When Standards Go Wild: Software Review for a Manuscript

Post provided by STEFANIE BUTLAND, NICK GOLDING, CHRIS GRIEVES, HUGO GRUSON, THOMAS WHITE, HAO YE

This post is published on the rOpenSci and Methods in Ecology and Evolution blogs

Stefanie Butland, rOpenSci Community Manager

Some things are just irresistible to a community manager – PhD student Hugo Gruson’s recent tweets definitely fall into that category.

I was surprised and intrigued to see an example of our software peer review guidelines being used in a manuscript review, independent of our formal collaboration with the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution (MEE). This is exactly the kind of thing rOpenSci is working to enable by developing a good set of practices that broadly apply to research software.

But who was this reviewer and what was their motivation? What role did the editors handling the manuscript play? I contacted the authors and then the journal and, in less than a week we had everyone on board to talk about their perspectives on the process. Continue reading

Software Review Collaboration with rOpenSci

© The rOpenSci Project, 2017

The role of science journals is to publish papers about scientific research. We need to maintain some quality in what is published, so we use peer review, and ask experts in the subject of a paper to read it and check that it is correct, the arguments make sense etc.

One of the types of paper we publish is Applications, most of which describe software that will help ecologists and evolutionary biologists to do their research. Our focus is on the paper itself, but we also want to be confident that the software is well written, e.g. that it has no obvious bugs, and that it is written so that future versions will not break.

Of course, it takes a lot of time to thoroughly review software, and that is not the primary job of the journal’s peer review process. But we appreciate that this needs to be done, and indeed many of our reviewers and editors put a lot of time into doing just this, something we really appreciate. But can we do this better?

Fortunately, we were approached by the rOpenSci organisation, who wanted to collaborate with us to do this (a huge thanks to Scott Chamberlain for this initial approach and all of his hard work in putting this collaboration together). They are a group of coders, mainly in ecology, who have written a large number of open source R packages for a variety of tasks (e.g. importing data, visualisation). They also want to maintain good quality code, so they have implemented a variety of methods to do this.

One of these is code review. This is another form of peer review, but focused on the code, not the paper. This means the reviewer can concentrate on checking that the code works, that it is well written and documented (so other people can read the code and adapt it), and that it has the right sets of tests, so that if something changes, it is straightforward to check that it still works. Continue reading

Solving YOUR Ecology Challenges with R: Ecology Hackathon in Ghent

©2016 The R Foundation

Scientific software is an increasingly important part of scientific research, and ecologists have been at the forefront of developing open source tools for ecological research. Much of this software is distributed via R packages – there are over 200 R packages for ecology and evolution on CRAN alone. Methods regularly publishes Application articles introducing R packages (and other software) that enable ecological research, and we’re always looking for new ways to enable even more and better ecological software.

This December, we will be teaming up with rOpenSci and special interest groups from BES, GfÖ and NecoV to hold our first Ecology Hackathon at the Ecology Across Borders conference in Ghent. The hackathon will be held as a one-day pre-conference workshop on Monday 11th December. Together, the attendees will identify some challenges for ecological research, and team up to build R packages that help solve them.

We’ve started compiling potential topics for new R packages in a collaborative document, but we need more. Are you having any difficulties in your research that could be solved with an R package? Is there a package that you wish existed but have never been able to find? If so, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

Please take a look at our current list of challenges and add your suggestions!

rotl Paper Published

THIS PIECE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE ROPENSCI BLOG.

We (Francois MichonneauJoseph Brown and David Winter) are excited to announce a paper describing rotl, our package for the Open Tree of Life data, has been published. The full citation is:

Michonneau, F., Brown, J. W., Winter, D. J. (2016), rotl: an R package to interact with the Open Tree of Life data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12593

The paper, which is freely available, describes the package and the data it wraps in detail. Rather than rehash the information here, we will use this post to briefly introduce the goals of the package and thank some of the people that helped it come to be.

What Data Does Open Tree Have and How Can rotl Help You Get It?

The Open Tree of Life combines knowledge from thousands of scientific studies to produce a single source of information about the relationships among all species on earth. In addition to storing the trees and taxonomies that go into this project, the Open Tree provides a “synthesis tree” that represents this combined knowledge. The Open Tree data can be accessed via the web page linked above, and through an API. rotl takes advantage of this API to give R users the ability to search for phylogenetic information and import the results into their R sessions. The imported data can then be used with the growing ecosystem of packages for phylogenetic and comparative biology in R. Continue reading