Visualize This! Interview with Moshe Pritsker

Moshe Pritsker and I first met at Scifoo, then shared a panel at the Harvard Millennium Confreence and finally met again at the Science Blogging Conference two weeks ago. Moshe is the Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Visualized Experiments, the innovative online journals that publishes videos demonstrating laboratory techniques.

Welcome to A Blog Around The Clock. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your background? What is your Real Life job?

I am a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE). It is my full-time job, as JoVE is a start-up company that requires full attention from me and a few other people.

i-1ddb7c81e3ebabe8c36640fdd39e6be4-Moshe Interview picture.jpgI was born in the North West of Russia, in the city named Petrozavodsk. In 1990, at age 16, together with my parents and sister, I immigrated to Israel, in the big wave of Russian-Jewish immigration. I went to study chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and then continued for a master degree at the Weizmann Institute of Science where I got into biochemistry and bioinformatics.

After the army service (mandatory for every Israeli citizen), I decided to see the world and got into the Ph.D. program at Princeton. There I was working on a variety of projects in computational and experimental biology. My favorite and the most difficult project was the development of a method for large-scale genetic screens in embryonic stem cells. A post-doc in Boston was a logical next step. But after one year of post-doc, I decided to implement the idea of a video-publication for biology, which I was carrying in my head for a few years.

You founded the Journal of Visualized Experiments. Can you tell us a little bit more about it. Where did the idea come from, where is it now and what are the plans for the future?

First time, I came with the idea of a video-publication for biological research in the middle of my Ph.D. studies at Princeton. As any other experimental biologist, I was suffering from the low reproducibility of experiments described in the scientific literature. This phenomenon is due to many reasons including poor descriptions of complex experimental procedures by authors, wrong interpretations of technical details by readers, variations in terminology, lack of standardization, and other factors. To deal with this problem, scientists often look for colleagues who are experienced with particular experimental approaches and can show them how to do the experiment. However, often such help is not available, and the scientists find themselves in the never ending process of reinventing the wheel, when they spend years of their life trying to repeat experiments previously done and published by others. On the personal level, this is very frustrating. On the global level, this is a systemic "black hole" that consumes more than 50% of time and money that are given to biological and biomedical research (to remind, only the NIH year budget is $29 billion dollars).

As a possible solution, I began to think about a large online repository of videos on experimental procedures. Video can mimic the traditional "show me" process adopted in the biological labs, and therefore would increase reproducibility, efficiency and standardization in biological sciences. Then I was lucky to meet Nikita Bernstein, a computer programmer who became my partner. Nikita took care of the IT part in JoVE, and introduced me into the social networks and other advanced aspects of the today Web. Another partner, Klaus Korak, is a Vienna-trained medical doctor, with experience in neurosurgery and neuroscience research. He has ensured funding from a group of private investors, and currently takes care of the business development in JoVE. After the first few months, we met Aaron Kolski-Andreaco, who was a graduate student at UC Irvine and also thought about scientific video as a method of training. He joined us to lead the production of experimental videos. This is how JoVE was initially built.

We develop JoVE as a free access research publication (journal), with a review process, selection and the Editorial Board including 20 professors from Harvard, Princeton, NIH and other good places. So, JoVE can be viewed as a journal of a new type, a video-journal. After the first year of its existence, JoVE has published about 200 video-articles produced in the research labs at the leading scientific institutions. They cover a variety of advanced experimental procedures in neuroscience, stem cell biology, cancer, bioengineering and other "hot" areas of today biological research.

Very early we understood that it is very difficult for scientists to make high-quality videos on their own experiments. An average experiment requires 2-3 hours of filming and extensive editing. Scientists typically do not have professional cameras and editing software, and, more importantly, do not have time to learn the necessary skills. Therefore, to enable production of video-protocols at research labs, we have established a distributed network of professional film-makers, which covers about 30 large cities, centers of biological research, in USA, Canada, Europe and Japan.

How do you envision a scientific paper of the future? Will it have an embedded video as a rule? A completely different format than today?

Currently, a scientific paper, especially in biology, has two main functions. First it is a report. Second, it is a "currency" of science serving as a measure of individual scientist's achievements. These are important functions, but it also has to become a productivity tool, something that helps scientists to do their job faster and more efficiently. Due to the problems described above, a lot remains to be done in this area. I envision that tools enabling a more efficient knowledge transfer (e.g. video) will become an important factor. The rest is difficult to predict. It will depend on the next technology developments on the Web and their relevance to the current problems of biological research.

What are some of your favorite science blogs?

The Tree of Life by Jonathan Eisen
Microarray Blog by Albin Paul
Blog around the Clock by Bora Zivkovic
PIMM by Attila Csordas

Is there anything that happened at the Conference - a session, something someone said or did or wrote - that will change the way you
think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

I met a few people with whom I had interesting discussions about science communication: Jean-Claude Bradley, Liz Allen, James Hrynyshyn, Aaron Rowe, Deepak Singh and others. For example, I really like the Jean-Claude's project on lab wiki, and it was very useful to meet him in person. Aaron Rowe gave me an interesting idea on distribution of the JoVE video-articles in the developing countries. I hope something practical will come out from these discussions. In general, the conference was a very useful and interesting event.

It was so nice to see you again and thank you for the interview.


Check out all the interviews in this series.


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Thank you very much for this interview on Moshe Pritsker and his pioneering JoVE project. I enjoyed reading more about the fellow behind the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

I have found him and his JoVE co-founder Nikita Bernstein to be both down to earth, and also truly brilliant. I hope medical researchers will be inspired to visit their site, and contribute their work to the ongoing video protocol library.

I just can't say enough how much easier it is to understand something when you can see the actual researchers showing step by step their complete protocol. It also sure beats waiting for months and months to be published in a static journal. For researchers eager to have their work shared or discovered, JoVE has a great and easy interface to upload your protocol and documentation.

Thank you,

Diane Michel