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Concerns About Academic Publishing on YouTube

Lemon, Thomas I.

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31829e812d
Letters to the Editor

Researcher, Cardiff University Research Outreach Project, Institute of Medical Education, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom;

To the Editor: I thank Topps et al1 for their interesting and insightful work in this relevant area (and also for the videos they may have posted!). As they suggest, video publishing is a growing area, and YouTube receives many new submissions daily. I would also agree that the Google Analytics tool set can collect quite extensive data, offering a credible yet simple tool for assembling video data.

I have two major concerns with video publishing. First, and very significantly, Topps et al make no mention of the “monetization” of features on YouTube. This lets video publishers allow third-party companies (over which they have only very broad control) to advertise on their feature video submissions, for which the authors of videos receive financial payment. The way in which these adverts are carried out may be “prevideo” videos, advertising banners that appear during the video, or indeed general adverts on the Web page. The mode these advertisers use is not under the control of the video author. This raises serious ethical concerns that are largely beyond the control of authors, yet they are traditionally held accountable for ethical concerns by their publishers and editors.

Second, and inherently linked to the first point, there is the concern over the liberal use and exact definition of online publication and what a particular audience understands by that term. In academia, we assume that online publication involves peer review, although in the broadest sense of the word, the term indicates anything available online. Hence, if using a looser definition of publication (which is more accurate, according to the dictionary), we would expect to see authors using and citing YouTube videos on their publications list. This in itself amplifies the advertising ethical issue just raised, as one is then directing readers of other articles to these advert-laden Web pages.

YouTube rates its value by viewers’ votes and, more significantly, by number of views (when a video is defined as having gone “viral,” that means it has been accessed over a certain number of times). By purely referring to number of views of a video, there is no way of learning whether the viewers found the video of use, and whilst the votes may be of some benefit, we need research regarding the relevance of “crowdsourcing,” which is a large-scale public peer-review voting contest akin to “liking” on Facebook.

There is a strong case for creating some broad academic guidelines for those wishing to publish academic and education material for use on social platforms such as YouTube. The benefits of using such platforms are absolutely undeniable; however, as academic medicine has to face and embrace the digital age, it must also maintain its integrity.

Thomas I. Lemon

Researcher, Cardiff University Research Outreach Project, Institute of Medical Education, School of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, United Kingdom;

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1. Topps D, Helmer J, Ellaway R. YouTube as a platform for publishing clinical skills training videos. Acad Med. 2013;88:192–197
© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges