Authorea article for SIAM News Online

Humanity is pretty exceptional: The only living creatures on this planet venturing to understand the inner workings of the world in which they live.
We humans are curious, and apply analytical thinking in order to solve problems, gain a basic understanding of reality, and forge technology that can substantially improve our daily lives. It is undeniable that research, science and technology are at the basis of the vast majority of mankind’s greatest achievements. They are driven by curiosity, and one could argue that they are the distinctive foundations of human nature, the fabric of humanity’s startling progress.
Discoveries and their associated intellectual advancements, are a precious outcome of research. As such, they need to be properly written, discussed and validated within the scientific community, while at the same time shared and made accessible to society at large.The idea is to make the best possible use of taxpayers money, to maximize scientific and technological return, and benefit all mankind. This sounds pretty obvious, but it’s not the way research actually proceeds.
Anybody who has done a PhD, knows that research itself might well involve the most advanced techniques and tools available, but the way results are written up, packaged, shared and validated, is far from being state-of-the-art. It takes many months from the moment a scientific discovery is made until it is published. Why so long? Because the process of writing and publishing research is slow, inefficient, obsolete. Also, once published, the hard-work of scientists is often behind a pay-wall, making what should be the prime outcome of human intellect, inaccessible to the majority of people.
Why research, which by definition should be cutting-edge, is written and shared using old-fashioned, un-optimal tools? This is the paradox of 21st century science.
A few years ago, while I was in the midst of my Postdoc in astrophysics, I was struggling, together with my friends Nathan Jenkins and Matteo Cantiello, both physicists also working on their Postdoc, with the inefficiencies of scientific writing. We decided to do something about it. Our answer? We wanted to change the rules of the game altogether, moving away the collaborative writing process from old-fashioned mediums and tools, to the new canvas of technological innovations: The world wide web.
Authorea was born. An online platform where researchers can collaborate and write their findings including not only text and figures, but also all the important “products” that are currently lost upon publications: notebooks, data, analysis and code. This is changing publishing habits that go back hundreds of year. In fact, a large fraction of scientific articles are still published and disseminated as PDF, a format that provides a flat version of the research history and can not include the ever-increasing number of objects associated with modern research. Articles published today, are essentially indistinguishable from those published, say, by Galileo Galilei in the 1600s. At the time of the Italian astronomer, text and figures were enough to include the full description of the research and the data. But this is not the case anymore, due to the increasing complexity of science (and size of data being handled). The widely discussed lack of reproducibility of a large fraction of publications, undermines the scientific method altogether, and is primarily a result of this antiquated practice.
The first Authorea prototype came out in 2012, and today is used by more than 60 000 researchers across the globe. The platform is format agnostic, allowing scholars used to write their science on different mediums, to come together and collaborate on the same article. From physics (scientists at CERN are using it) to medicine (an important paper on the Ebola outbreak of 2013 was written on the platform),
Authorea is becoming the to-go-place for researchers who wants their results to be open and reproducible. For scientists who want to write ‘papers of the future’.
Using the power of the web and big data, Authorea is on a mission to speed up the pace of scientific discoveries, helping writing, finding, reviewing and publishing research, making science more open and reproducible, and supporting the advancement of modern society.

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