Posted by: Kay at Suicyte | June 12, 2008

Is it research? Or just data analysis?

Genome Technology blogs about the genome sequencing of Candidatus Korarchaeum cryptofilum, which appears to be an early-branching archaeon. Probably very interesting, although archaea are rarely the focus of my interest, I am mostly working on sequences from a species that should properly be called Candidatus Homo sapiens.

What caught my eye, though, was the statment on author contributions (isn’t this the part of a paper that everybody reads first?). Anyway, this is what they say:

Author contributions: J.G.E., P.R., M.K., and K.O.S. designed research; J.G.E., M.P., B.P.H., A.L., E.G., K.B., and G.W. performed research; J.G.E., M.P., D.E.G., K.S.M., Y.W., L.R., C.B.-A.,V.K., I.A., E.V.K., P.H., N.K., and K.O.S. analyzed data; and J.G.E., D.E.G., E.V.K., and K.O.S. wrote the paper.

You can probably guess what I am hinting at. Seven people “performed research”, while 12 people “analyzed data”, with only a small overlap. It is no surprise that a genome sequencing paper needs a lot of people doing data analysis – this is what genome papers are all about. So far I had assumed that the analysis of genome data should be considered as ‘research’, probably more so than cutting chromosomes into pieces, or operating lab robots and sequencing machines. Apparently, some people see this differently.

In hindsight, I should have known better. At some point in the past, I used to work in a research institute (a very nice place, by the way) with a revealing organization of their phone directory. If memory serves me, they had individual pages entitled “Research group X” and “Research group Y”, listing the PI, postdocs, and students. At the end, they had a page with no particular heading, which held entries for 1) Janitor, 2) Workshop 3) Graphics studio, 4) Bioinformatics. You see, we are just one of these facilities …



  1. Reminds me of a common position at various places, Programmer/Analyst. from my perspective, there is nothing wrong with that. After all you couldn’t get anywhere in most cases with strong software support, but I get the impression that they don’t quite get acknowledged quite the way they should

  2. Thing is we *are* a central bioinformatics facility – and completely distinct from the bioinformatics research group – we’re not even in the same building!

    Admittedly we have a website section devoted to all the central scientific facilities and aren’t lumped together with reprographics 🙂

  3. When I worked as a bioinformatican in industry, on the first day of my job one on the bench scientists contacted me because he was having trouble with his e-mail. Apparently the distinction between IT and bioinformatics was lost on him — we were all just “computer people” to him.

  4. I know that there is bioinformatics and there is bioinformatics. Some companies and research centers have bioinformatics facilities with no research agenda on their own. This is quite useful and perfectly respectable. Grouping those guys with the janitors is probably not a good idea, though.

    By contrast, in this particular setting (a genome sequencing paper), data analysis is the heart of the matter. To differentiate between ‘performing research’ (wet lab) and ‘analyzing data’ (bioinformatics) is something I don’t like at all.

  5. “To differentiate between ‘performing research’ (wet lab) and ‘analyzing data’ (bioinformatics) is something I don’t like at all.”

    Oh, absolutely. I agree. As you say, in genomics especially, the bioinformatics *is* the science. I was just telling a funny incident about interacting with “wet lab” types.

  6. A cool blog post – which matches the title of your post in a funny way

  7. But if the janitor gets sacked, people notice straight away….

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