December 2011

Crowdsourcing biochemistry and molecular biology


A new type of manuscript review is coming to a new online Journal, eLife, recently established by the Max Planck Society, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Wellcome Trust. With ASBMB member Randy Schekman as the new editor-in-chief, this journal will assign papers for oversight by a member of a board of reviewing editors. The editor and one or two other experts will read each manuscript, and they will then confer to merge opinions into one coherent message to the corresponding author, offering specific guidelines for one round of revision or a firm rejection on the basis of substantial criticisms of the work. The idea is to take advantage of the collective intelligence of three expert referees to provide authors with the most intelligent and rational reviews. This approach is very welcome. “It is my strong feeling that there is a need for a scientific journal at the very high end that is run by active practicing scientists embedded in an academic environment, individuals who experience both the frustrations and satisfactions of research,” says Schekman.

Faculty of 1000 
Another valuable, community-based service is provided by Faculty of 1000: Members contribute short, high-level summaries of papers they find interesting in their reading of the literature. I certainly appreciate papers being brought to my attention by colleagues in my field, and a single, weekly email summary makes it easy to stay up to date.

Scientists also need to share reviews of their vendor experiences. How many ASBMB Today readers have purchased an antibody or enzyme from a company and then discovered that it doesn’t work? There is one vendor known to members of my lab for sending out lousy antibodies, but I bet that company would be put out of business if all frustrated customers voiced their opinions on a single site. Think of how much money and time could be saved if we shared this kind of information. Let’s make use of the collective intelligence of our entire community of biochemists and crowdsource as much as possible to help each other be most successful.

  1. 1. Predicting protein structures with a multiplayer online game. Seth Cooper, Firas Khatib, Adrien Treuille, Janos Barbero, Jeehyung Lee, Michael Beenen, Andrew Leaver-Fay, David Baker, Zoran Popović and Foldit players. Nature 466, 756-760 (2010).; 
  2. 2. 

Suzanne PfefferASBMB President Suzanne Pfeffer ( is a biochemistry professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.


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