November 18, 2017

New Badges (Microcredentials) for Fall 2017

I have some new badges to advertise, one set from the OpenWorm Badge System, and one set from the Orthogonal Lab Badge System. As discussed previously on this blog, badges are microcredentials we are using to encourage participation in our research ecosystems at an introductory level.

An education-centric sketch of the OpenWorm and Orthogoanl Laboratory research ecosystems.

The first new badge series is an introduction to what is going on in the DevoWorm group, but also gives biologists and computationalists unfamiliar with Caenorhabditis elegans developmental biology a chance to get their feet wet by taking a multidisciplinary approach to the topic.

Worm Development I focuses on embryonic development and associated pattern formation. Worm Development I is a prerequisite to II, so be sure to try this one first.

Worm Development II focuses on larval development, including the postembryonic lineage tree and what characterizes each life-history stage.

The second badge series is hosted on the Orthogonal Lab Badge System, and provides an overview of Peer Review issues and techniques. This series is meant to give young scholars a working familiarity with the process of peer review. It is notable that Publons Academy now offers a course on Peer Review, to which this badge might serve as an abbreviated complement.

Peer Review I covers the history of peer review and the basics of pre-publication peer review. Be aware that Peer Review I is a prerequisite for Peer Review II (but not Peer Review for Data).

Peer Review II delves into how to decompose an article for purposes of peer review. An evaluation strategy for post-publication peer review is also covered.

Peer Review for Data contains a brief how-to for conducting peer review for open datasets.

November 15, 2017

Deep Reading Brings New Things to Life (Science)

Here is an interesting Twitter thread from Jacquelyn Gill on 'deep reading':

The basic idea is that exploring older literature can lead to new insights, which in turn lead to new research directions. The new research of our era tends to focus on the most relevant and cutting-edge literature [1]. This recency bias excludes many similarly relevant articles, including articles that perhaps inspired the more recent citations to begin with [2]. 

I have my own list of deep reads that have influenced some of my research in a similar fashion. These references can be either foundational or so-called "sleeping beauties" [3]. Regardless, I am doing my part to maintain connectivity [4] amongst academic citation networks:

1) Woodger, J.H. The Axiomatic Method in Biology. 1937.

An argument for biological rules, an influence on cladistics (developed in the 1960s), and a natural bridge to geometric approaches to data analysis and modeling. While there is a strong argument to be made against the axiomatic approach [5], this directly inspired much of my thinking in the biological modeling area. 

2) Davis R.L., Weintraub H., and Lassar A.B. Expression of a single transfected cDNA converts fibroblasts to myoblasts. Cell 51, 987–1000. 1987.

This was the first proof-of-concept for direct cellular reprogramming, and predates the late 2000's Nobel-winning work in stem cells by decades. In this case, a single transcription factor (MyoD) was used to convert a cell from one phenotype to another without a strict regard for function. More generally, this paper helped inspired my thinking in the area of cellular reprogramming to go beyond a biological optimization or algorithmic approach [6].

3) Ashby, W.R. Design for a Brain. 1960.

"Design for a Brain" serves as a stand-in for the entirely of Ashby's bibliography, but this is the best example of how Ashby successfully merged explanations of adaptive behavior [7] with systems models (cybernetics). In fact, Ashby originally coined the phrase "Intelligence Augmentation" [8]. I first discovered Ashby's work while working in the area of Augmented Cognition, and has been more generally useful as inspiration for complex systems thinking.

Not so much a couple of sleeping beauty as easy reading technical reference guides for all things complexity theory.

5) Bourdieu, P. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press. 1977 AND Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., and Silverstein, M. A Pattern Language: towns, buildings, construction. Oxford
University Press. 1977.

This is a bonus, not because the references are particularly obscure or even from the same academic field, but because they partially influenced my own view of cultural evolution. This is yet another piece of advice to young researchers: take things that appear to be disparate on their surface and incorporate them into your mental model. If nothing else, you will gain valuable skills in intellectual synthesis.

UPDATE (11/17):
Here is another example of old (classic, not outdated) work influencing new scholarship.

