Image recognition to the rescue of natural history museums by enabling curators to identify specimens on the fly

New Research Idea, published in RIO Journal presents a promising machine-learning ecosystem to unite experts around the world and make up for lacking taxonomic expertise.

In their Research Idea, published in Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal), Swiss-Dutch research team present a promising machine-learning ecosystem to unite experts around the world and make up for lacking expert staff

Guest blog post by Luc Willemse, Senior collection manager at Naturalis Biodiversity Centre (Leiden, Netherlands)

Imagine the workday of a curator in a national natural history museum. Having spent several decades learning about a specific subgroup of grasshoppers, that person is now busy working on the identification and organisation of the holdings of the institution. To do this, the curator needs to study in detail a huge number of undescribed grasshoppers collected from all sorts of habitats around the world. 

The problem here, however, is that a curator at a smaller natural history institution – is usually responsible for all insects kept at the museum, ranging from butterflies to beetles, flies and so on. In total, we know of around 1 million described insect species worldwide. Meanwhile, another 3,000 are being added each year, while many more are redescribed, as a result of further study and new discoveries. Becoming a specialist for grasshoppers was already a laborious activity that took decades, how about knowing all insects of the world? That’s simply impossible. 

Then, how could we expect from one person to sort and update all collections at a museum: an activity that is the cornerstone of biodiversity research? A part of the solution, hiring and training additional staff, is costly and time-consuming, especially when we know that experts on certain species groups are already scarce on a global scale. 

We believe that automated image recognition holds the key to reliable and sustainable practises at natural history institutions. 

Today, image recognition tools integrated in mobile apps are already being used even by citizen scientists to identify plants and animals in the field. Based on an image taken by a smartphone, those tools identify specimens on the fly and estimate the accuracy of their results. What’s more is the fact that those identifications have proven to be almost as accurate as those done by humans. This gives us hope that we could help curators at museums worldwide take better and more timely care of the collections they are responsible for. 

However, specimen identification for the use of natural history institutions is still much more complex than the tools used in the field. After all, the information they store and should be able to provide is meant to serve as a knowledge hub for educational and reference purposes for present and future generations of researchers around the globe.

This is why we propose a sustainable system where images, knowledge, trained recognition models and tools are exchanged between institutes, and where an international collaboration between museums from all sizes is crucial. The aim is to have a system that will benefit the entire community of natural history collections in providing further access to their invaluable collections. 

We propose four elements to this system: 

  1. A central library of already trained image recognition models (algorithms) needs to be created. It will be openly accessible, so any other institute can profit from models trained by others.
Mock-up of a Central Library of Algorithms.
  1. A central library of datasets accessing images of collection specimens that have recently been identified by experts. This will provide an indispensable source of images for training new algorithms.
Mock-up of a Central Library of Datasets.
  1. A digital workbench that provides an easy-to-use interface for inexperienced users to customise the algorithms and datasets to the particular needs in their own collections. 
  2. As the entire system depends on international collaboration as well as sharing of algorithms and datasets, a user forum is essential to discuss issues, coordinate, evaluate, test or implement novel technologies.

How would this work on a daily basis for curators? We provide two examples of use cases.

First, let’s zoom in to a case where a curator needs to identify a box of insects, for example bush crickets, to a lower taxonomic level. Here, he/she would take an image of the box and split it into segments of individual specimens. Then, image recognition will identify the bush crickets to a lower taxonomic level. The result, which we present in the table below – will be used to update object-level registration or to physically rearrange specimens into more accurate boxes. This entire step can also be done by non-specialist staff. 

Mock-up of box with grasshoppers mentioned in the above table

Results of automated image recognition identify specimens to a lower taxonomic level.

Another example is to incorporate image recognition tools into digitisation processes that include imaging specimens. In this case, image recognition tools can be used on the fly to check or confirm the identifications and thus improve data quality.

Mock-up of an interface for automated taxon identification. 

Using image recognition tools to identify specimens in museum collections is likely to become common practice in the future. It is a technical tool that will enable the community to share available taxonomic expertise. 

Using image recognition tools creates the possibility to identify species groups for which there is very limited to none in-house expertise. Such practises would substantially reduce costs and time spent per treated item. 

Image recognition applications carry metadata like version numbers and/or datasets used for training. Additionally, such an approach would make identification more transparent than the one carried out by humans whose expertise is, by design, in no way standardised or transparent.

*

Follow RIO Journal on Twitter and Facebook.

*

Research publication:

Greeff M, Caspers M, Kalkman V, Willemse L, Sunderland BD, Bánki O, Hogeweg L (2022) Sharing taxonomic expertise between natural history collections using image recognition. Research Ideas and Outcomes 8: e79187. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.8.e79187

Digitising the Natural History Museum London’s entire collection could contribute over £2 billion to the global economy

In a world first, the Natural History Museum, London, has collaborated with economic consultants, Frontier Economics Ltd, to explore the economic and societal value of digitising natural history collections and concluded that digitisation has the potential to see a seven to tenfold return on investment. Whilst significant progress is already being made at the Museum, additional investment is needed in order to unlock the full potential of the Museum’s vast collections – more than 80 million objects. The project’s report is published in the open science scientific journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal).

One of the Museum’s digitisers imaging a butterfly to join the 4.93 million specimens already available online. 
© The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The societal benefits of digitising natural history collections extends to global advancements in food security, biodiversity conservation, medicine discovery, minerals exploration, and beyond. Brand new, rigorous economic report predicts investing in digitising natural history museum collections could also result in a tenfold return. The Natural History Museum, London, has so far made over 4.9 million digitised specimens available freely online – over 28 billion records have been downloaded over 429,000 download events over the past six years. 

Digitisation at the Natural History Museum, London 

Digitisation is the process of creating and sharing the data associated with Museum specimens. To digitise a specimen, all its related information is added to an online database. This typically includes where and when it was collected and who found it, and can include photographs, scans and other molecular data if available. Natural history collections are a unique record of biodiversity dating back hundreds of years, and geodiversity dating back millennia. Creating and sharing data this way enables science that would have otherwise been impossible, and we accelerate the rate at which important discoveries are made from our collections.  

