Nature Biotechnology is encouraging authors of computational biology papers to publish their source code on GitHub as part of a company-wide drive to ensure research is reproducible. The policy is designed to counter long-standing concerns about the peer review of computation-heavy research.
Without access to well-documented code, it can be impossible for peer reviewers to assess the quality of a paper. As a publishing group, Nature began trying to address the problem late last year when it introduced new requirements for authors of papers in which custom code and software play a central role. Such authors must now say whether the code and software are available and detail any restrictions. The Biotechnology wing of the publisher is looking to go further, though.
Editors at the paper have put the availability of source code at the top of the agenda for discussions with peer reviewers in an attempt to ensure their approach is consistent. Similarly, reviewers are being tapped for feedback on multiple topics, such as whether they can remain anonymous while testing tools online, run software on different operating systems and follow algorithms using the available documentation.
The publication of the peer review policy explainer coincided with a comment piece in Nature News about the role of bioinformaticians today. University of Texas Health Science Center Assistant Professor Jeffrey Chang wrote: "The scientific community has failed to craft attractive career paths for those who do the analyses it increasingly requires. Institutions and funding bodies must carve out a viable place for bioinformaticians who focus on collaborations, and reward them for their abilities."