Beyond the Paper Type: An interview with Mark Laubach and Lex Kravitz
In 2019, Mark Laubach and Lex Kravitz approached Editor-in-Chief Christophe Bernard about the community need for an open-access venue to publish open-source tools and methods. Along with Samantha White and Linda Amarante, they published a commentary about the benefits of sharing these open tools. In September 2019, eNeuro announced the launch of this short paper type: Open-Source Tools and Methods, which has become a popular collection.
Find out more from Drs. Laubach and Kravitz, who are both now on the eNeuro editorial board, about the story behind this paper type and why it contributes so meaningfully to the research community.
Dr. Alexxai Kravitz (left), Washington University in St. Louis, and Dr. Mark Laubach (right), American University.
"While online repositories are critical for open-source projects, they may not reach the same audience as scientific journals, are not widely cited by academics, and do not “count” the same for professional achievements like fellowship awards or tenure decisions."
How did the idea for creating an Open-Source Tools and Methods article type come about?
We, Mark Laubach and Lex Kravitz, started OpenBehavior.org in 2016. OpenBehavior is a website that promotes open-source methods used in behavioral neuroscience research. To date, we have written posts covering >150 open-source projects and promoted the posts extensively using Twitter. The posts and tweets have been done, respectively, by Samantha White and Linda Amarante, PhD students at American University.
Running the website made us realize that there were relatively few journals that were suitable for publishing open-source methods in neuroscience, and many methods were not being published at all. They were being simply shared through websites like GitHub and Hackaday.io or only briefly mentioned in methods sections of papers. While online repositories are critical for open-source projects, they may not reach the same audience as scientific journals, are not widely cited by academics, and do not “count” the same for professional achievements like fellowship awards or tenure decisions. We started talking about getting a society journal to introduce a section tailored to publishing open-source methods, and when we reached out eNeuro, they embraced the idea.
Why should scientists adopt “an open-source mindset?”
Publishing work as “open-source” means that you do not just publish your results, you publish everything needed for someone else to replicate and modify your work. Publishing methods as open-source invites others to try out your method, look under the hood, and make their own improvements. The methods are validated by more than just a couple of people who serve for peer review. This can bring many personal benefits. For example, it is more likely that your work will be recognized, cited, and used by others. Who would use or cite a method that they cannot actually use? In addition, the quality of the method improves by having other people, particularly those that are not in your immediate research group, try the method out. This process can identify bugs and inefficiencies, enabling these issues to be ironed out.
How would doing so benefit scientists personally?
Publishing an open-source technique paper allows the researcher to get credit for their work while they make use of their new software or device to study a research question. One can publish the technique as soon as they feel it is ready for use. So this can be very helpful, especially for trainees, to publish as soon as possible.
How would doing so benefit the community?
As a field, publishing methods as open source is the fastest way to improve them. Anyone can participate in improving the method, find the bugs and inefficiencies, and make suggestions. At this point, when we read a methods paper that is not open-source, we have to ask ourselves “Why?” What is the point in publishing a method without explaining how to do it? Would you publish a research paper without including the methods section? There are many examples of hugely impactful open-source methods in neuroscience, which may not have had the reach they have without taking an open-source approach.
"The quality of the method improves by having other people, particularly those that are not in your immediate research group, try the method out."
What steps can funders, institutions, and journals (including eNeuro) take to make these tools and methods even more valuable and accessible to the neuroscience community?
Funders can contribute to the process by supporting publication costs for papers reporting open-source tools that are essential for tackling a larger biomedical research problem. It would also be useful for the NIH and NSF to support efforts at disseminating protocols and providing training opportunities for researchers who want to get into the world of open-source tools but do not know where to start. Institutions can also assist by providing small-scale funding for developing prototypes and supporting open-access publication fees.
Furthermore, institutions should realize the benefit to the community of publishing open-source methods papers, especially when it comes to tenure decisions. Finally, journals can help by opening up tracts for reporting on novel open-source methods, as eNeuro has done.
• The Future Is Open: Open-Source Tools for Behavioral Neuroscience Research
Samantha R. White, Linda M. Amarante, Alexxai V. Kravitz and Mark Laubach
• Open Source Tools and Methods: A New Category of Short Papers to Share Knowledge, Accelerate Research, and Acknowledge Those Who Develop Such Tools and Methods
Browse the collection of papers:Open-Source Tools and Methods