The Natural History Museum’s collection of 80 million items is one of the largest and most historically and geographically diverse in the world. By unlocking the collection online, the Museum provides free and open access for global researchers, scientists, artists and more. Since 2015, the Museum has made 4.9 million specimens available on the Museum’s Data Portal, which have seen more than 28 billion downloads over 427,000 download events. 

This means the Museum has digitised  about 6% of its collections to date. Because digitisation is expensive, costing tens of millions of pounds, it is difficult to make a case for further investment without better understanding the value of this digitisation and its benefits. 

In 2021, the Museum decided to explore the economic impacts of collections data in more depth, and commissioned Frontier Economics to undertake modelling, resulting in this project report, now made publicly available in the open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal), and confirming benefits in excess of £2 billion over 30 years. While the methods in this report are relevant to collections globally, this modelling focuses on benefits to the UK, and is intended to support the Museum’s own digitisation work, as well as a current scoping study funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council about the case for digitising all UK natural science collections as a research infrastructure.

Sharing data from our collections can transform scientific research and help find solutions for nature and from nature. Our digitised collections have helped establish the baseline plant biodiversity in the Amazon, find wheat crops that are more resilient to climate change and support research into potential zoonotic origins of Covid-19. The research that comes from sharing our specimens has immense potential to transform our world and help both people and the planet thrive,

says Helen Hardy, Science Digital Programme Manager at the Natural History Museum.

How digitisation impacts scientific research?

The data from museum collections accelerates scientific research, which in turn creates benefits for society and the economy across a wide range of sectors. Frontier Economics Ltd have looked at the impact of collections data in five of these sectors: biodiversity conservation, invasive species, medicines discovery, agricultural research and development and mineral exploration. 

The Natural History Museum’s collection is a real treasure trove which, if made easily accessible to scientists all over the world through digitisation, has the potential to unlock ground-breaking research in any number of areas. Predicting exactly how the data will be used in future is clearly very uncertain. We have looked at the potential value that new research could create in just five areas focussing on a relatively narrow set of outcomes. We find that the value at stake is extremely large, running into billions,”

says Dan Popov, Economist at Frontier Economics Ltd.

The new analyses attempt to estimate the economic value of these benefits using a range of approaches, with the results in broad agreement that the benefits of digitisation are at least ten times greater than the costs. This represents a compelling case for investment in museum digital infrastructure without which the many benefits will not be realised.

This new analysis shows that the data locked up in our collections has significant societal and economic value, but we need investment to help us release it,

adds Professor Ken Norris, Head of the Life Sciences Department at the Natural History Museum.

Other benefits could include improvements to the resilience of agricultural crops by better understanding their wild relatives, research into invasive species which can cause significant damage to ecosystems and crops, and improving the accuracy of mining.  

Finally, there are other impacts that such work could have on how science is conducted itself. The very act of digitising specimens means that researchers anywhere on the planet can access these collections, saving time and money that may have been spent as scientists travelled to see specific objects.

The value of research enabled by digitisation of natural history collections can be estimated by looking at specific areas where the Museum’s collections contribute towards scientific research and subsequently impact the wider economy. 
© Frontier Economics Ltd.

Original source: 

Popov D, Roychoudhury P, Hardy H, Livermore L, Norris K (2021) The Value of Digitising Natural History Collections. Research Ideas and Outcomes 7: e78844. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.7.e78844

The S.L.E.E.P.ing Beauty: new Research Idea suggests sedation-led chemotherapy to avoid pain

Photo by National Cancer Institute (NIH, USA) on Unsplash.

Blog post by Dr. Marco Cirillo, Heart Failure Surgery Unit Director at the Cardiovascular Department in Poliambulanza Foundation Hospital (Brescia, Italy)

Good morning, madam,” said the doctor greeting the patient who was entering his office. 

Good morning, Doctor,” she replied. 

So, how are you?” he asked her, motioning for her to sit in one of the two chairs in front of his desk. 

Well, it’s not bad.” 

The doctor looked at her carefully. 

So, this first dose of chemo… Did you tolerate it well, right?” 

“Yes, Doctor. I passed it…” 

Troubles? Nausea? Vomiting? Other problems?” 

No, Doctor. Nothing,” she replied. 

The doctor continued to watch her carefully. After her last answer he got up and went to sit next to her in the other chair that was in front of his desk. He took her hand and asked her again: 

So, madam: how are you?

The patient shook his hand as if in silent thanks. 

Doctor, you are a good doctor.” 

I’m here to understand what you need, madam, what can I do for you.” 

The patient thought a little longer before speaking. 

So, Doctor: the chemo didn’t bother me much, maybe because it’s the first one. Except that… In short, what was difficult was waiting together with the others, all talking about their tumor, where they have it, what chemo they are at, what happened to them, then the hairless ones with the turban on their heads, and how much hemoglobin you have, and what your husband said, and if they recognized you without hair…” 

I understand, madam. But it’s also a way to exorcise it, isn’t it? A way to share this bad experience, to not feel alone…” 

She looked him directly in the eyes.

Doctor, we are not all the same. These things bother me. Seeing how I will be in a month scares me. It doesn’t solace me to know that someone is sicker than me. And knowing that someone is better terrifies me…” 

The doctor nodded his head. 

I don’t want to think about my illness and when I come here, I necessarily think about it. I have to think about it. At home I do many things, I see many people, I may not think about it. But when I come here… Then for days I see these scenes in front of me, as if I’ve never left… Believe me, I do not simply ignore the disease, I know what I have and what awaits me. But if I could, I would avoid everything in between, between me and my illness. Do you understand?

Of course, madam. I understand. For others it is the same thing.” 

They went silent for a while. 

Then, the doctor said: 

If you had a choice, ma’am, what would you want? What would make you bear it all better?” 

She answered immediately, as if she had the answer ready. 

