Research Objects for dummies

Last week a new W3C community and business group was approved: the Research Object for Scholarly Communication Community Group. But what is a Research Object? Why do we need them?

In a nutshell, a Research Object is a wrapper of interconnected resources and metadata bundled together to offer a context and materials for some purpose. It could be a set of papers that represent the state of the art of a project proposal, the experiments performed in a scientific experiment or even a post about Research Objects and its associated materials.

The Research Object primer explains with some examples the Workflow-Centric Research Objects, where the focus is to describe an experiment with its workflow specification and its relation to inputs, intermediate results, outputs and final publications. If you want to browse more information about the RO Model I recommend browsing this documentation.

Do you want to see an example? This RO was created from a myExperiment workflow execution, including a bundle with the provenance information, a sketch and the specification of the workflow. It even has the hypothesis the experiment aims to check.

But why is this useful? Well, having all the associated resources of an experiment scattered through the web makes it difficult for the consumer to understand the complexity of the work. For example, imagine that I have this paper, describing an experiment (link). The paper shows some tables and plots, which are made from the curated results of this web page (link), not linked from the paper. But then I also have an execution of a workflow (link), which shows a diagram of the workflow and provides pointers to all intermediate and final (non curated) data. The scientists who run the initial experiment for the paper are different from those who run the workflow, and the attribution should be noted. Also, all the links and dependencies between data can’t be inferred by just accessing to the resources. By having everything included in a Research Object, one would be able to understand what the role of each resource in the experiment is, being able to communicate it to other researchers.

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