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Trends shaking up the research process

Science is constantly evolving. New techniques and solutions like the ones we develop at Morressier can quickly alter established practices, setting industry standards and permanently changing the way research is performed. Together with design expert and open science advocate, Mike Morrison, we’ve compiled a few important trends shaping the environment around research.

Big Data and machine learning

Artificial Intelligence is a powerful instrument that has not been sufficiently exploited in the slow-moving world of academia, but could simplify many inefficiencies in the research process. Fields like medicine and pharmacology have rapidly begun to incorporate machine learning techniques in the realms of early diagnosis, drug discovery, and more precise, personalized drug treatments.

Very recently, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the United States revealed the power of machine-learning algorithms to bring novel insights to past research, using the technology to analyze a massive dataset of published abstracts from scientific journals. From this material alone, the machine was able to accurately predict discoveries in a given area of science, along with detailed justifications for the results, suggesting that algorithms like the one they developed can be adopted to guide research faster and more effectively. 

Poster design changes 

A Morrison-style template demonstrating design innovations. Credit: Mike Morrison

For decades, most science posters used the same “wall-of-text” or “paper-on-a-poster” layout. They looked like an essay laid out on a poster board in (slightly) bigger font, with paragraphs, bullets and figures arranged in the same sections we see in paper journal articles (i.e., introduction, methods, results, discussion, and references). 

Scientists, who are conscientious by nature and trained to be zealously thorough, dutifully squeezed all the content they could onto their posters, filling in every pixel of white space and including even the most tangentially relevant figures and references. While this approach preserves scientific traditions and captures the mentality of “good science”, it makes for terribly overwhelming and unusable posters that take 5-10 minutes to process. 

But that might be changing. The #betterposter movement, initiated by this viral YouTube video and featured in this NPR article, aims to create dramatically different poster designs that can communicate key takeaways in less than 10 seconds (fast enough to learn something from posters while walking by, without having to stop), while still providing more detail for those interested enough to stop and skim.

Globalization and online networking

Conferences are the primary venue for new scientific findings and ideas to be shared and discussed, but they do not always take full advantage of resources that increase scholarly communication. Morressier brings all the research from these conferences online, allowing delegates and interested researchers to explore content and get in touch with authors on their own time.

Many academics also capitalize on platforms such as Twitter to publicize their findings and make their methods visible, often to gain feedback on their work from their peers. At this stage of globalization, we should see fewer instances of two researchers across the globe working towards the same discovery; instead, academics from separate institutions should collaborate and pool their resources to more efficiently tackle complex topics. 

Digital posters and conference technology

ESPID conference Morressier ePoster
ePoster presentation at ESPID Conference in Brighton, UK

Digital posters have the potential to radically transform the way we collect and transmit research. Traditional posters are by nature short-lived, confining the display of research findings to only a few days and a limited number of conference attendees. As we have written previously, ePosters have a distinct advantage in the amount and type of information that can be included in a presentation, making use of features like audio files and videos that demonstrate important aspects or procedures of the reported study.

They are also much more interactive and considerably augment the user experience. By guiding viewers to a host of related content, such as institutional affiliations and personal websites, this poster format can act as a catalyst for the exchange which conferences are designed to facilitate. Most important, however, is that ePosters last well after the conference itself has ended, ensuring this information is available for delegates and interested researchers alike to access at any time. 

The rise of open science

In spite of the proliferation of published research and academic conferences, science is a complicated process that often produces unexpected results. The Open Science Movement has brought attention to some of the inadequacies of the research process, driven in part by an imperfect infrastructure that places undue emphasis on publishable findings and less on the methodology and quality of supporting information.

The ongoing replication crisis has cast doubt on the credibility of an overwhelming amount of scientific research. One cause for this is the lack of transparency and third-party review in the early stages of research. Remedies including pre-registration that subjects a proposed study to peer-review before it’s conducted are gaining ground, along with registered reports and data mandates adopted by publishers that require authors to submit their supporting data in addition to their final paper. 

The scientific landscape is significantly changing. New methods and movements are rapidly bringing positive improvements to underlying research methods and how scientific information is communicated at each stage of the process. It’s Morressier’s mission to ensure that researchers and conference organizers keep pace with these transformations, so that we can minimize missed opportunities to make important discoveries. 

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