If I could, I would like to fall asleep and wake up when it’s all over! Don’t see the others, don’t even see the hospital, don’t hear what the nurses say, don’t see the drip, don’t feel the needle entering, don’t see the drop of poison that I have to let into my body to try to survive… Don’t feel the time passing so slowly, as slow as the drop of the drip, a time ‘lost’ that is part of the little time I still have left… I am forced to hope that this time will pass quickly, but at the same time I know that it is not convenient for me to pass quickly, because even this time of treatment is taken away from my life. From what remains of it…

The doctor released her hand and leaned back in his chair. 

The lady asked him: 

Did I say something wrong?” 

No, madam, on the contrary,” said the doctor. “You told me something wonderful.” 

Ah, really? It sounds trivial to me…” 

No, what a patient says when he talks about himself and his illness is never trivial. You gave me a very good idea, madam.” 

Indeed?” 

Sure! What you ask can be done.” 

That is…” 

I can set up a study in which to administer chemo during sleep and analyze the results,” the doctor said, then corrected himself by translating his words into more direct language. “Sorry: I can make you sleep during the treatment, maybe set the treatment during night, so it doesn’t alter your days. And then you will wake up when it’s all over. That wouldn’t prevent some side effects…” 

…but it would prevent me from living consciously at the time of treatment,” the patient completed. 

Sure,” the doctor confirmed. 

Like the Sleeping Beauty…” the patient said. “You know the tale, don’t you?” 

Sure, who doesn’t know it.” 

The fairy godmothers cannot avoid the evil witch’s curse, so they make her fall asleep instead of die. Waiting for a solution,” the patient sighed deeply. “So, Doctor, if you can eliminate the evil that hangs over me, do it. Otherwise, let me sleep before the spinning wheel stings me.” 

The doctor looked at her with a grateful look. He had always felt that not only did he do something for the patients every day, but the patients also did something for him every day. 

Would you do this for me, Doctor?” 

The doctor smiled. 

Of course, ma’am. For you and for all the people who want it. Just give me some time to organize this.” 

Take your time” the lady said enthusiastically, but soon after she added with a wink: “No, on the contrary: hurry up, I wouldn’t want to waste any more time…” 

**

Every doctor’s job is to heal diseases. When it is not possible to heal them, the best cure is to relieve the suffering. In Oncology, this second option is still extremely important. The psychological aspect of dealing with something that is often not guaranteed to heal is crucial. 

This project aims to extend the concept of “care” by approaching the patient and his/her needs: it is not the patient who has to adapt to the hospital’s schemes, its timing, its protocols, but it is the hospital that must serve the patients, to “take care” after their problem in its multidimensionality.  

The disease derails the life of the patient in a decisive way. We must as far as possible try to “sew in” the disease element into their everyday life,  if we want them to experience it as something that is part of normal life. This can make them tolerate it better and perhaps improve the chances of overcoming it. 

Here, this is the concept behind my research idea.

The study could be initially applied to a selected series of patients, and then extended, if the results are promising. 

Certainly, there are some practical limitations related to this study. Arranging the administration during sleep requires many “beds”; it requires specialized nursing staff; if it is carried at home, it also needs allocating specialists for home visits.

It is true, however, that home care for cancer patients is already very common in advanced healthcare systems. Economic investment and funding of cancer research and treatment remain at the top, along with cardiovascular diseases, in all healthcare systems. 

Cancer Centers nowadays abound around the world and are increasing in numbers. Comprehensive Cancer Centers, which are the largest in America, carry out transdisciplinary research, recognizing the importance of integrating different knowledge together for more effective treatment. The assistance and therapeutic network, the shared protocols, the sector research in Oncology already boast a very high level today. The coordination between centers makes use of all that assistance know-how. If I have to think of a medical field in which research, assistance, network of knowledge and uniformity of treatment are the most coordinated and efficient, this field is undoubtedly the oncology one. 

I would gladly give my scientific contribution by collaborating with centers of Excellence and their teams, who would like to join me on this research project. I would also readily share some organizational ideas by integrating them with the specific knowledge of colleague oncologists. Let’s fight the curse and help people to bear it with the least physical and psychological suffering!

*

Read the full Research Idea in Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) at: https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.7.e71271

*

Full citation:
Cirillo M (2021) Sedation-Led chEmotherapy Evades Pain (S.L.E.E.P.). Research Ideas and Outcomes 7: e71271. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.7.e71271

Call for research outcomes addressing four UN Sustainable Development Goals in RIO Journal

Eligible submissions enjoy a 50% discount off APCs in 2021

Since its launch in 2015, RIO Journal has been mapping its articles to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The articles published so far span the entire research cycle, a broad range of research fields and all SDGs, which can also be used as a search filter. However, the distribution of RIO articles across SDGs is uneven, as detailed in a recent editorial: for instance, more than 100 articles addressed SDG9 (Industry, innovation & infrastructure), while only one publication has been mapped to SDG1 (No poverty) so far.

Even though there might be logical explanations for this phenomenon, including funding biases or specific scholarly communication tendencies in some research fields, RIO’s team remains dedicated to its role as a harbinger of innovative open science practices and socially engaged research, and is eager to support the open publication of research on all SDGs.

So, RIO Journal is now inviting research outcomes – early, interim or final – addressing the four least represented SDGs in RIO’s content to date (with the current number indicated in parentheses):

  • SDG1: No poverty (1)
  • SDG7: Affordable & clean energy (2)
  • SDG5: Gender equality (4)
  • SDG2: Zero hunger (4)
All publications in RIO Journal are mapped to one or more SDGs.

The call will remain open until the end of 2021, where all accepted papers will enjoy a 50% discount on their publication charges (APCs), regardless of how many contributions RIO receives in the meantime. Eligible submissions encompass all article types generally accepted in RIO, as long as the journal’s editorial team confirms that they belong to the assigned SDG category.

As also highlighted in the editorial, RIO is currently experimenting with a more fine-grained mapping of its publications to the individual targets under each SDG. This was piloted with SDG 14 (Life below water). For instance, Target 14.a (Marine Biodiversity contributes to Economic Development of small/developing nations) is currently covered by 17 RIO articles. If you would like to get involved with mapping RIO articles to the Targets under other SDGs, please get in touch.

