Ocean 180 Video Abstract Challenge

This post is to let readers know about a contest to find the best video abstract describing marine research. The Ocean 180 Video Challenge, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is looking to enhance the communication skills of ocean scientists and to provide educational opportunities for students.

Contestants will submit a 3-minute video that summarizes recent, peer-reviewed research (published between January 1, 2010 – December 11, 2015). The video abstract should highlight the relevance, meaning, and implications of the research to persons outside their discipline.

Videos will be screened initially by a panel of scientists and communication experts, but the winners will be selected by 6th-8th graders from all over the globe. Ocean 180 expects that over 50,000 student judges will participate in this year’s Challenge. The top three video abstracts will receive cash prizes of $3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place.

The program is accepting entries until December 11, 2015 (11:59 pm PST). All entries must be submitted online at www.ocean180.org

Here is one of the winning videos from a previous Ocean 180 Challenge:

Ocean 180 has some tips for making a winning entry. If you need more help making your video abstract, check out my tutorials.


A Site to Post Your Video Abstracts

I’ve written previously about what video abstracts are, how they can influence visibility of your research papers, and how to create a video abstract from start to finish. The beauty of video abstracts is that they are freely accessible on media-sharing platforms, unlike many journal articles locked behind paywalls. As I’ve said before, people cannot cite your work if they are unaware of it.

One of the issues I touched upon in describing video abstracts is the fact that few journals offer the option for authors to submit and display a video abstract. I think this is slowly changing as more publishers see the value of video in making scientific articles published in journals more discoverable.

In the meantime, what is an author to do if their journal of choice lacks this option?

As I suggested previously, an author can always post their video abstract on their own website, perhaps in their list of publications. Instead of a boring list of pubs, visitors to your professional website will see a video player with a visual abstract explaining your paper. There is now another alternative: WeShareScience, a website that allows users to create a video abstract (with an online tool) or to upload one created elsewhere. When you visit the site, you see a Pinterest-type platform with “pinned videos”, which can be grouped onto boards, which organize videos by topic. There is a browse option to see videos organized by discipline or topic. There are social media options allowing a visitor to “follow” a researcher as well as to share a video with others. Here’s a screenshot:


The site was created by Ryan Watkins, an associate professor at George Washington University in Washington D.C., to facilitate teaching students in his courses. He wanted to use video-based, rather than text-based, assignments to assess student learning. That is, he would assign students the task of creating a video abstract about research they were reading in class, and he could assess how well they understood it by the video they produced. Of course, it also taught them an essential communication tool that will be needed by 21st century scientists. The WeShareScience platform was created to allow students to more easily create video abstracts and for him to easily aggregate and organize the student videos. The WeShareScience site is also open to anyone wishing to create a board to display their own research or that of someone else. Ryan has written an article, published on the Wiley Exchanges blog, about his approach to student learning. Another article on the Wiley Exchanges blog by Victoria Dickerson focuses on using video abstracts to enhance the visibility and usability of journal articles.

Check out WeShareScience and see what you think. The availability of such platforms will likely increase in the future, so that there may be other options to promote the visibility of your research. However, I do recommend that you submit your video abstract to the journal (if they provide that option), since research by Scott Spicer shows that a majority of views occur on the journal’s website compared to views on YouTube. However, you may reach additional viewers, especially those outside your field, by posting a video abstract on a media-sharing platform (YouTube, Figshare). If you know of other platforms where researchers can post video abstracts, please leave a comment.

Do Video Abstracts Increase the Impact of Scholarly Articles?

A recent paper published in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication by Scott Spicer attempts to get at this question. I’ve been waiting for someone to conduct just such an analysis.

Most scientists hope that their scholarly publications will be read and cited by others. The more citations, the greater the purported impact on the field of study. At least, that’s the thinking of people who use such metrics to gauge a scientist’s impact. Often, however, a paper does not begin to accrue citations for a couple of years after publication—mainly due to the lag time between the cited and citing publications.

In the meantime, your paper could be making an impact on colleagues and students who read, download, discuss, and share it. That can only happen, however, if your paper gets noticed early and is readily discoverable by those seeking information on your paper’s topic. Higher visibility may lead to a wider readership and potentially more citations. Although other factors play into whether a paper is cited or not, it definitely will not be cited if people are not aware of it.

One way to make a scholarly article more visible online is to create a visual or video abstract, which essentially acts like an advertisement leading people to the technical paper. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a video abstract is, Scott provides a definition:

“a video presentation corresponding to a specific science research article, which typically communicates the background of a study, methods used, study results and potential implications through the use of images, audio, video clips, and text.”

So basically, a video abstract is a summary of a paper but instead of text, audio-visual media are used to deliver the information.

What are the Potential Benefits of a Video Abstract?

Video abstracts may have a number of benefits for the author and for the journal. Greater visibility for the paper and the authors is usually the reason journals have implemented this approach and why authors bother to make video abstracts. Authors who produce video abstracts also find that the video-development process helps them in their research by giving them a new perspective or by raising new questions. I’ve personally found this to be the case. A third benefit is that video abstracts can be claimed as a project deliverable or a way to meet the “broader impacts” criterion required by some funding agencies (e.g., the U.S. National Science Foundation)—thus enhancing a PI’s ability to acquire grant funding.

