The Worm Reader’s Gazette: audio transcripts of the scientific literature

Digital media has had a profound effect on scientific publishing. But by and large, consuming that literature is still a tedious process of reading that does not lend itself well to today’s active lifestyles. Do you have a long commute or need your hands and eyes free for other tasks like pipetting or microinjecting? Then we think you’ll love the Worm Reader’s Gazette.

The Worm Breeder’s Gazette is pleased to announce the Worm Reader’s Gazette: audio recordings of scientific literature read aloud by lead authors, now in private invite only alpha testing.

At the Worm Reader’s Gazette, lead authors can create and submit audio recordings of their publications. We’re starting with seminal papers in the C. elegans field and adding new papers as they are published.

Making audio recordings a standard part of the manuscript submission process.

To improve the coverage of available articles, we are working with publishers to make audio recordings a required part of the manuscript submission materials.

Following acceptance and approval of the final galleys, web-based authoring tools will make it simple for authors to create and edit their audio recordings from their mobile phone.

Borrowing from the popular photo sharing service Instagram, special audio filters will add humor, drama, or august ambience as required by the tone and conclusions of your manuscript. These include the mysterious “Irreproducible Result”, the lo-fi “Graduate Seminar”, the visceral “Thesis Defense”, and the noble “Nobel Address” and many, many others.

We’ve included high quality audio samples that authors can drag and drop into their recording, too. Add dog barks after particularly important points, bomb explosions during and after paradigm shifting pronouncements, and audience applause whenever warranted.

Our natural language processing filters will automatically markup your recording with special auditory hyperlinks to primary databases. Users can “click” on these hyperlinks during playback using voice activation via Siri, Cortana, or Alexa: “Hey Siri, order the antibody mentioned in the fifth paragraph and have it sent priority overnight mail to my bench”. Yes, it’s that easy.

We hope you enjoy this new service. And we look forward to seeing — and hearing! — your next publication.

Community annotation — by any name — still isn’t a part of the research process. It should be.

In order for community annotation efforts to succeed, they need to become part of the established research process: mine annotations, generate hypotheses, do experiments, write manuscripts, submit annotations. Rinse and repeat.

A few weeks ago, I posted the following tweet:

Bioinformatics people like to orate about "community annotation". I've never heard a biologist use the phrase. Therein lies the problem.

A few retweeters responded that in their particular realm of bioinformatics, community annotation was called “community curation” or a “jamboree” and they’ve had various degrees of success. Points taken and effort applauded.

The real essence of my tweet was that community annotation — regardless of what it is called — largely fails or is undertaken on a very small scale because it simply isn’t a priority for biologists.

Working at the bench, community annotation doesn’t even make the long list of things to do: conducting experiments, writing manuscripts and grants, mentoring, sitting on committees, teaching. Contributing to community annotation efforts simply does not make the cut.

How might we fix this?

1. Top-down emphasis on the importance of community annotation.

Community annotation isn’t required of publishers or funding agencies except in the most minimal degree (eg submission of sequences). This needs to be changed. By making community annotation part of the process of doing research, the research itself will become more reproducible, more accessible to a broader audience, and more stable over time. It should be complementary to writing a manuscript.

Publishers benefit because extracted entities become markup targets to enhance their online product. Funding agencies benefit since having primary authors and domain experts submit annotation suits the mission of transparency and reproducibility and has a presumed efficiency over third party curation.

2. Better tools.

The tools for community annotation are embryonic and do not match the user experience people have come to expect in the Facebook / Pinterest / Instagram / Google Docs era. Bioinformatics teams need to begin employing user interface, user experience, and graphic design professionals to build friendlier, more efficient, and more beautiful tools to encourage participation.

3. Recognition.

Again, in an effort to encourage participation, we need to recognize the efforts of people who do contribute. This system must have professional currency to it, akin to writing a review paper, and should be citable for two reasons. First, it adds legitimacy to the contribution. It’s now part of the scientific record that can be extended by other researchers. Second, the primary contributor can now make note of their effort expended on CVs and in the tenure or job performance review process.

Nanopublications and microattribution represent the most promising avenues for providing suitable recognition with scientific legitimacy that maps to the current academic and professional status quo.