You can find more about RIO’s rationale behind introducing the SDGs mapping in the latest editorial or in this earlier blog post.

***

Follow RIO Journal on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

***

Further reading:

RIO Journal 5 years on: over 300 published outcomes from all around the research cycle

Five years on, the Open Science-driven journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) published an editorial that looks back on the 300 research ideas and research outcomes it has published so far.

Since its early days, RIO has enjoyed quite positive reactions from the open-minded academic community for its innovative approach to Open Science in practice: it provides a niche that had long been missing, namely the publication of early, intermediate and generally unconventional research outcomes from all around the research cycle (e.g. grant proposals, data management plans, project deliverables, reports, policy briefs, conference materials) in a cross-disciplinary scientific journal. In fact, several months after its launch, in 2016, the journal was acknowledged with the SPARC Innovator Award.

‘Alternative’ research publications

In times when posting a preprint was seen as a novel and rather bold practice across many fields, RIO facilitated much deeper dives into the research process, in order to unveil scientific knowledge and the process by which it is gathered, well before any final conclusions have been drawn. Long story short, to date, RIO has published 33 Research Ideas78 Grant Proposals16 Data Management Plans33 Workshop Reports and 5 PhD Project Plans, in addition to plenty of other early, interim and final non-traditional research outcomes, as well as conventional articles. Over time, RIO has kept adding additional article types to its list of publication types, with a few more expected in the near future.

What’s more, over the years, we’ve already observed how papers published in RIO successfully followed up on the continuity of the research process. For example, the Grant Proposal for the “Exploring the opportunities and challenges of implementing open research strategies within development institutions” project, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), was followed by the project’s Data Management Plan a year later.

Five years later, the figures reflecting the usage and engagement with the content published in RIO are evidently supportive of the value of having non-final and unconventional academic publications. For instance, the Grant Proposal for the COST Action DNAqua-Net, a still ongoing project dedicated to the development of novel genetic tools for bioassessment and monitoring of aquatic ecosystems, is the article with the most total views in RIO’s publication record to date. In the category of sub-article elements, whose usage is also tracked at the journal, the most viewed figure belongs to a Project Report and illustrates a sample code meant to be used in future neuroimaging studies. Similarly, the most viewed table ever published in RIO is part of a Workshop Report that summarises ASAPbio‘s third workshop, dedicated to the technical aspects of services related to the promotion of preprints in the biomedical and other life science communities.

Response to societal challenges

A unique and defining staple for RIO since the very beginning has also been the pronounced engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as formulated by the United Nations right around the time of RIO’s launch. In order to highlight the societal impact of published research, RIO lets authors map their articles to the SDGs relevant to their paper. Once published, the article displays the associated badge(s) next to its title. Readers of the journal can even search RIO’s content by SDG, in the same way they would filter articles by subject, publication types, date or funding agency. Next on the list for RIO is to add another level of granularity to the SDGs mapping. The practice has already been piloted by mapping relevant RIO articles to the ten targets under SDG14 (Life below water).

Taking transparency, responsibility and collaboration in academia and scholarly publishing up another notch, RIO requires for reviews to be publicly available. In addition, the journal supports post-publication reviews, where peers are free to post their review anytime. In turn, RIO registers each review with its own DOI via CrossRef, in order to recognise the valuable input and let the reviewers easily refer to their contributions. A fine example is a Review Article exploring the biodiversity-related issues and challenges across Southeast Asia, which currently has a total of three public peer reviews, one of which is provided two years after the publication of the paper.

Public, transparent and perpetual peer review, pre- and/or post-publication

What’s more striking about peer review at RIO, however, is that it is not always mandatory. Given that the journal publishes many article types that have already been scrutinised by a legitimate authority – for instance, Grant Proposals that have previously been evaluated by a funder or defended PhD Theses – it only makes sense to avoid withholding these publications and duplicating associated evaluation efforts. On such occasions, all an author needs to do is provide a statement about the review status of their paper, which will be made public alongside the article.

On the other hand, where the article type of a manuscript requires pre-publication review, to avoid potential delays caused by the review process and editorial decisions, RIO encourages the authors to post their pre-review manuscript as a preprint on the recently launched ARPHA Preprints platform, subject to a quick editorial screening, which would only take a few days.

Further, RIO has now abandoned the practice of burdening the journal’s editors with the time-consuming task of finding reviewers, and instead requiring the submitting author to invite suitable reviewers upon submission, who are then immediately and automatically invited by the system. While significantly expediting the editorial work on a manuscript, this practice doesn’t compromise the quality of peer review in the slightest, since the reviews go public, while the final decision about the acceptance of the paper lies with the editor, who is also overlooking the process and able to intervene and invite additional reviewers anytime, if necessary.

Project-driven knowledge hub

The most significant novelty at RIO, however, is perhaps the newly assumed role of the journal as “a project-driven knowledge hub“, targeting specifically the needs of research projects, conference organisers and institutions. For them, RIO provides a one-stop source for the outputs of their scientists, in order to comply with the requirements of their funders or management, or simply to facilitate the discoverability, reusability and citability of their academic outputs and to highlight their interconnectedness.

Unlike typical permanent article collections, already widely used in scholarly publishing, with RIO, collection owners can take advantage of the unique opportunity to add a wide range of research outputs, including such published elsewhere, in order to provide even greater context to the assembled research outputs in their project- or institution-branded article collection (see the Horizon 2020 Project Path2Integrity‘s project collection as an example).

A permanent topical collection in RIO Journal may include a diverse range of both traditional and unconventional research outputs, as well as links to publications from outside the journal (see What can I publish on the journal’s website). 

For example, a project coordinator could open a collection under the brand of the project, and start by publishing the Grant Proposal, followed shortly by Data and Software Management Plans and Workshop Reports. Thus, even at this early point in the project’s development, the funder – and with them everyone else – would already have strong evidence of the project’s dedication to transparency and active science communication. Later on, the project’s participants would all be able to easily add to the project’s collection by either submitting their diverse research outputs straight to RIO and having it accepted by the collection lead editor, or providing metadata and link to their publication from elsewhere, even preprints. If the document is published outside of RIO, its metadata, i.e. author names and affiliations, article title and publication date, show up in the collection, while a click on the item will lead to the original publication. As the project progresses, the team behind it could add more and more outputs (e.g. Project Reports, Guidelines and Policy Briefs), continuously updating the public and the relevant stakeholders about the development of their work. Eventually, the collection will be able to provide a comprehensive and fully transparent report of the project from start to finish.

