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ENCODE decoded for all through open access

6 Sep, 2012
ENCODE's threads

ENCODE’s threads

“An amazing collaboration,” is how Nature Senior Editor Magdalena Skipper described today’s publication of 30 papers from the ENCODE consortium. Yet Skipper was not referring to the 440 researchers, 32 labs or 292 person-days of phone calls, but the partnership between the authors and their publishers.

The papers produced by ENCODE researchers are being published across three journals: Nature, Genome Research and Genome Biology. Nature will publish the main integrative paper, along with five others. But with such a profusion of papers appearing simultaneously, how to help readers navigate their way through the wealth of information? The answer: threads.

The researchers and publishers developed a new digital tool featuring 13 ‘threads’, each on a different topic, pulling together information from all the disparate papers and allowing the reader to view it in a single stream of text. Nature’s editorial (£) likens the tool to an automated “highlighter pen”, sifting through the pages of information, picking out relevant paragraphs for the reader’s interest. The web of threads is freely accessible on Nature’s website and is also available as a free iPad app.

Skipper called the new concept an “innovative publication platform” that could enable scientists to communicate their research more effectively by “breaking down the boundaries” of a “traditional paper”.

The threads are a fresh and exciting way of displaying new research and data in a ‘user-friendly’ way. But perhaps the greatest asset of these papers and their accompanying interactive tools is that they are freely available for everyone and anyone to view and use. From the start, the ENCODE project have demonstrated a commitment to open access, publishing the fruits of their research in online databases for the benefit of “every scientist, in every country” according to Ewan Birney, lead analysis coordinator for ENCODE. Speaking at a press briefing, Birney said that this mattered to him a lot more than the Nature publication. The decision by Nature to continue this trend, and allow open access to the new papers, is a potent way of breaking down boundaries in the communication of new science. Whether through databases, threads, papers, apps or museums, new science should be an experience that is open to all.

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