YouTube for researchers: A film says more than a thousand words
So, you’ve always wanted to see how embryonic stem cells are actually frozen, or how, from this, researchers are able to develop a cell culture? Or, you want to repeat an experiment by another scientist, but it simply doesn’t want to work out? You’re looking for a solution to a problem, but nobody in your laboratory can crack it? To all of these questions, there is now an answer: The Internet. In the wake of freely accessible online databases, online encyclopedias and online diaries, researchers can now upload their own films and scientific experiments on to the net. The platform myjove.com, which functions much like the web phenomenon YouTube.com, is another step forwards in the use of the ‘Open Access’ philosophy in research.
As you read this, the English-language Internet platform, full name Journal of Visualized Experiments (Jove) is still making its first steps into the online realm: at the beginning of November there were nine videos to watch, ranging from experiments with transgenic mice to cell cultures with yeast bacteria and the dissection of a fruit fly - all posted by friends and acquaintances of Moshe Pritsker. With this site, the Postdoc from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, wants, above all, to help researchers who are hoping to repeat an experiment from another scientist – and, for some reason, are not able to succeed. The idea behind myjove.com is simple: A film says more than thousand words. Pritsker and joint founder Nikita Bernstein were initially inspired by the video-hosting site youtube.com. Using this site, anyone can upload their films for others to watch - the structure and technology are merely provided for you. myjove.com functions along similar lines, being made up of user-generated content.
How do I extract the genetic material from the larva of a fruit fly? Researchers from Princeton demonstrate how on myjove.com. see the video Source: myjove.com
Most of all on this site, young researchers can find more detailed suggestions and tips, particularly since, as well as the film, the experiment protocols can usually also be downloaded. This being early days, some of the site’s links aren’t working properly, but Pritsker and Bernstein are nevertheless already considering upgrading their platform. As they report on the site, on a long-term basis the portal is ultimately aiming at cooperating with scientific archives such as Pubmed, which should provide yet more motivation for researchers to upload their creations, usually small QuickTime or Flash videos. They are also considering a professional peer-review system, which would help to guarantee the scientific quality of the submitted films. To date, myjove.com is principally a voluntary project, which has benefited most from the contributions from the founders’ friends, many of whom have a background in renowned US research institutes such as Princeton and Harvard. These volunteers also occupy a scientific advisory role, watching each film before it is posted.
An online encyclopedia for chemists and biologists: OpenWetWare
The founders are now hoping that word will spread quickly, as it did for instance with the OpenWetWare.org (OWW) platform. This website, inspired by the extremely popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, also originally began as project by a single research group of synthetic biologists from the renowned American Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who were looking for a means of exchanging working methods. The site kicked off one year ago with a Wikipedia-influenced approach to explain scientific methods from chemistry and biology. Alongside, groups or single researchers can introduce themselves and their projects and, en route, find like-minded people. Videos also have a place here - above all the not entirely serious Lab Video Tour (mood music curtesy of Britney Spears) is highly popular among the website visiters and can also be found on youtube.com.
Researcher as DJ: an alternative tour of the Laboratory.see the video. Source: OpenWetWare.org
However, German scientists seem to be somewhat cautious about this type of Internet venture. At this moment, alongside a number of American, English and French working groups, only one German working group is represented on OWW: that of the Anesthesist Gregor Theilmeierfrom the Münster University Clinic. "We were looking for a platform which would allow us to exchange and communicate online, when one of my Postdocs came across OWW ", remembers Theilmeier, who has already been able to make use of the first protocols on the website. Now, together with colleagues, and in the framework of the German society for Anesthesiology and Intensive medicine (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Anästhesiologie und Intensivmedizin, DGAI), he is in the process of constructing a German-language platform, also following the Wiki principle, to facilitate the members’ ability to exchange ideas and materials over the Internet.
German researchers make life hard for themselves on the World Wide Web
The many scientists who have created their own blogs as forums for discussion, and where any interested party can comment and participate, are pursuing similar goals. Whereas this is extremely common in the English-language science world and is extensively used (e.g. under http://bioinfblog.blogspot.com/ or more information) German researchers have been slow off the ground, or write anonymously, as Roland Krause, researcher at the Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, told Nature magazine in an interview last year (Vol. 438, S. 548-549). "Many fear their superiors will consider it a waste of time, or even dangerous", he said, referring to possible rivals who could obtain crucial scientific and commercial details via the blogs. "In many institutes it is simply too risky to discuss work that is still in progress", Krause is cited in Nature (Vol. 438, S. 548-549).
New study: Open access brings research forward
However, Karim Lakhani, Assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, has undertaken studies showing that the open access principle in scientific exchange does not necessarily represent a dead-end or danger to researchers. As he described in his article ‘The Value of Openness in Scientific Problem Solving’ (more information here), an open approach makes real sense if you want to solve difficult problems. In his study, he observed the research departments of 26 companies in ten countries over a period of four and a half years, and how they worked altogether on a total of 166 different scientific problems with an open access approach. They all followed the principle, described by Lakhani as ‘broadcasting’, whereby they sent out their problems to others outside of their company.
The results were surprising: A third of the problems were solved in this way and, in the majority, by people who otherwise had little to do with the field in question. So, for instance, an American Biotech company on the hunt for a new DNA sequencing technique was unable to solve the problem, even after months of the most intensive research. So, the management decided to advertise for a solution and offer the winner an attractive sum of money. Within four weeks, nearly 600 scientists from around world had taken part in the competition, with the winning solution being provided by a Finn who worked in an entirely different field.
Open Access as a chance to encourage really innovative ideas
In another example taken from Lakhani’s study, a pharma company turned to the ‘Innocentive’ platform to shed some light on unexplainable toxicological data from a clinical study. By including scientists from the Innocentive pool, all from outside of the company, it turned out that it wasn’t a toxicological problem at all but was actually related to protein structure. "Alone, the researchers in the company would not have thought to look in alternative directions for a solution. Previously, they had only asked other toxicology experts”, said Lakhani in an interview with HBS Working Knowledge, going on to plead that Open Access should be seen as an opportunity for really innovative ideas to emerge, and that scientists from different research fields should be recruited more often into problem-solving strategies.
Naturally the legal difficulties are also an issue. "Many companies are fearful of showing their hand and are afraid for their intellectual property and the existence of their company as a whole. But practice shows that even if current problems or their solutions are published in such a way that the eventual strategy is evident, it is nevertheless very difficult for others to apply it in exactly the same manner ", says Lakhani, at the same time calling for a readjustment of current patenting and licensing strategies.
Scientific organizations open up to Open Access
However, so far, few scientists have wanted to adhere to an Open Review Process. Nature magazine is currently conducting a test, in which researchers can decide whether their publication will be reviewed by an open online process. So far, only 3% have chosen this option, and there is clearly a fear of exposing findings to public, scientific appraisal.
The fact that publicly funded research can profit from an Internet-based Open Access movement is something that has also been recognized by the prominent scientific organizations. In 2003, the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Scientific Knowledge” was published. To date, it has been signed by more than 180 organizations. It requires, among other things, that scientific work financed by these organizations should be made freely accessible and that everyone should be granted the right to re-use the work and the results obtained, whilst giving credit to the source. In the meantime, the adoption of these self-archiving approaches on an institutional level, or on individual researcher’s homepages, are permitted by more than 70 per cent of scientific magazines, and even magazines such as Nature or Science give permission for the final manuscripts (so-called preprints) to be made available in such a way.