###

Follow RIO Journal on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Centrally-managed collections & Peer review flexibility at RIO

RIO updated its article collection approach to evolve into a “project-driven knowledge hub”, where a project coordinator, institution or conference organiser can create and centrally manage a collection under their own logo.

In 2015, Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) was launched to streamline dissemination of scientific knowledge throughout the research process, recognised to begin with the inception of a research idea, followed by the submission of a grant proposal and progressing to, for example, data / software management plans and mid-stage project reports, before concluding with the well-known research and review paper.


In order to really expedite and facilitate access to scientific knowledge, the hurdles for engagement with the process need to be minimized for readers, authors, reviewers and editors alike. RIO aims to lay the groundwork for constructive scientific feedback and dialogue that would then lead to the elaboration and refinement of the research work well in its early stage. 

Recently, RIO published its 300th article – about a software for analyzing time series data from a microclimate research site in the Alps – and at that occasion, the RIO team wrote an editorial summarizing how the articles published in RIO so far facilitate engagement with the respective research processes. One of the observations in this regard was that while providing access to the various stages of the research cycle is necessary for meaningful engagement, there is a need for the various outcomes to be packed together, so that we can provide a more complete context for individual published outcomes.

Read the new editorial celebrating RIO’s 5th anniversary and looking back on 300 publications. 

RIO introduced updates to its article collection approach to evolve into a “project-driven knowledge hub”, where a project coordinator, research institution or conference organiser can create and centrally manage a collection under their own logo, so that authors can much more easily contribute. Further, research outputs published elsewhere – including preprints – are also allowed, so that the collection displays each part of the ‘puzzle’ within its context. In this case, the metadata of the paper, i.e. title, authors and publication date, are displayed in the article list within the collection, and link to the original source.

Apart from allowing the inclusion of the whole diversity of research outcomes published in RIO or elsewhere, what particularly appeals to projects, conferences and institutions is the simplicity of opening and managing a self-branded collection at RIO. All they need to do is pay a one-time fee to cover the setup and maintenance of the collection, whereas an option with an unlimited number of publications is also available. Then, authors can add their work – subject to approval by the collection’s editor and the journal’s editorial office – by either starting a new manuscript at RIO and then assigning it to an existing collection; pasting the DOI of a publication available from elsewhere; or posting an author-formatted PDF document to ARPHA Preprints, as it has been submitted to the external evaluator (e.g. funding agency). In the latter two cases, the authors are charged nothing, in order to support greater transparency and contextuality within the research process.

Buttons on RIO Journal’s homepage allow users to create a new collection or add a document to an existing collection by either submitting a new manuscript via RIO Journal or pasting a DOI link of a publication from elsewhere, thus allowing for the collection to link to the original source and display the article’s metadata, i.e. title, authors and publication date.

Find more information about how to edit a collection at RIO and the associated benefits and responsibilities on RIO’s website.

Another thing we have revised at RIO is the peer review policy and workflow, which are now further clarified and tailored to the specificity of each type of research outcome.

Having moved to entirely author-initiated peer review, where the system automatically invites reviewers suggested by the author upon submission of a paper, RIO has also clearly defined which article types are subject to mandatory pre-publication peer review or not (see the full list). In the latter case, RIO no longer prompts the invitation of reviewers. Within their collections, owners and guest editors can decide on the peer review mode, guided by RIO’s existing policies.

While pre-publication peer review is not always mandatory, all papers are subject to editorial evaluation and also remain available in perpetuity for post-submission review. In both cases, reviews are public and disclose the name of their author by default. In turn, RIO registers each review with its own DOI via CrossRef, in order to recognise the valuable input and let the reviewers easily refer to their contributions. 

Both pre- and post-publication reviews at RIO are openly published alongside the paper and bear their own DOI. All papers in RIO remain available for post-publication review in perpetuity (see example).

For article types where peer review is mandatory (e.g. Research Idea, Review article, Research Article, Data Paper), authors are requested to invite a minimum of three suitable reviewers upon the submission of the paper, who are then automatically invited by the system. While significantly expediting the editorial work on a manuscript, this practice doesn’t compromise the quality of peer review in the slightest, since the editor is still overlooking the process and able to invite additional reviewers anytime, if necessary. 

For article types where peer review is not mandatory (e.g. Grant Proposal, Data Management Plan, Project Report and various conference materials), all an author needs to do is provide a statement about the review status of their paper, which will be made public alongside the article. Given that such papers have usually already been scrutinised by a legitimate authority (e.g. funding agency or conference committee), it only makes sense to not withhold their publication and duplicate academic efforts.

By the time it is submitted to RIO, a Grant Proposal like this one has often already been assessed by a legitimate funder, so it only makes sense to not undergo the process again at RIO and thereby slowing down its public dissemination.

Additionally, where the article type of a manuscript requires pre-publication review, RIO encourages the authors to click a checkbox during the submission and post their pre-review manuscript as a preprint on ARPHA Preprints, subject to a quick editorial screening, which would only take a few days.

***

Follow RIO Journal on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

***

Further reading:

RIO shifts gears to serve as project-driven knowledge hub

Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) upgrades its unique concept to appeal to scientific projects, conference organisers and research institutions

Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) upgrades its unique concept to appeal to scientific projects, conference organisers and research institutions

Over the last few years, we’ve been increasingly observing how major funders of research around the world, including the likes of the European Commission, Wellcome, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) recognise the research cycle as a continuum, rather than scattered standalone conclusions and reports. 

