Photo credit: Lawrence Rajendran

Matters founder Lawrence Rajendran: the Lego approach to scientific publishing

Research findings should be published as a series of individual observations, linked together

Lawrence Rajendran, known as Lawrie, featured in the world’s top 100 scientists in 2009, recipient of many awards and honours. As an expert in the cell biology of Alzheimer’s disease, he is also one of the founding members of the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV). He is currently Velux Stiftung professor for systems and cell biology of neurodegeneration, at the University of Zurich in Switzerland and the CEO of Matters.

Science publishing without story-telling

Rajendran is both interested in science and science communication. With the creation of Matters, he wants to change the way we communicate science. His goal is to increase the crowdsourced dimension in science by encouraging teamwork. He has identified constraints associated with the storytelling approach in current scientific papers. Instead, he believes scientists should be able to submit all kinds of observations to help link orphan, negative, confirmatory and contradictory data together. He is in favour of triple-blind peer review to ensure that the observation is scientifically solid.

“I came up with this idea something like seven years ago” says Rajendran. He started to wonder about irreproducibility of science, incentives associated with scientists publishing on high-rated journals to help their carriers and the need for stories to publish observations. “Every piece of the data that you publish needs to fit into a coherent story. And this is where I challenge this notion: why do we have to tell stories?” he asks.


Sharing observations as a Lego Puzzle

For him, the solution is to come up with a system that allows scientists to publish single observations. He explains that there is no reason to eliminate negative data, for example. This is why he created Matters, “A place where I can say “look, I think A leads to B, this is my hypothesis, and when I experiment it, I find a positive result, I should be able to publish it. I find a negative result, I should be able to publish it. And then I can come back, I shouldn’t be asked extra additional things,” he explains before adding: that it would remove the risks that researchers are dishonest in the way they report their findings.

Opening up connections between findings

The Matters platform then makes it possible to connect individual observations. “You can say that it is a single data for example. Now, once you published this, someone else who is interested in this can add their observations and say: “you know what, I also find it in my system’,” explains Rajendran. He adds that Matters works with node and edges that connect.

Anybody can provide information, whether it’s a confirmatory observation or a contrary result. “Once you do it like a Lego puzzle, you also allow other researchers to extend it with their own observations.” he says. Because the publishing platforms are now dedicated to large stories and renowned scientists, he says, “much of the data that we have, could be the piece of the puzzle of somebody else. But we have these interesting observations we never ever publish.”

For him, “the complexity will be reflected in the way that people attach their observations.” This will not only make it possible to open up results across scientific disciplines but also to wider audiences. He concludes: “It’s my duty and responsibility to tell the public what we find.”

Interview by Sabine Louët, EuroScientist Editor

Video editing and cover text Charline Pierre and Lena Kim.

Featured image credit: Lawrence Rajendran

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Sabine Louët

Former editor at EuroScientist
Sabine has a passion for all things related to European research. A physicist by training, she has been covering stories in life science, the physical sciences, technology, policy and innovation for the past 20 years. She was previously the news editor at Nature Biotechnology. She was also involved in the creation of AlphaGalileo. She is the Founder of SciencePOD translating complex science and tech concepts into high-quality articles written in simple language.
Sabine Louët

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