The role of Journal Club in lab life and how to move the genre to the web

JCRegular (daily, weekly) Journal Clubs are crucially important events in the life of labs. Reviewing other labs’ results is a way to get synchronized with all the data accumulated by a particular subdiscipline. Moreover it is the most obvious everyday form (conferences are not that frequent) of secondary peer review of the given paper, when experts in one lab heavily criticize the story, methods, data and assumptions of experts in the other competitor lab. There is an education component: as the Wikipedia article says Journal Clubs help make the student become more familiar with the advanced literature and help improve the students’ skills of understanding and debating current topics of active interest in their field.
On the philosophical-psychological level a Regular Journal Club continuously confirm the identity and unity of the lab and the functional team behind it.

Now the question is how to move the Journal Club format to the web without losing its merits and retaining its role in a lab’s life?

Short answer: by embedding the Journal Club events of individual labs in a multimedia (and here the screencast form is preferred compared to making videos) format into a social networking site of scientists.

screencast form: Usually a Journal Club presentation is a Powerpoint/Keynote slideshow based on the figures section of the reviewed paper complemented by some intro text slides. There are many screencast services available: SlideShare, Bioscreencast, Slide.com, Splashcast, RockYou

social networking site for scientists: If it is known what papers are under secondary peer review in labs in a particular field than it a good filter to share with other labs too, in a community space. It is also a good way to ask the authors of the reviewed papers (the reviewees) to answer the critical questions by the reviewer lab and launch a conversation between the 2 labs. This conversation can easily lead to cooperations later. In order to share this information with the whole scientist community and amplify it the best method for implementation is to make it a feature of an existing networking site. The other way is Journal Club screencast service first and building community features later.

In my post Journal Club slideshow: MSC lung repair via lung-derived microvesicles I wanted to show an example of a proper online Journal Club format except it is embedded into a blog engine and not into a networking site. It has 4 parts:

– the reference to the secondarily reviewed paper

– the slideshow in a screencast

– the abstract of the paper

– the answers of the first author to the paper’s critical points asked by the Journal Club participants

7 thoughts on “The role of Journal Club in lab life and how to move the genre to the web

  1. I actually thought the short answer would be Second Life. Meetings already take place. Voice conversation is possible, video, slideshows, posters, etc.

  2. Thanks, Ricardo. Taking SL as a Journal Club tool for mainstream scientists is a nice idea, although a bit ahead of time I think. On the other hand it misses the point: I was not thinking about the web replacements of offline, realtime Journal Clubs within one lab, in my opinion it could not take the role of real time meetings. My point was information sharing between labs, so I offered an interlab, not an intralab solution.

  3. Second Life is something that would be great in the long run, where you could have a meeting and then return to pick up any leave behinds which could be served from a site such as Bioscreencast and/or slideshare. (I actually put up something similar on Kyte.tv last night)

    Great post!!!

  4. Ricardo,
    Yes, meetings in Second Life can work quite well, especially if you make use of posters. We had a SciFoo Lives On session on Tools for Open Science this week and the next ones will be on Medicine and Web2.0 Aug 27 then Definitions of Open Science Sept 4.

    Attila’s suggestion of using screencasts can also work well, although probably not within Second Life. It is certainly possible to feed video into SL but it is clunky and does not leverage the interactive nature of the medium. I am a huge fan of screencasts for capturing real world presentations for future sharing.

  5. Following is my standard contrarian view.

    Being able to stand up in front of people and make a case is important, but that still has to be done in real life. Second life just won’t cut it. It’s a nice idea, but at the moment, in my learned and reasoned opinion, second life sucks and I hate it.

    I think making it video is also a bad idea, because you’ve just stripped it of almost all machine-readable content. You can’t search for a phrase in a video. The whole greatness of the web, being able to post something at a permanent location, comment upon things other have posted, and set up a dialog which can persist, is totally lost by screencasting, and what have you gained?

    I skim a lot on the web, and you can’t skim a video, so it gets skipped. Not the best way to increase readership or stimulate interaction, not to mention raising the bar for participation.

    Don’t forget, technology is supposed to serve you, not the other way around. Every second you spend dicking around with video codecs and compression artifacts and streaming protocols time you could have spent writing up a clear and understandable post using existing tools, which are indexable by search engines and referenceable by hyperlinks and cut-and-paste quoting.

    Screencasting costs you time, audience, comments, and interactivity, and gains you occasionally more engaging content. You’d be better off just learning how to write better.

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