Hence, as a forward-looking, open science-driven journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) took it as its own responsibility to encourage scientific project teams, conference organisers and research institutions to bring together unconventional research outputs (e.g. grant proposals, data management plans, project deliverables, policy briefs, conference materials) as well as traditional (e.g. research or review papers, monographs, etc.), including such published elsewhere. To do so, RIO now provides the platform ready to be used as a research knowledge hub, where published outcomes are preserved permanently and easier to share, disseminate, reference and reuse.

Hence, RIO stepped up its game by turning permanent article collections into a one-stop source of diverse research items, where project coordinators, conference organisers or research institutions can not only publish early, interim and conclusive research items as they emerge within a research project, a series of events or the continuous scientific efforts at their lab, but also link relevant publications (i.e. preprints, articles or other documents, published elsewhere) available elsewhere through their metadata. As a result, they will receive a one-stop source under their own branding for every piece of scientific contribution ready to present to funding bodies or prospective collaborators and future research teams.

A permanent topical collection in RIO Journal may include a diverse range of both traditional and unconventional research outputs, as well as links to publications from outside the journal (see What can I publish on the journal’s website). 

Apart from bringing contextually linked research outcomes together, thus prompting findability, readership and citability en masse, RIO’s approach to collections ensures further accessibility by not only having RIO-published articles available in traditional PDF, semantically enriched HTML and minable XML format. The open-science journal has now made it possible for users to add to their collections preprints from ARPHA Preprints, as well as author-formatted PDFs (e.g. project deliverables, reports, policy briefs, etc.) and linked metadata to documents published elsewhere. Thanks to the integration of the journal with the general-purpose open-access repository Zenodo, all items in a collection are archived, and additionally indexed, disseminated and cited.

By focusing on article and preprint collections coming out from a research project, institution or conference, RIO provides a quite specific and unique combination of benefits to all actors of the research process: scientists, project coordinators, funders and institutions: 

  1. Project, institution or conference branding and promotion.
  2. One-stop point for outputs of a research project, institution or conference.
  3. Free publication of author-formatted project outputs (i.e. grant proposals, deliverables, reports, policy briefs, conference materials and others).
  4. Inclusivity through adding articles, preprints and other documents published elsewhere as easy as entering the DOI number of the document.
  5. Credit and recognition for the Collection and Guest editors, who take care to organise and manage the article collection.
  6. Easier discoverability and usability of topically related studies to benefit both authors and readers.
  7. Increased visibility of related papers in a collection, even when these might otherwise not have much exposure.
  8. Simultaneous citation of multiple articles related to a certain subject.
  9. Citation and referencing of the whole collection as a complete entity.
  10.  DOI and citation details for collections and individual articles.

Furthermore, RIO Journal maps all publications to the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGs), in order to emphasise the real-world impact of each published contribution, by displaying the corresponding badge within the article list. 

Last, but not least, both collections and individual publications in RIO enjoy the variety of default and on-demand science communication services, provided by Pensoft.  

How do project coordinators, funders and institutions benefit from a collection in RIO?

At the time a grant proposal is submitted to a research funder for evaluation, the team behind the proposed project has already put in considerable efforts, resulting in a unique idea with the potential to make a great stride towards the resolution of an outstanding problem in science, if only given the chance. However, too many of these ideas are bound to remain locked away in the archives of those funders, not because they are lacking in scientific value, but due to limited funds.

So, with its launch back in 2015, RIO Journal made it possible to publish and shed light on grant proposals and research ideas in general, similar early research outputs regardless of whether they are eventually funded or not, a novelty in scholarly publishing which earned RIO the SPARC Innovator Award Winner in 2016. To date, the journal has already published 75 grant proposals

Then, imagine what a contribution to science it would make to bring together the whole continuum of knowledge and scientific work all the way from the grant proposal to data  and software management plans, workshop reports, policy briefs and all interim and final deliverables produced within the span of the project!

On the other hand, funders are increasingly evaluating a prospective project’s impact based on its communication strategy. So, why not publish a grant proposal at the time of the submission of your proposal, in order to prove to the funding body that your project is serious about optimising its outreach to both the public and academia? Furthermore, by having an academic journal host any subsequent project deliverable, as a coordinator, you can rest assured that the communication activities of your project remain consistent and efficient.

In an excellent example of a project collection, the EU-funded ICEDIG (Innovation and Consolidation for Large Scale Digitisation of Natural Heritage), led by several major natural history institutions, including the Natural History Museum of London, Naturalis Biodiversity Center (the Netherlands), the French National Museum of Natural History and Helsinki University, brought together policy briefs, project reports, research articles and review papers, in order to provide a fantastic overview of their own research continuum. As a result, future researchers and various stakeholders can easily piece together the key components within the project, in order to learn from, recreate or even build on the experience of ICEDIG.

The Path2Integrity Project Outcomes collection demonstrates how research papers published elsewhere are featured in RIO Journal.

Similarly, conference organisers can make use of their own branded collections to overcome the ephemerality of presented research by collating virtually all valuable conference outputs, including abstracts, posters, presentations, datasets and full-text conference talks. For further convenience, a collection can be divided into subcollections, in order to organise the contribution by type or symposium. What particularly appeals to conference participants is the ARPHA Writing Tool, an intuitive collaborative online environment, which practically guides the user through each step: authoring, submission and pre-submission review, within a set of pre-designed, yet flexible templates available for each type of a conference output, thus sparing them the hassle to familiarise themselves with specific and perplexing formatting requirements

For institutions, RIO offers the opportunity to continuously provide evidence of the scholarly impact of their organisation. To better serve the needs of different labs or research teams, an institution can easily organise their outputs into various subcollections, and also customise their own article types, as well as the available usage tracking systems. Furthermore, by making use of the available pre-paid plans, institutions can support their researchers by covering fully or partially the publication charges at a discounted rate.

***

Find more information regarding the submission and review process, policies and pricing, visit RIO Journal’s website.

Follow RIO Journal on Twitter and Facebook.

Open Science RIO Journal invites early research outcomes for the free-to-publish collection “Observations, prevention and impact of COVID-19”

Looking at today’s ravaging COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, which, at the time of writing, has spread to over 220 countries; its continuously rising death toll and widespread fear, on the outside, it may feel like scientists and decision-makers are scratching their heads more than ever in the face of the unknown. In reality, however, we get to witness an unprecedented global community gradually waking up to the realisation of the only possible solution: collaboration. 

