Who has never struggled with a new protocol? The electronic initiatives to share and discuss protocols, as reported in the News story “Online methods share insider tricks” (Nature 441, 678; 2006) and in Correspondence (“Wiki and other ways to share learning online” Nature 442, 744; 2006), are to be welcomed. Unfortunately, even a detailed written protocol cannot have the same effect as sitting beside someone who is doing it.
Probably the most feasible approach is to publish movies describing the methods, a service already offered by some publications and protocol websites, but which could become routine. Much more information on the essential steps of a new protocol, including audio commentary on the trickiest steps (from the position of the Petri dishes to the speed of dispensing), could be accessible using video format and published online with the paper. Such videos could transform the way in which methods are communicated.
Readers may object that they don't have time to set up Hollywood studios to publish a paper. But the effort required for filming a relevant procedure is outweighed by the fact that more precise description of methods greatly aids scientific understanding and facilitates future research. Furthermore, videos are valuable tools for teaching.
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EMBO reports (2007)