“With videos, you can now describe
dynamic phenomena which are simply
too complex, too unusual, too full
of information to do in words and
If you go back 20 years, “you had to be able to describe your science
in words, or tables, or in plots, in two-dimensions on a piece of paper,”
says Dr. Whitesides. “With videos, you can now describe dynamic phe-
nomena which are simply too complicated, too complex, too unusual, too
full of information to do in words and two-dimensional pictures.”
Dr. Sanders, a Canadian pioneer and proponent of video abstracts,
says it was this new frontier of scientific visualization of quantum phys-
ics that spurred him to encourage the New Journal of Physics to launch its
video abstracts in the spring of 2011. The open-access, online-only journal
jumped at the opportunity. The journal “has always strived to take advan-
tage of the online medium by discarding barriers that are traditionally
associated with print,” says Tim Smith, its senior publisher.
Wiley-Blackwell journal History Compass trumpeted the headline “Third
video abstract posted!” in February 2011, the initiative went dark.
“I’m terribly disappointed that it didn’t get more traction. I think the
potential for the genre is immense,” says Felice Lifshitz, the journal’s editor
and a professor in women’s studies and religious studies at the University
“The effort never stopped. All authors who publish in History Compass
are automatically offered the opportunity to post a video abstract of the
essay. But after a few pioneers, no one has wanted to take the plunge.”
Nonetheless, with thousands of examples worldwide, video abstracts
have emerged as their own YouTube genre. As represented by the first
two demonstration videos on the Canadian Science Publishers website,
it has two technical sub-genres, reflecting the mix of marketing and aca-
demic communication forces fuelling video abstracts.
The first video demo highlights a study by York University associate
professor Jennifer Kuk on how Canadians estimate serving sizes from the
Canada Food Guide. It’s a two-minute, professionally produced, news-style
clip that would fit seamlessly on a TV newscast. The video is comparable
to Cell Press video abstracts, which numbered more than 250 at the end of
2012. These pioneering efforts were launched three years earlier to bolster
Elsevier’s flagship journals and are among the slickest online – the scientific
abstract equivalent of music videos.
Yet it’s the second demonstration video on the Canadian site that
captures the look and feel of most video abstracts, and it remains the
most accessible type for those who want to try making one themselves.
It’s a do-it-yourself, Skype-like video shot in the professor’s office, the
back lighting creating an incandescent halo around her head. She reads
quickly, summarizing the details of the paper, staring at the camera, at
times looking like a deer caught in headlights.
Even though this particular video could act as a demo of technical
errors to avoid (back lighting and reading a text), its focus on a personalized, unpolished, several minute-long story is the wave of the future,