paper

Supplementary Information: should I stay or should I go?

Martin Fenner
August 27, 2010 3 min read

On August 11, the Journal of Neuroscience published an Announcement Regarding Supplemental Material (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/30/32/10599?) by Editor-in-Chief John Maunsell. In it John Maunsell announces that the journal in November will stop accepting supplementary material in article submissions. The announcement has lead to an extensive discussion in the science blogosphere with a number of relevant posts listed below[^1]:

The main arguments against supplementary information are that it overburdens reviewers (and in turn authors), and it counteracts the concept of a self-contained research report. The main argument for supplementary information is that sometimes essential information can’t be provided within the context of a journal article (e.g. video, large datasets), especially in those journals that still have print editions. Several blog posts emphasized that supplementary information is particularly important to provide the research data with the article. I think that Heather Piwowar’s post (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://researchremix.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/supplementary-materials-is-a-stopgap-for-data-archiving/?) is the best discussion of the relevant issues.

I’m obviously two weeks late with this blog posts, but I have been on vacation, and I’m only slowly catching up with all the interesting discussions that have happened while I was away. I think the discussion of supplementary information is very important, because it really is a discussion of our concept of a scientific paper. And this concept is changing rapidly (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://blogs.nature.com/mfenner/2009/07/26/how-does-the-article-of-the-future-look-like?) for many reasons, including the push to mobile platforms, and the wish by many to publish multimedia files (e.g. 3D structures) and research data with a paper.

Phil Bourne: Beyond the PDF.

It appears to me that we haven’t talked much about supplementary information, and it really has been something everybody was doing out of necessity, without too much thinking about many of the issues, including standard formats, problems for users finding and storing this supplementary information, and copyright issues.

Most journals have (often similar) instructions regarding supplementary information, e.g.:

The announcement of the Journal of Neuroscience will hopefully initiate a broader discussion of the usefulness and best format of supplementary information. The most interesting aspect for me and several of the bloggers discussing the announcement is the publication of the research data associated with a paper. For now supplementary information is often the only place these data can be published, but there are many reasons (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://researchremix.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/supplementary-materials-is-a-stopgap-for-data-archiving/?) why this is not the best idea in the long run.

[^1]: This is a perfect example for why we need better systems to track blog posts relating to an article. We have Nature Blogs (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://blogs.nature.com/?), Streamosphere (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://streamosphere.nature.com/?) or UberVu (https://web.archive.org/web/20120524201522/http://www.ubervu.com/conversations/www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/30/32/10599?) (and probably others) but they are far from perfect.

Carmeliet, P. (2005). Angiogenesis in life, disease and medicine. Nature, 438(7070), 932–936. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04478
Contopoulos-Ioannidis, D. G., Alexiou, G. A., Gouvias, T. C., & Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2008). Life Cycle of Translational Research for Medical Interventions. Science, 321(5894), 1298–1299. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1160622
Open access may become mandatory for NIH-funded research Gobbledygook. (2016). In web.archive.org. https://web.archive.org/web/20161025050131/http://blogs.plos.org/mfenner/2007/08/03/open_access_may_become_mandatory_for_nih_funded_research/
The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2005. (2015). In web.archive.org. https://web.archive.org/web/20150814032045/http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2005/index.html

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