A Revolution in Scientific Publication

Since we are talking about impact factors and Journal related stuff, (see When JIF Becomes a Dirty Word), I wanted to share with you a very cool concept that I saw recently in F1000 Research.

Aside from it’s move to the digital world, scientific publication, as we know it, has remained relatively constant for over four hundred years. Papers are written in a scientific method-based theme and broken down into bite size sections. Papers are very much there for scientists to communicate their findings with us and for the investigators to provide us with their personal interpretation of the data. While a sort of 2-way communication often happens via editorials and personal communication, the presentation of the data remains static and one dimensional. Results, which represent the heart of the researchar, often presented in tabular or pictorial format. Much of the effort and funding allocated to a research project can be distilled down to several figures and maximizing the communicative ability of these results is essential to successful publication. That is why the methodology used to publish a recent paper in the journal F1000 Research may, in fact, revolutionize the world of scientific publishing.

In the newly released article, German professor of neurogenetics, Bjorn Brembs, published a proof-of-concept figure allowing readers and reviewers to run the underlying code within the online article. Instead of presenting readers with a static figure that can only be interpreted by the author, Dr. Brembs submitted the figure’s underlying code to the journal, allowing readers and reviewers to render the figure in various formats giving them more control over interpretation of the original data.

According to Brembs, the ultimate goal is to set up all journal submissions in such a way that authors will no longer have to deal with figures. They will simply need to submit text with links to data and code, and the rest will be up to the reader.

The recent rise in retraction rates of scientific articles proves that attempts at reproducibility by other labs are crucial to cross-checking our understanding of science. With only one or two figures to choose from in the past, authors were incentivized to pick the view of the data that best demonstrated their conclusions. “The traditional method of publishing still used by most journals today means that as a referee or reader, the data cannot be reused nor can the analysis be checked to see if all agree with the reported conclusions”, said Brembs. “This slows down scientific discovery. We are pleased to be able to pioneer these two interactive figures with F1000Research, which will hopefully be the start of a big shift in the way journals treat their figures.”

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