Monday, 13 December 2010

Open Research Computation - a new journal from BioMedCentral

As a colleague of mine said a couple of weeks ago: "if you don't publish it, it didn't happen". Scientific publications are the currency to advance a researcher's career. Looking for a new job? You better make sure your publication list is littered with first or second author papers in good (read: high impact factor) journals. Hoping to have your tenure track lead to tenure? Idem. Publish or perish.

Meanwhile, many bioinformaticians spend huge amounts of time developing software to make genetic or genomic research possible; research that just wouldn't happen if it was not for their custom-written tools, scripts and pipelines. Unfortunately, you often need the find function of your webbrowser or PDF reader to be able to pinpoint the lone bioinformatician in the author list. He's not the first or second author; he works in function of work by someone else.

Just like many others (see e.g. the alt-metrics manifesto), I feel quite strongly about the limitations of impact factors for judging a researcher's contribution to science. What about those papers that are published in "lower" journals but that are actually read more? What about blogs? What about your contributions on FriendFeed, seqanswers, quora, ...? How about all that software you wrote and that everyone can access on github? Don't you think these also have a teenie-weenie little value in the scientific discourse as well?

It will take time to change this skewed way of appreciating a researcher's work. We'll have to fight this from different angles, and subtly. We'll have to rethink what the term "publication" means, and how we can reference each other's work, including data that we made available in repositories and contributions to discussion forums. To start this process and give credit for the work of the computational scientist, BioMed Central launches a new journal today: Open Research Computation with Cameron Neylon at the helm as the editor-in-chief (and I'm grateful for having been asked to act as an editor). The aim of this journal is to provide a venue for programmers in research, who - as Cameron says it in his accompanying blog post - "either see themselves as software engineers or as researchers who code". The focus of the journal will be on making the tools available to the wider community of research programmers, with strict guidelines on code quality, code reusability and documentation.

I can only suggest you read Cameron's post and have a look at the website. The rest is up to you. Let's give the lone bioinformatician a venue to bring his work out in the public.