Gravitational Waves and the Death of the PDF

Einstein published in 1916 a paper containing the prediction of the existence of gravitational waves. It has just one author (A.E. himself) and consists of a few pages of text and equations (Einstein, 1916). Fast forward exactly 100 years, the LIGO collaboration announced in a paper that they observed what Einstein had predicted. The paper has more than 1000 co-authors and it condenses, in just a few pages of text, equations and figures, an enormous amount of technical information (Abbott et al., 2016).

The Einstein and LIGO papers that, respectively, predicted and observed gravitational waves are very similar in format. So much has changed in 100 years of science. So little has changed in 100 years of scientific publishing

This fundamental result was packaged into a PDF, a static format that does not allow the reader to access and interact with some of the most important elements of the research: data and code. Fortunately, these were released shortly afterwards by the LIGO Open Science Center as a Jupyter notebook. But why were the paper and the Jupyter notebook published separately?

It’s clear that the PDF, which is unable to contain and execute data and code, can not be the format of choice for the paper of the future. On the other hand, an Authorea paper is web-native and can easily include data and code and allows the reader to interact with the full research as they go through it.

To demonstrate this point, we included in this article the signal processing tasks on strain time-series data associated with the LIGO GW150914 data release. Click on the ’Launch iPython’ button icon in the figure below to access, modify and run the data analysis used to produce the figure and the other results published in Abbott et al. (2016).