On one hand, we have nationwide collective actions, including cancelled travel plans and mass gatherings; social distancing; and lockdowns, that have already proved successful at changing what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has determined as “the course of a rapidly escalating and deadly epidemic” in Hong Kong, Singapore and China. On the other hand, we have the world’s best scientists and laboratories all steering their expertise and resources towards the better understanding of the virus and, ultimately, developing a vaccine for mass production as quickly as possible. 

While there is little doubt that the best specialists in the world will eventually invent an efficient vaccine – just like they did following the Western African Ebola virus epidemic (2013–2016) and on several other similar occasions in the years before – the question at hand is rather when this is going to happen and how many human lives it is going to cost?

Again, it all comes down to collective efforts. It only makes sense that if research teams and labs around the globe join their efforts and expertise, thereby avoiding duplicate work, their endeavours will bear fruit sooner rather than later. Similarly to employees from across the world, who have been demonstrating their ability to perform their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities from the safety of their homes just as efficiently as they would have done from their conventional offices, in today’s high-tech, online-friendly reality, no more should scientists be restricted by physical and geographical barriers either. 

“Observations, prevention and impact of COVID-19”: Special Collection in RIO Journal

To inspire and facilitate collaboration across the world, the SPARC-recognised Open Science innovator Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) decided to bring together scientific findings in an easy to discover, read, cite and build on collection of publications. 

Furthermore, due to its revolutionary approach to publishing, where early and brief research outcomes (i.e. ideas, raw data, software descriptions, posters, presentations, case studies and many others) are all considered as precious scientific gems, hence deserving a formal publication in a renowned academic journal, RIO places a special focus on these contributions. 

Accepted manuscripts that shall deal with research relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic across disciplines, including medicine, ethics, politics, economics etc. at a local, regional, national or international scale; and also meant to encourage crucial discussions, will be published free of charge in recognition of the emergency of the current situation. Especially encouraged are submissions focused on the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Why publish in RIO Journal? 

Launched in 2015, RIO Journal has since proved its place at the forefront of Open Science, which resulted in the SPARC’s Innovator Award in 2016. Supported by a renowned advisory board and subject editors, today the journal stands as a leading Open Science proponent. 

Furthermore, thanks to the technologically advanced infrastructure and services it provides, in addition to a long list of indexers and databases where publications are registered, the manuscripts submitted to RIO Journal are not only rapidly processed and published, but once they get online, they immediately become easy to discover, cite and built on by any researcher, anywhere in the world. 

On top of that, Pensoft’s targeted and manually provided science communication services make sure that published research of social value reaches the wider audience, including key decision-makers and journalists, by means of press releases and social media promotion.

***

More info about RIO’s globally unique features, visit the journal’s websiteFollow RIO Journal on Twitter and Facebook.

Plazi and Pensoft join forces to let biodiversity knowledge of coronaviruses hosts out

Pensoft’s flagship journal ZooKeys invites free-to-publish research on key biological traits of SARS-like viruses potential hosts and vectors; Plazi harvests and brings together all relevant data from legacy literature to a reliable FAIR-data repository

To bridge the huge knowledge gaps in the understanding of how and which animal species successfully transmit life-threatening diseases to humans, thereby paving the way for global health emergencies, scholarly publisher Pensoft and literature digitisation provider Plazi join efforts, expertise and high-tech infrastructure. 

By using the advanced text- and data-mining tools and semantic publishing workflows they have developed, the long-standing partners are to rapidly publish easy-to-access and reusable biodiversity research findings and data, related to hosts or vectors of the SARS-CoV-2 or other coronaviruses, in order to provide the stepping stones needed to manage and prevent similar crises in the future.

Already, there’s plenty of evidence pointing to certain animals, including pangolins, bats, snakes and civets, to be the hosts of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 (coronaviruses), hence, potential triggers of global health crises, such as the currently ravaging Coronavirus pandemic. However, scientific research on what biological and behavioural specifics of those species make them particularly successful vectors of zoonotic diseases is surprisingly scarce. Even worse, the little that science ‘knows’ today is often locked behind paywalls and copyright laws, or simply ‘trapped’ in formats inaccessible to text- and data-mining performed by search algorithms. 

This is why Pensoft’s flagship zoological open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal ZooKeys recently announced its upcoming, special issue, titled “Biology of pangolins and bats”, to invite research papers on relevant biological traits and behavioural features of bats and pangolins, which are or could be making them efficient vectors of zoonotic diseases. Another open-science innovation champion in the Pensoft’s portfolio, Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal) launched another free-to-publish collection of early and/or brief outcomes of research devoted to SARS-like viruses.

Due to the expedited peer review and publication processes at ZooKeys, the articles will rapidly be made public and accessible to scientists, decision-makers and other experts, who could then build on the findings and eventually come up with effective measures for the prevention and mitigation of future zoonotic epidemics. To further facilitate the availability of such critical research, ZooKeys is waiving the publication charges for accepted papers.

Meanwhile, the literature digitisation provider Plazi is deploying its text- and data-mining expertise and tools, to locate and acquire publications related to hosts of coronaviruses – such as those expected in the upcoming “Biology of pangolins and bats” special issue in ZooKeys – and deposit them in a newly formed Coronavirus-Host Community, a repository hosted on the Zenodo platform. There, all publications will be granted persistent open access and enhanced with taxonomy-specific data derived from their sources. Contributions to Plazi can be made at various levels: from sending suggestions of articles to be added to the Zotero bibliographic public libraries on virus-hosts associations and hosts’ taxonomy, to helping the conversion of those articles into findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR) knowledge.

Pensoft’s and Plazi’s collaboration once again aligns with the efforts of the biodiversity community, after the natural science collections consortium DiSSCo (Distributed System of Scientific Collections) and the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), recently announced the COVID-19 Task Force with the aim to create a network of taxonomists, collection curators and other experts from around the globe.