Do Video Abstracts Affect Usage of an Article?

I’ve suggested previously in this blog that video abstracts (and other visual media) can help to raise the visibility of a scholarly article. There are few data, however, to support or refute the claim that a video abstract will influence use of the corresponding article, evidenced by more views, downloads, and perhaps citations. Scott’s study provides a review of the use of video abstracts by science journals and uses one journal—New Journal of Physics (NJP)—to address two questions:

  1. Are views of a video abstract on a mass communication platform (YouTube) similar to views on the journal’s platform?
  2. Is there a relationship between views of a video abstract and views/downloads of the corresponding scholarly article?

The results showed a positive correlation between video abstract views on NJP’s YouTube channel and those on the journal’s website (r = 0.56, p < 0.001, n = 56) as well as a positive correlation between video views and article readership activity (views/downloads) (YouTube: r = 0.49, p < 0.001, n = 56; NJP platform: r = 0.76, p < 0.001, n = 56). Although there was a positive correlation between the two variables in all cases, it was not possible to say with certainty which factor was the cause and which the effect.

Most of the video abstract views occurred on the NJP website (51,476 total views) compared to YouTube (8,715 views), which likely means that the majority of users of video abstracts were scientists and students. I find the >50,000 video views of 56 video abstracts on the NJP website to be pretty impressive; it showed that a lot of people were interested enough to watch them (but I wonder how this compares to views of the text abstract—did people look at both text and video abstracts or did they mostly view the video?) Also, the additional views on the YouTube channel suggested that the video abstracts were reaching an audience that might otherwise not be aware of the research.

The article was unable to determine if posting video abstracts to YouTube raises the impact of a scholarly article. For example, although only 5% of papers published in NJP had a video abstract, a higher percentage (36%) of the 25 top articles (based on reader usage) had an associated video abstract. This result could be due to an effect of video abstracts on article visibility or could simply reflect the greater likelihood of an author of a top-ranked article to produce a video abstract. Popular authors may be more creative or may have a larger budget to support video production compared to other authors.

Are Video Abstracts Worthwhile?

In the end, we are still left with uncertainty about the effect of video abstracts on article visibility and its overall impact. I’m not disappointed, however. That effect, in my view, is not the most important motivation for creating a video abstract. I’ve found that video/visual abstracts allow me to present complex topics in ways that are not possible with text (or with static images) alone. Personally, the use of audio-visual media has allowed me to combine science information in new and interesting ways, which I find personally fun and satisfying.

Some physical and biological phenomena can only be fully appreciated by watching it; video provides an opportunity for a scientist to share their observations directly with a reader/viewer. Methods involving difficult or complicated protocols or instruments may not be accurately repeated without a video to show exactly how the technique is done. By producing a video showing the methods, a scientist can better ensure that other scientists can replicate their study (and hopefully confirm their findings) (see opinion piece by JoVE CEO, Moshe Pritsker).

In other words, video abstracts allow the author a greater flexibility in presenting scientific information and the reader an opportunity to explore a topic in a way they cannot with a text-based article.

Although authors are often concerned about citations, these only track impact of a paper on the scientific field. Citations cannot gauge the broader impact of a study on society and public understanding of science, which is also important. Freely accessible video abstracts are discoverable by search engines and thus reach far beyond the scientific peers of the author—to inform colleagues in other fields as well as important end-users of the information (e.g., resource managers, health-care workers, and the general public).

A video abstract can count as an information product separate from the article and may be an acceptable deliverable for a research project. As I mentioned above, such informative and accessible communications are not only appreciated by funding agencies (NSF), they can be used to document a PI’s past contributions to broader science communication in grant proposals.

For students and young scientists just starting out, video abstracts can serve to show off communication skills to potential employers as well as to raise their visibility within a scientific field and beyond.

Are Video Abstracts Credible?

In closing, I would like to address a common criticism of video abstracts—and that is that they are substandard versions of a peer-reviewed article. I have colleagues who question the usefulness or credibility of such videos because they are not peer reviewed. Others say that a video cannot possibly present scientific information in the same rigorous way that a text-based article can. I often get some variation of these comments during talks about science communication. Here is how I address these critics:

First of all, video abstracts are not meant to duplicate or replace scholarly articles. They are designed to augment and enhance the understanding of a technical article and to raise its online visibility. People usually read the text abstract to determine whether to download and read the full paper; that excerpt simply provides a preview of what the reader will find. The same is true of a video abstract, except that it provides content in the form of images and sounds that are not necessarily found in the text article.

Second, video abstracts usually are based on information that has already been peer-reviewed and do not necessarily need to undergo a second peer-review (although it is advisable to have the video reviewed for accuracy and other features specific to audio-visual media). In addition, there are videos and video abstracts that are peer-reviewed (see JoVE). Videos produced by government science agencies also typically go through some type of review, usually quite rigorous. For example, most of the science videos I’ve published were put through an extensive peer and policy review by the science agency I worked for before they were released to the public.

