Different origins, different side of the market, different impetus for creativity, similar result. I had a great deal of mail of one sort or another after writing “I wish I had done that…” just before the holidays. In that piece, wrapped around the launch of Digital Science Ltd by Macmillan/Nature, I tried to exemplify the continuing drive to workflow in producing sustained responses to the demand for solutions. But the topic was not Lexis for the insurance industry or Thomson Reuters GRC for financial services, but how you run research procedures in a lab in a more productive, effective and compliant way. And the science research market is vitally important, not just because of the impact of science on our society, or because a segment of that society now cries “foul” at unwelcome results before trying to technically discredit unpalatable truths, but because the science community is the historic belwether of change in the networked society. They had it first.

So I was fascinated to find in my mail a kindly note from one of the founders of BioRAFT (www.bioraft.com). He pointed out that the problems tackled by Timo Hannay and his team at Digital Science were content-orientated just because the angle of approach via Nature was publishing derived. But there was a number of ways of examining these issues. One, and I am now persuaded that it is a very valid one, is to look at  them from the viewpoint of lab technicians and lab management and maintenance. I have always been told that over two thirds of searchers in the scholarly literature seek not research results which support or destroy their own findings or direction of enquiry: instead they are looking for experimental techniques which pass muster, yield compliance, and cannot be easily over-turned by critics. Results are important, as is data derived in research mode, but nothing stands up if the technique is faulty and the experimental warcraft is holed at the waterline.

Obviously good literature research helps to ensure the appropriate selection of experimental techniques. But it does not stop there. BioRAFT seeks a unified system of management in research, and its proponents are research managers who clearly pride themselves on creating solutions with an “intuitive approach which even the most hard-nosed PI will use and value”. This is researcher-for-researcher solutioning, grounded in lab procedures, with a strong bent to community, to quality outcomes and to innovation to make it all work. Solutions can be customized, genuinely difficult compliance issues managed (take a look at the “NIH Guidelines for Research involving recombinent DNA modules “if you doubt the size of the compliance Himalyas in this sector), and biosecurity and biosafety can be married to simplicity in use.

Otherwise BioRAFT (it stands for Research Applications and Financial Tracking) Inc. is a neat start-up, based on the east and west US coasts and in Lebanon, very into Open Source and full of good sentiments about sustainability. Is it publishing? No. Does that matter? No, it is to be welcomed. The solutions in question will only be created by the content people coming over the bridge from one direction and the research laboratory procedures people coming in the other. And we are trying to build a bridge here, which, if you start from both banks simultaneously, means sharing data and materials to ensure that the structure meets up midstream. It seems to me therefore that Digital Science and BioRAFT may potentially be partners in some contexts, and that there may be a great many more sectoral BioRAFT’s out there than the content community suspect.

This experience re-inforces a long held prejudice: we are only just scratching the surface. BioRAFT claims a genesis in 2003, which is honourably aged but cannot disguise the fact that it is now that take off appears imminent, because it is now that the research community, like so many other networked groupings, are beginning to believe that there has to be a smarter, more consistent and more auditable way of doing things in the network. And if networks create the methodologies for releasing the accumulated experience of communities into insight and understanding, then BioRAFT is a good exemplar. It takes a long time to get started and then everything goes with a rush. BioRAFT and its founder Nathan Watson are participants to watch.


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