[1] Evans, J.A. (2008). Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship. Science, 321(5887), 395-399 AND Scheffer, M. (2014). The forgotten half of scientific thinking. PNAS, 111(17), 6119.

[2] related topics discussed on this blog include distributions of citation ages and most-cited papers.

[3] van Raan, A.F.J. (2004). Sleeping Beauties in Science. Scientometrics, 59(3), 467–472.

[4] Editors (2010). On citing well. Nature Chemical Biology, 6, 79.

[5] For the semantic approach (which had been influential to my more recent work), please see: Lloyd, E.A. (1994). The Structure and Confirmation of Evolutionary Theory. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

[6] Ronquist, S. (2017). Algorithm for cellular reprogramming. PNAS, 114(45), 11832–11837.

[7] Sterling, P. and Eyer, J. (1988). Allostasis: A new paradigm to explain arousal pathology. In "Handbook of life stress, cognition, and health". Fisher, S. and Reason, J.T. eds. Wiley, New York. 

[8] Ashby, W.R. (1956). An Introduction to Cybernetics. Springer, Berlin.

October 26, 2017

Open Access Week 2017: Version-Controlled Papers

The subject of a recent workshop [1], the next-generation scientific paper will include digital tools that formalize things such as version control and data sharing/access. Orthogonal Laboratory is developing a method for version-controlled documents that integrates formatting, bibliographic aspects, and content management. While this is not a novel approach to writing and composition [2], this post will cover how to apply a version-controlled strategy to presenting a scientific workflow. Below are brief sketches of our system for generating next-generation papers.

The first element is the process through which a document is generated, styled, and published (assigned a unique digital identifier or doi):

The key element of our system is a version control repository. We are using Bitbucket, but Github or a more specialized platforms such as Authorea or Penflip might also be sufficient. The idea is to build documents using the the Markdown language [3], then incorporate stylistic elements using CSS and HTML. VScode is used to manage spellcheck and grammar in the Markdown documents (containing the authored content). Reference management is done via Zotero, but again, any open source alternative will do.

The diffs function [4] of version control can be used to operate on final versions of Markdown files for the purpose of alternating between document versions. The idea is to not only find a consensus between collaborators, but to use branches strategically to push alternative versions of content to the doi as desired. This combinatorial editing framework could be desirable in appealing to different audiences or stressing specific aspects of the work at different points in time. Note that this is distinct from the editorial function of pulls and merges, which are meant to be more "under the hood".

Pandoc serves as a conversion tool, and can style documents according to particular specifications. This includes conventions such as APA style, or document formats such as LaTeX or pdf [5]. Additional components include code and data repositories, supplemental materials, and post-publication peer review.

Orthogonal Lab generally uses a host such as Figshare to generate dois for such content, but there are other hosts that generate version-specific dois as well. It is worth noting that Github-hosted academic journals are beginning to appear. Two examples are ReScience and Journal of Open Science Software. What we are providing (for our community and yours) is a means to generate styled documents (technical papers, blogposts, formal publications) in a version-controlled format. This also means papers can be dynamic rather than static: content at a given doi can be updated as desired.

[1] Perkel, J. (2017). C. Titus Brown: Predicting the paper of the future. Nature TechBlog, June 1.

[2] Eve, M.P. (2013). Using git in my writing workflow. August 18. Also, much of this functionality is accessible in Overleaf using TeX and a GUI interface.

[3] Cifuentes-Goodbody, N. (2016). Academic Writing in Markdown. YouTube. AND Sparks, D. and Smith, E. Markdown Field Guide, MacSparky.

[4] Diffs are also useful in comparing different versions of a published document as events unfold. Newsdiffs performs this function quite nicely on documents containing unfolding news.

[5] A few references for further reading:

a) Building your own Document Processor Tools:
Building Publishing Workflows with Pandoc and Git. Simon Fraser University Publishing.

b) Git + Diffs = Word Diffs:
Diff (and collaborate on) Microsoft Word documents using GitHub. Ben Balter blog.

c) Using Microsoft Word with Git. Martin Fenner blog.

