.
The journal’s also exploring Web 2.0 functionality for its video articles, allowing readers to mark points in the video and link them to other relevant content. Again, this reflects a desire to improve the value of the articles, so that they sit within their scholarly context. I’ll be interested to see, though, whether researchers use this functionality, as studies tend to suggest that they’re not too keen on enhancing/marking up content for others to see.
As you might expect, the cost of producing a JoVE article is staggeringly high, and their prices undoubtedly reflect this; for a new, young journal, they are pitching themselves alongside some fairly big hitters. That said, the time saved by researchers who were trying, and failing, to reproduce experiments might justify the cost, especially since prices are fixed at the time of subscription so there are unlikely to be year-on-year rises: JoVE are certainly trying to make themselves affordable. Furthermore, this money question is one that all ‘future articles’ are probably going to have to answer: when you’re doing things in new ways, creating your own infrastructure rather than outsourcing it to established intermediary businesses, how can you become self-sustaining?
If this is going to be an article of the future, the scholarly communications system is going to have to adapt to accommodate it. I’ve mentioned the issue of citations – that’s a problem that we’re aware of in all disciplines with complex technical methods to explain, and which researchers are already trying to address. There are also questions about the skills needed to peer review and edit a video article – are we training those researchers and professional editors to work within the boundaries of a non-textual medium? I look forward to seeing what kinds of answers JoVE and other ‘new’ journal formats come up with….