Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scientific Bonus Points for Database Contributions

ResearchBlogging.orgMeasuring scientific productivity is a concern at many different levels especially in terms for promotions and the competition brought on by limited funding sources. The area of life sciences is no exception to this; the National Institutes of Health (NIH) saw a flat budget between 2003-08. And even though the NIH will enjoy a temporary budget increase thanks to the Recovery Act and with President Barack Obama's 2011 budget request, there are no guarantees for what the future holds.

The most common method for assessing the performance of researchers is by looking at a researcher's publication record and the journal impact factor of those the publications. A more recent development in quantifying research output is the h-index by Jorge Hirsch in 2005 that looks at scientific output also as a measure of publication citations. Bornmann and Daniel outline the methodology of the h-index and various concerns about using the metric in their 2008 publication. For those curious about their own h-index value, here is an h-index calculator built using Google Scholar. But what else do researchers do that could be seen as "scientific output" and how could these activities be measured? As a computational biologist, I have a specific interest in online databases, which often serve as the main sources of data for projects in my field, and ways that researchers could be encouraged to contribute to them.

Jesse Schell, a Carnegie Mellon professor who teaches Game Design, recently gave a presentation at the Design Innovate Communicate Entertain (DICE) 2010 summit where he speaks about recent successes in game design in which games break into reality, drawing on ones' real social networks or achievement metrics that transcend individual games. Towards the end of the presentation, he imagines a world where one day we might earn bonus points simply by brushing our teeth or high-fiving friends. The video clip below shows the relevant segment and the full video can be found at G4TV.

So what about the life sciences? Where are the scientific bonus points? One idea proposed by Martijn Van Iersel, a developer for Pathvisio and WikiPathways, as a Google Summer of Code project is the development of a Scientific Karma website. The proposal calls for some standardized and automated way for contributions to various online communities to be scored. The website would display a list of wikis and communities that researchers have contributed to and a contributor's score for that site. Active contribution to online databases is important as it enhances all of our understandings and access to larger datasets helps research projects draw better conclusions about increasingly complex biological systems.

Bornmann, L., & Daniel, H. (2008). The state of h index research. Is the h index the ideal way to measure research performance? EMBO reports, 10 (1), 2-6 DOI: 10.1038/embor.2008.233

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