Digital Publishing Isn't Enough: the Case for "Blueprints" in Scientific Communication

Timothy Gardner

Published in Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, Dec 21, 2018, 2(6):755-758, DOI: 10.1042/ETLS20180165


Since the time of Newton and Galileo, the tools for capturing and communicating science have remained conceptually unchanged — in essence, they consist of observations on paper (or electronic variants), followed by a ‘letter’ to the community to report your findings. These age-old tools are inadequate for the complexity of today's scientific challenges. If modern software engineering worked like science, programmers would not share open source code; they would take notes on their work and then publish long-form articles about their software. Months or years later, their colleagues would attempt to reproduce the software based on the article. It sounds a bit silly, and yet even, this level of prose-based methodological discourse has deteriorated in science communication. Materials and Methods sections of papers are often a vaguely written afterthought, leaving researchers baffled when they try to repeat a published finding. It's time for a fundamental shift in scientific communication and sharing, a shift akin to the advent of computer-aided design and source code versioning. Science needs reusable ‘blueprints’ for experiments replete with the experiment designs, material flows, reaction parameters, data, and analytical procedures. Such an approach could establish the foundations for truly open source science where these scientific blueprints form the digital ‘source code’ for a supply chain of high-quality innovations and discoveries.

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Timothy Gardner

Tim Gardner is the Founder and the CEO of Riffyn. He was previously Vice President of Research & Development at Amyris, where he led the engineering of yeast strain and processes technology for large-scale bio-manufacturing of renewable chemicals. Tim has been recognized for his pioneering work in Synthetic Biology by Scientific American, the New Scientist, Nature, Technology Review, and the New York Times. He also served as an advisor to the European Union Scientific Committees and the Boston University Engineering Alumni Advisory Board. Tim enjoys hockey, running, mountain biking, and being beaten by his sons in almost everything.