Open Science Digital Computation Research

Two recent announcements that are worth noting here.

The first is for Digital Science, a Macmillan / Nature Publishing Group project involving some of the usual science online suspects like Timo Hannay and Kaitlin Thaney and some others in a really dynamic-looking multi-disciplinary team.

The press release is here and the about page here.

Digital Science provides software and information to support researchers and research administrators in their everyday work, with the ultimate aim of making science more productive through the use of technology. As well as developing our own solutions, we also invest in promising start-ups and other partners, working closely with them to help them realise their full potential.


The activities of Digital Science combine in-house software development and domain expertise with technologies and services created in collaboration with a range of world-class partners, including academic research groups, start-up businesses and established companies.

This is a bit on what they're trying to accomplish:

Digital technologies are transforming all areas of our lives -- commerce, education, the arts -- and science, too, is changing. The web has already revolutionised the way we produce, publish and disseminate scientific knowledge. It also provides fundamental new opportunities for processing, annotating, curating, querying and sharing information, as well as organising our laboratories and the research process itself.

But we're still much nearer the beginning of this journey than the end. For all the recent progress, we're not even close to fully realising the potential of information technology to accelerate the discovery and and application of scientific insights. At Digital Science, we aim to to contribute to these important developments by providing tools and services that will make researchers more productive through state-of-the-art software.

In that sense we're very different to the content-based businesses normally associated with a publishing company like Macmillan. But we will also be working closely with scientific publishers -- not least our colleagues at Nature Publishing Group -- to make the most of their scientific expertise and carefully curated content, because only by combining expert human judgement with the best technology can we hope to have the impact that we seek.

Very interesting and very ambitious. It'll be worth watching to see what they come up with in the next year or two.

The other project worth mentioning is a new BioMed Central open access journal, Open Research Computation, with Cameron Neylon as editor-in-chief and a whole host of usual suspects on the Editorial Board.

There's lots of information on the Instructions for Authors, About page, FAQ:

Aims and scope
Open Research Computation publishes peer reviewed articles that describe the development, capacities, and uses of software designed for use by researchers in any field. Submissions relating to software for use in any area of research are welcome as are articles dealing with algorithms, useful code snippets, as well as large applications or web services, and libraries. Open Research Computation differs from other journals with a software focus in its requirement for the software source code to be made available under an Open Source Initiative compliant license, and in its assessment of the quality of documentation and testing of the software. In addition to articles describing software Open Research Computation also welcomes submissions that review or describe developments relating to software based tools for research. These include, but are not limited to, reviews or proposals for standards, discussion of best practice in research software development, educational and support resources and tools for researchers that develop or use software based tools.

Cameron also has a blog post talking about the new initiative:

Computation lies at the heart of all modern research. Whether it is the massive scale of LHC data analysis or the use of Excel to graph a small data set. From the hundreds of thousands of web users that contribute to Galaxy Zoo to the solitary chemist reprocessing an NMR spectrum we rely absolutely on billions of lines of code that we never think to look at. Some of this code is in massive commercial applications used by hundreds of millions of people, well beyond the research community. Sometimes it is a few lines of shell script or Perl that will only ever be used by the one person who wrote it. At both extremes we rely on the code.

We also rely on the people who write, develop, design, test, and deploy this code. In the context of many research communities the rewards for focusing on software development, of becoming the domain expert, are limited. And the cost in terms of time and resource to build software of the highest quality, using the best of modern development techniques, is not repaid in ways that advance a researcher's career. The bottom line is that researchers need papers to advance, and they need papers in journals that are highly regarded, and (say it softly) have respectable impact factors. I don't like it. Many others don't like it. But that is the reality on the ground today, and we do younger researchers in particular a disservice if we pretend it is not the case.

Open Research Computation is a journal that seeks to directly address the issues that computational researchers have. It is, at its heart, a conventional peer reviewed journal dedicated to papers that discuss specific pieces of software or services. A few journals now exist in this space that either publish software articles or have a focus on software. Where ORC will differ is in its intense focus on the standards to which software is developed, the reproducibility of the results it generates, and the accessibility of the software to analysis, critique and re-use.

It's a bit of synchronicity that these two announcements came at around the same time. The ground is shifting in the way science is done and the way it is reported. Both these projects represent (re)evolutionary steps along the path towards greater and greater computational influence on scientific practice.

Neither project seems to have any direct librar* involvement, although I can think of one or two librarians who'd fit in nicely on ORC's editorial board. I can also see that libraries could be partners with Digital Science in promoting and implementing the kinds of products that they'll likely be experimenting with.

We live in interesting times and I can hardly wait to see what happens.


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