October 24, 2017

Open Access Week 2017: Open Project Management

To kick off the open fun for this year, we will start off with a short discussion on open project management. Although people should think of this in a tool-free manner, we will address broad principles using Slack and Open Science Framework (OSF).

Welcome to the Orthogonal Lab Slack space! Contact if you are interested in joining.

Slack as a laboratory group tool: I began using Slack several years ago when the OpenWorm Foundation started using it to facilitate shared communication and manage new members. Since then, it has become increasingly popular as a laboratory personnel and collaborative management tool [1]. I started the Orthogonal Lab Slack about a year ago, and it has been useful for disseminating intragroup messages, news, media, and short presentations. This is especially good for academic collaborations, particularly when the group members are not co-located [2].

Once your group has a Slack space (with a URL such as, you must a) create channels, and b) recruit members. Whether your group is large or small, Slack seems to scale well in most cases. Each channel is thematic, and allows for parallel communication between channel members. Media (files, images, links) can be shared with ease, and private messages are also possible. Additional functionality is possible through the use of bots (e.g. time-management tools such as todobot or slackodoro). In many ways, Slack is an alternative to the e-mail chain. However, integration with other platforms (such as Twitter or Skype) is also possible.

An infographic on Slack productivity in the academic workplace, courtesy of Paperpile.

COURTESY: Using OSF at the University of Notre Dame. YouTube.

Open Science Framework (OSF) as project pipeline and showcase: I have been using OSF for storing work at the project level for exposition to potential funders and other interested parties. More generally, OSF is used to promulgate both the progression and replicability of research projects [3]. From a technical perspective, OSF also features version control (using Git), doi creation, and storage space for papers, presentations, and data. OSF also offers an API and an open dataset on research activities. OSF also has a portal called Thesis Commons for theses and dissertations. You can also store datasets, digital notebooks, and link to Github-hosted code using the OSF project structure.

Potential destinations for objects of the OSF workflow. COURTESY: Ref [4].

The OSF offers a means to manage all scales of research output. Artem Kaznatcheev has provided an informal taxonomy of research output types as well as their scale of importance. According to this view, examples of the these scales include the following: standard (blog), kilo (conference pubs), giga (journal pubs), and tera (book/thesis) scales. Although arbitrary in terms of content, these scales might more closely define the number of hours invested in creating a particular type of research document. OSF projects can include a combinations of research output types to provide a richer window into the research process.

Steps in the developing research (or, how to get to research outputs). COURTESY:

[1] Some examples include:
a) Slack inside the MacArthur Lab. SlackHQ blog, April 27 (2015).

b) Washietl, S. (2016). Six ways to streamline communication in your research group using Slack. Paperpile blog, April 12.

c) Perkel, J.M. (2016). How Scientists Use Slack. Nature News, 541, 123. Managing organizational to-do lists in Slack.

[2] OpenWorm Slack has a bi-weeky event called Office Hours where people meet and have topical conversations. Join us via Slack Pass if you are interested.

[3] Foster, E. and Deardorff, A. (2017). Open Science Framework (OSF). Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA, 105(2), 203-206.

[4] Anonymous (2016). Response from COS. Medium, April 2.

October 23, 2017

Open Access Week 2017!

Welcome to Open Access Week 2017! Synthetic Daisies participated in Open Access Week 2016 with two instructional posts on Altmetrics and Secondary Datasets.  On Twitter, several hashtags (#oaweek#OpenAccess#OpenScience, and #OpenData) will be full of related content over the next few days. And we will have longer posts on Tuesday and Thursday on the topics of Open Project Management and Version-Controlled Papers that will be worth reading.

Over the last year, the OpenWorm Foundation and Orthogonal Laboratory made a commitment to open access instruction in a series of microcredentials (digital badges). The OpenWorm badge system offers a series of badges on Literature Mining specifically and Open Science more generally. The Orthogonal Lab badge system offers a series of badges on Peer Review. Have a productive week!