I published a new article in Bio-Protocol this week describing how to isolate strains of Ustilago bromivora from the spore material that forms on infected plants. It’s certainly not all my work; the protocol is a modification of a published protocol and has been worked on by many people in the Djamei lab, as indicated in the acknowledgements. I just happened to be the one who chose to write it up.
After the publication of our previous paper on the U. bromivora/Brachypodium pathosystem, we were approached by Bio-Protocol to publish certain protocols in full in their journal. You would think that people would be eager. It’s a lab protocol and writing it up takes very little work yet you get an article published. I was the only one that expressed an interest in writing this up. I imagine it’s because it’s not a “sexy” paper but that mindset neglects something very important. Science is not just about findings; it’s a way of discovering how the world works which can be applied to any situation. At the foundation of that is the idea of sharing one’s methods so that, at least in principle, anyone with sufficient skill can repeat what you have done.
Currently, this is not given sufficient attention. Methods sections in papers are brief and insufficient to actual repeat them. Every paper also uses different methods. Sometimes modifications are necessary in different systems and there are reasons to answer questions with different methods but if everyone is doing their own thing then it makes it difficult to compare results. Similarly, it’s no good if your methods cannot actually be read. Referencing another paper where the method is described is fine but if that paper, and the relevant method, are secured behind a paywall then you might as well be publishing without a method.
It’s because of these issues that I would happily spend some time on a paper which is perhaps neither “sexy” nor high-impact. Science is about more than just impact factors and novelty; it’s about building a solid understanding and sharing that knowledge. I want to take a minute to sincerely thank and congratulate eLife and Bio-Protocol for partnering together to get complete protocols out there. I know that PLOS and protocols.io have done the same thing as well and hopefully many more journals will follow suit.
I want to see us move to a world where our science and methods are all open access and we have a reliable knowledge base to build on. If that means we need to avoid the so-called elite journals like Cell, Nature and Science then that’s a sacrifice all scientists need to make. To paraphrase Enjolras from Les Misérables: Who cares about your impact factor? We strive towards a larger goal. Our little egos don’t count at all.