31 July 2012
By Sarah Davies
I was recently doing some writing about ‘tacit knowledge’ in science – the taken-for-granted, invisible skills and expertise which are vital in the laboratory but which are rarely written about in the methods sections of journal articles. The sociologist of science Harry Collins describes tacit knowledge as “knowledge or skills that can be passed between scientists by personal contact but cannot be, or have not been, set out or passed on in formulae, diagrams, or verbal descriptions and instructions for action”. Tacit knowledge is thus often responsible for difficulties in reproducing experimental results or measurements between different lab groups and scientists.
Coincidentally, I then came across the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which exists precisely to try and get around this problem and which does what it says on the tin: it is a peer reviewed online journal which uses videos to show life sciences methods and findings. Its ‘About’ page says that:
Visualization greatly facilitates the understanding and efficient reproduction of both basic and complex experimental techniques, thereby addressing two of the biggest challenges faced by today's life science research community: i) low transparency and poor reproducibility of biological experiments and ii) time and labor-intensive nature of learning new experimental techniques.
Its founder, Dr Moshe Pritsker, says something similar in an interview with the Epoch Times – that he was “suffering from the low reproducibility of experimental studies published in science journals” and started the video journal in response.
So…sounds great to me. But I’m not a life scientist, and don’t have much sense of how useful the videos actually are. Anyone have any thoughts?