There is an interesting discussion on [edit: Richard’s blog on] Nature Network about the usefulness of science videos, like those published in JoVE, where methods and protocols are performed in front of the cameras and intentionally designed to be educational.
If you are a cell biologist, learning a new-to-you (but standard in the field) technique while studying at a Big Research University in the western world, it is likely that there will be several other cell biologists in your building who can guide you through the process better than a movie can, step-by-step, answering your questions, watching you try to do it yourself and correcting your errors.
But that is a rare and exceptional situation.
This will not happen at a small school, a community college, a small start-up company, or a high school.
This will not happen if you are the first and only cell biologist in your country somewhere in the developing world.
This will not happen if the technique you are interested in is not that common (either very old-fashioned or very new-fangled) – perhaps there are 2-3 people in the world who know how to do it and they just happen not to be in your building at your beck and call (if someone gets me an IACUC approval, I’d make movies of how to remove a bird pineal, severe optic nerves, remove ovaries…a dying skillset).
A well-produced movie, the kind that Moshe and Nikita and guys make, is much, much better than trying to read between the lines of Materials and Methods sections of papers that you know omit the key details (or the pedestrian stuff that “everybody knows how to do”, if everybody means “people at Ivy Leagues”). Having such a movie can help you “get” the new technique much faster and save some money – and if you are in a small school in a developing world, you cannot afford to have the experiment fail 50 times before you figure out what key piece of information about the method was omitted from the paper.
Also, think from a historians’ perspective – I would love it if there was JoVE in the 18th and 19th centuries so we could see with our own eyes how the scientists at that time performed the Classical Experiments we all hear about in textbooks, but have no idea how they were really done.
What do you think?