There’s No Reason Why We Shouldn’t Do This

There’s No Reason Why We Shouldn’t Do This

Not even the first Tube strike in a decade could dampen my excitement after meetings on the SOFI Knowledge Map with Nature journal editors in London (and subsequent meeting with the Royal Society of Chemistry and Energy and Environmental Science in Cambridge). It is always a joy for me to share the SOFI vision and especially our efforts on the Knowledge Map, but the responses I received on my U.K. trip truly exceeded my expectations.

My trip was catalyzed by the Solar Fuels Network’s International Discussion Meeting, and I particularly appreciated the shout-outs by Prof. Michael Graetzel and Dr. Vincent Artero on the Knowledge Map during their seminars at that event. It is clear that our field will be able to progress faster by adopting community-driven standards that allow more appropriate comparisons between different studies and limit the propagation of errors, as Dr. John Turner aptly described.

I am most grateful for my host Dr. Owain Vaughan, Senior Editor at Nature Nanotechnology, who convened a special meeting for SOFI at their new offices that also included editors from Nature, Nature Communications, Nature Chemistry, Nature Physics, Nature Materials, and the latest Nature Energy. Working closely with researchers in the field and academic publishers to develop the Knowledge Map platform is absolutely critical to its success. Here is why we believe so.

Let’s take the process that researchers know well: after months and years of conducting experiments, recording observations, and making measurements, all of that effort culminates in a publication in a high-impact journal. In that paper, experimental conditions and results are compiled into eloquent paragraphs of text, beautiful figures, and concise tables to support its thesis. Once accepted, the final product is a nicely packaged PDF file.

Indeed people can download the paper and read it, and modern digital communication channels have allowed more efficient dissemination of knowledge. However, the important measurements, nuanced (but critical) experimental conditions, and analyses are essentially buried in the PDF, digitally inaccessible to search engines.

“Why are we, as a research community, working so hard to describe what we’re doing and report on what we’re measuring, and, at the end of that process, we put all of that knowledge and data into a format that is the least useful?”

I shared with the Nature editors our belief that parsing and exposing the fields in a searchable database via a solar fuels-specific, community-driven taxonomy would enable scientists to locate relevant research with higher accuracy and efficiency. From there, accountability and transparency of the research would be enhanced.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t do this” was the most common feedback I heard that afternoon. I look forward to the day when there is a link in all the leading journals’ acceptance emails for the manuscript authors to voluntarily deposit his/her metrics in the SOFI Knowledge Map, and do it in less than 5 minutes.

SOFI is not alone in this type of pursuit. Other innovators, such as the Dataverse Network and the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre, have made great strides in standardizing, storing, and sharing datasets alongside the paper submission process.

However, our unique premise is that applying a science-specific taxonomic approach to capture key published data will transform the ways scientists interact with data. The system would be analogous to how travelers today manipulate landing/arrival times on websites such as to find the itinerary that works for them. Go ahead and try out that link, and then imagine how crazy today’s world would be if you had to find your flights by deciphering this PDF.

Academic research still lives in that world, but it doesn’t have to.



If you’re interested in learning more about the Knowledge Map and how you can join us to revolutionize the way we interact with published data, please email us at and check out our Knowledge Map beta site at Photo credit: Solar Fuels Network.


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