Research paper 2.0 – Part 3 – Multimedia
In my two previous posts I have discussed how the new and improved research paper 2.0 should behave regarding supplementary information and readers’ comments. Now it’s time to really embrace the newest trends and to talk about multimedia. Take, for example, this paper in Nature. It’s about the influence of temperature of the brain on the speed of songbird song formation. When I first heard about it on their podcast, I thought – well here’s a study that takes full advantage of multimedia. Sure enough, the podcast contained some really awesome recordings of the songbird chirping. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered that the actual paper does NOT have a recording attached to it, even in the well-hidden supplementary information section. Well, that just doesn’t make sense.
We all watch YouTube, some of you probably have some videos posted on facebook (well, technically Mark Zuckerberg has them, but I digress), the more seasoned and media-oriented of us scan SciVee for useful stuff from time to time (although the service is still in its very early days). The general public and the scientific community are captivated by movies and sound, yet the publishers of journals remain in the middle ages of the text+figures format. A well known cliche says that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a movie is usually at least a few hundred pictures, so we are talking… let’s do the math… an encyclopedia of information here… Just kidding… The fact remains, though, that for a discerning eye a movie (and for a discerning ear a sound file, although the use of the latter is pretty limited) can add a wealth of information in addition to the things that the authors decided to select and describe in their “results” and “discussion” and to the freeze-frame static images. In one of my first posts I have referred to some submolecular live imaging movies that not only are totally awesome visually, but also raise important scientific questions. These are the kind of multimedia that by no means should only be presented in the paper in the form of raw graphs and dry descriptions. There is really no reason why they should not be embedded in the html version of the paper and also in a special “multimedia” version of the pdf file for easier download. Unbeknownst to many, starting from version 6 Acrobat allows you to embed sounds and animations in pdf files, and starting from version 7 also 3D images. Here‘s a great example of this feature used meaningfully in a theoretical astronomy paper in Nature, but 3D reconstructions of confocal images are one obvious example of where it would be extremely useful for biomedical papers as well. Let’s not take the word “paper” too literally, shall we?