In summary, video abstracts serve a specific purpose and can be as credible as a text-based abstract.

Even so, video abstracts are still a relatively new feature in the scientific publishing world. Understanding how they affect visibility and impact of a scholarly article will require more time and research.

The bottom line for me is that video abstracts are a creative and useful way to add value to my research products.


JLSCMedia. 2014. Exploring video abstracts in science journals: an overview and case study. YouTube video: http://youtu.be/7t1pLfedLRY

Pritsker, M. 2013. The Scientist. News and Opinion. http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38082/title/Opinion–Video-Saved-the-Scientific-Publication/

Spicer, S. (2014). Exploring Video Abstracts in Science Journals: An Overview and Case Study. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 2(2):eP1110. http://dx.doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1110

8 Steps to a Good Video Abstract: Embeddable Slide Show

More and more journals are publishing video abstracts to call attention to articles and the researchers. Even if your journal does not support video abstracts, you can still create and post one yourself, which will help raise your paper’s online visibility. And, as we all know, the more people who are aware of our work, the more likely it will be cited.

So I decided to create a slide show that covers eight basic steps for creating a good video abstract. This slide show is available on slideshare.net, where anyone can get the embed code to install on their website or share with others.

See below for how the player looks:

Coming Soon to a Journal Near You: Video Abstracts

[note that this is an updated version of an article I wrote for another blog]

pointatcomputer copyA relatively new trend at some science journals is the publication of video abstracts alongside the written article—in which the authors explain their findings on camera. Video abstracts are typically short (3-5 minutes) and often are freely accessible, either on the journal’s website or on a video-sharing site.

What are the advantages for an author? By using video, authors can explain their work in a way that they are not able to do in print, such as showing footage of their experimental methods, field sites, and/or study organisms. The authors are able to provide a more personal explanation of their findings and put their work into a broader perspective. By posting a video on the internet, an author can raise the visibility of their research because search engines rank video high in comparison with text-only descriptions (especially if it’s the only video out there on the topic). People searching for information on a topic will be more likely to find their video abstract, and the video will lead viewers to the technical paper. The more people who are aware of the work, the more likely they are to cite it. Also, if the video is published on YouTube, the authors are free to embed their video abstract on their own websites, something they often cannot do with their journal publication because of copyright restrictions.

Another important point, often overlooked by authors, is that they can reach a broader audience with a video abstract. For example, a video abstract may reach end-users such as resource managers or health-care workers who might not read the technical paper but would watch a five-minute video. Colleagues in other fields might also find your video interesting even though they would not read your paper. For example, as a scientist, I’m interested in keeping up with major discoveries in other fields. Although I’m not likely to read a technical paper about the Higgs boson, I would watch a video that explains what’s been discovered and what it means. In other words, a video abstract can greatly expand your audience beyond fellow scientists who read your journal articles.

A video abstract that explains your work in everyday language also can be used to show the “broader impacts” of your work, for example, in a grant proposal to a government funding agency such as NSF or NIH. NSF, for example, requires proposers to show both the technical merit as well as the broader impact of the proposed activity on society. Videos that are accessible and understandable by a diverse audience meet the second criterion and serve as documentation of a scientist’s previous contributions in this regard.

What are the advantages for the reader? Video can provide a richer, more interactive experience for a reader. Anyone can access such media without having a subscription or paying a fee—unlike the journal article locked behind a paywall. For non-specialist readers, a video in which the authors explain their work in everyday language would provide greater insight, spark their curiosity about the topic, and possibly encourage them to learn more about it.

What if my journal does not publish video abstracts? Not that many journals support publication of video abstracts. However, this should not stop you from creating and publishing a video abstract on your own. The benefits, as outlined above, should be sufficiently motivating to justify the effort. You can publish your video abstracts on your own website on on a video-sharing site such as YouTube. In fact, because millions of people are searching YouTube for information, your video abstract will be more visible than if hidden on a less frequently visited website.

What will the future hold? Video abstracts are part of an overall trend in multimedia communication of information on the internet, which has been facilitated by the wide availability of digital devices and software for creating and sharing videos. Some science disciplines seem to be getting on the video abstract bandwagon faster than others. Whatever the future of video abstracts, we are clearly in a learning phase. Many of my colleagues have either never heard of video abstracts or expressed little interest in doing one, even if offered the opportunity. Students seem to be more receptive to the idea, possibly because they are more technically-savy and accustomed to watching YouTube videos than their professors.

If video abstracts become standard practice, authors will need to develop some skills at creating such videos (or have someone else do it for them (most likely for a fee)). At a minimum, scientists must understand how to design an effective video abstract. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines for authors who do want to create a video abstract.

To help, I’ve put together a short guide to creating an effective video abstract. It covers eight basic steps involved in planning and creating a video abstract and has links to other resources, including a tutorial showing how to make a video abstract with a smartphone and a simple movie-editing application. Feel free to download the pdf and share with colleagues and students:

Download (PDF, 1.25MB)