"Brittle techniques"28 Jan 2013
I was pointed to a rant from early last year written by Fred Ross: “A farewell to bioinformatics”.
Like any good rant, it is extreme and I don’t endorse it, but like all good rants it has kernels of truth.
This all seems an inauspicious beginning for a field. Anything so worthless should quickly shrivel up and die, right? Well, intentionally or not, bioinformatics found a way to survive: obfuscation. By making the tools unusable, by inventing file format after file format, by seeking out the most brittle techniques and the slowest languages, by not publishing their algorithms and making their results impossible to replicate, the field managed to reduce its productivity by at least 90%, probably closer to 99%. Thus the thread of failures can be stretched out from years to decades, hidden by the cloak of incompetence.
Data structures in bioinformatics should be designed for robusticity and ease of re-use by different research teams. But that won’t happen unless grant money to support data collection requires it. Open access to data is wonderful, but it is only the first step toward open science.