Recursive language and modern imagination were acquired simultaneously 70,000 years ago

The lion-man sculpture from Germany (dated to 37,000 years ago) must have been first imagined by the artist by mentally synthesizing parts of the man and beast together and then executing the product of this mental creation in ivory. The composite artworks provide a direct evidence that by 37,000 years ago humans have acquired prefrontal synthesis.
Image by JDuckeck
[Public domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lion_man_photo.jpg, Wikimedia Commons]

A genetic mutation that slowed down the development of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in two or more children may have triggered a cascade of events leading to acquisition of recursive language and modern imagination 70,000 years ago.

This new hypothesis, called Romulus and Remus and coined by Dr. Vyshedskiy, a neuroscientist from Boston University, might be able to solve the long-standing mystery of language evolution. It is published in the open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO).

Numerous archeological and genetic evidence have already convinced most paleoanthropologists that the speech apparatus has reached essentially modern configurations before the human line split from the Neanderthal line 600,000 years ago. Considering that the chimpanzee communication system already has 20 to 100 different vocalizations, it is likely that the modern-like remodeling of the vocal apparatus extended our ancestors’ range of vocalizations by orders of magnitude. In other words, by 600,000 years ago, the number of distinct verbalizations used for communication must have been on par with the number of words in modern languages.

On the other hand, artifacts signifying modern imagination, such as composite figurative arts, elaborate burials, bone needles with an eye, and construction of dwellings arose not earlier than 70,000 years ago. The half million-year-gap between the acquisition of the modern speech apparatus and modern imagination has baffled scientists for decades.

While studying acquisition of imagination in children, Dr. Vyshedskiy and his colleagues discovered a temporal limit for the development of a particular component of imagination. It became apparent that modern children who have not been exposed to full language in early childhood never acquire the type of active constructive imagination essential for juxtaposition of mental objects, known as Prefrontal Synthesis (PFS).

Dr. Vyshedskiy explains:

“To understand the importance of PFS, consider these two sentences: “A dog bit my friend” and “My friend bit a dog.” It is impossible to distinguish the difference in meaning using words or grammar alone, since both words and grammatical structure are identical in these two sentences. Understanding the difference in meaning and appreciating the misfortune of the 1st sentence and the humor of the 2nd sentence depends on the listener’s ability to juxtapose the two mental objects: the friend and the dog. Only after the PFC forms the two different images in front of the mind’s eye, are we able to understand the difference between the two sentences. Similarly, nested explanations, such as “a snake on the boulder to the left of the tall tree that is behind the hill,” force listeners to use PFS to combine objects (a snake, the boulder, the tree, and the hill) into a novel scene. Flexible object combination and nesting (otherwise known as recursion) are characteristic features of all human languages. For this reason, linguists refer to modern languages as recursive languages.”

Unlike vocabulary and grammar acquisition, which can be learned throughout one’s lifetime, there is a strong critical period for the development of PFS and individuals not exposed to conversations with recursive language in early childhood can never acquire PFS as adults. Their language is always lacking understanding of spatial prepositions and recursion that depend on the PFS ability. In a similar manner, pre-modern humans would not have been able to learn recursive language as adults and, therefore, would not be able to teach recursive language to their own children, who, as a result, would not acquire PFS. Thus, the existence of a strong critical period for PFS acquisition creates a cultural evolutionary barrier for acquisition of recursive language.

The second predicted evolutionary barrier was a faster PFC maturation rate and, consequently, a shorter critical period. In modern children the critical period for PFS acquisition closes around the age of five. If the critical period in pre-modern children was over by the age of two, they would have no chance of acquiring PFS. A longer critical period was imperative to provide enough time to train PFS via recursive conversations.

An evolutionary mathematical model, developed by Dr. Vyshedskiy, predicts that humans had to jump both evolutionary barriers within several generations since the “PFC delay” mutation that is found in all modern humans, but not in Neanderthals, is deleterious and is expected to be lost in a population without an associated acquisition of PFS and recursive language. Thus, the model suggests that the “PFC delay” mutation triggered simultaneous synergistic acquisition of PFS and recursive language.

This model calls for:

  • two or more children with extended critical period due to “PFC delay” mutation;
  • these children spending a lot of time talking to each other;
  • inventing the recursive elements of language, such as spatial prepositions;
  • acquiring recursive-conversations-dependent PFS;
  • teaching recursive language to their offsprings.

The hypothesis is named after the celebrated twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Similar to legendary Romulus and Remus, whose caregiver was a wolf, the real children’s caregivers had an animal-like communication system with many words, but no recursion. Their parents could not have taught them spatial prepositions or recursion; children had to invent recursive elements of language themselves. Such an invention of a new recursive language has been observed in contemporary children, for example among deaf children in Nicaragua.

“The acquisition of PFS and recursive language 70,000 years ago resulted in what was in essence a behaviorally new species: the first behaviorally modern Homo sapiens,” concludes Dr. Vyshedskiy. “This newly acquired power for fast juxtaposition of mental objects in the process of PFS dramatically facilitated mental prototyping and led to fast acceleration of technological progress. Armed with the unprecedented ability to mentally simulate any plan and equally unprecedented ability to communicate it to their companions, humans were poised to quickly become the dominant species.”

Humans acquired an ability to trap large animals and therefore gained a major nutritional advantage. As the population grew exponentially, humans diffused out of Africa and quickly settled in the most habitable areas of the planet, arriving in Australia around 50,000 years ago. These humans were very much like modern humans since they possessed both components of full language: the culturally transmitted recursive language along with the innate predisposition towards PFS, enabled by the “PFC delay” mutation.

###

Original source:

Vyshedskiy A (2019) Language evolution to revolution: the leap from rich-vocabulary non-recursive communication system to recursive language 70,000 years ago was associated with acquisition of a novel component of imagination, called Prefrontal Synthesis, enabled by a mutation that slowed down the prefrontal cortex maturation simultaneously in two or more children – the Romulus and Remus hypothesis. Research Ideas and Outcomes 5: e38546. https://doi.org/10.3897/rio.5.e38546