BioImagingUK supports the Hidden Ref

“I have a joke about core facilities, but I’m afraid no one will acknowledge it.”

This was a joke on Twitter from the Vanderbilt Cell Imaging Shared Resource a few days ago. It struck a chord with me. As the Project Officer for BioImagingUK, a community network of imaging scientists who work in life sciences in the UK, one of our aims is to improve the recognition given to scientists who work in core facilities.

We are therefore very excited to get involved in the Hidden Ref initiative, which aims to shift the focus away from mainly recognising research publications as a measure of success. It’s a well-known fact in academia that the main currencies are papers and grants, resulting in those ‘unsung heroes’ whose names are left out feeling undervalued, even though without them the work would not have been done.

To address this, our members have been drawing up a set of guidelines that we are recommending for display in all imaging core facilities. This provides community-driven guidance on when to acknowledge or give authorship to the facilities staff that have helped them carry out their experiments. The role of “Resources - Provision of instrumentation, computing resources, or other analysis tools” amongst others, is one of fourteen Contributor Roles within the CRediT taxonomy too.

By designing these guidelines, we’ve tried to ensure people get the recognition they deserve but it doesn’t end there. There is another critical reason why this matters: Marques et al., 2020 recently highlighted the significant under-reporting of imaging experiment parameters in many journals. This could easily be circumvented by authors consulting with the imaging facility prior to publication. But some PI’s fail to share their manuscripts prior to submission leading to the problems highlighted in the above commentary. We’re hoping this poster will result in a win-win; better recognised and motivated core facility staff AND an improvement in reproducibility of imaging experiments.

The Hidden Ref goes further and is trying to change the culture of research…

When I asked BioImagingUK members for examples of how they have contributed to research, without recognition, my inbox was flooded. A common thread in many was the effort involved in groundwork that never makes it into publications despite being critical to delivery of that project; e.g.: a new code to analyse images, a kind offer to image external scientists’ samples as the lockdown had prevented their access etc etc. But here’s where the Hidden Ref comes in; they are asking the research community to suggest new categories of research output and so far the response has been wide-ranging, from Research Citizenship and Website Design to securing  Facility Time Allocation (at the synchotron, for example). Why not have a category that reflects work done but that isn’t published – for want of a better name “a Negative Results” category?! I’m thinking out loud here. Over to you; do you have an idea for a new category? You have until 30th September to suggest it. After that, you can enter the competition by writing a 300-word entry and it’s open until 26th February 2021…good luck!


Credit for the image @redpenblackpen

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