bims: 2021 statement

This is the third state of bims statement (sobs). Sobs comes out every 30 of January. They commemorate the first sober meeting between Gavin and Thomas on 30th January 2017. This statement contains a part by Gavin and a part by Thomas.

Gavin writes:

This past year has certainly been challenging as everyone attempts to deal with the COVID19 pandemic. As Biomed News is an entirely online operation we have been able to continue somewhat unscathed and make some advances. At the moment of writing there are 56 active reports with 35 reports being opened in the past year. Our expansion continues to be relatively slow but it is showing signs of improved growth. We welcomed new bimsers from our earliest time zone in Japan to the latest in the west coast of the USA and from Finland to southern Brazil. Our topics continue to broaden. As we emerged from a mitochondrial and cell death beginning this has been a natural expansion into related areas incorporating other diseases and molecular pathways, and also some reports on COVID19.

We have tried to increase our standing in communities of dissemination and sharing of scholarly literature. I participated in the eLife Innovation Leaders program in early 2020, the eLife Innovation Sprint in September the Beilstein Institute Open Science symposium in October. Thomas and I attended the ASAPbio preprint design sprint in November and December. The open science community is very welcoming and dynamic. I find it very motivating. However, it has not been a fertile ground for selector recruitment yet. This seems quite effective through twitter where many bimsers share their weekly issues. We have also seen a small but significant rise in the number of cold enquiries from interested people. I put this down to each of you sharing your lists and talking about this with colleagues and contacts, please keep this up!

A special mention to Avinash Mukkala at the University of Toronto who has created a mitochondrial abstract resource to share with his colleagues that is based on Biomed News weekly issues. To support this expansion and dissemination I decided to fund a dedicated server for Biomed News myself. It will help with the development of email based sharing systems.

Thomas writes:

During the year, over 60% of my time was spent on the sprawling ArchEc project. For bims, we did have only three important technical changes and only one important technical problem.

The main problem appeared at the end of the year. At that time, in contrast to previous practice, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) stopped issuing PubMed records. I was aware of the problem. NLM told me it was a technical problem at their end that hit when staff headed out for the holidays. I let the issue of 27 December out with about one third of the records that we normally get. That was a mistake. I should have waited. On 29 Decemeber NLM made more records available. I should have released an issue dated 27 December on that day. Please accept my apologies for what, in hindsight, turns out to be a suboptimal decision.

The first of the technical changes is gradual and trivial. I’m reducing the amount of papers released to 1%. I may do further reductions. Getting the number right is not easy. In fact, one size may not fit all. I remind bimsers that anybody can contact me to ask them to fix a number or a percentage that they want to see each week.

The second, and most visible change is the introduction of the arrows to the selection screens. I find them incredibly helpful. For my reports, especially for bims-skolko, I need to go through a lot of papers, many of which have no abstracts. So, it’s quick but it involves a lot of scrolling. With the arrow interface, I keep my eye fixed on the top of the screen and move down—and sometimes up—the list of papers with the arrows. This is much much much faster than doing it with the mouse.

Introduction of report homepages is the most important change. It is also the least visible at this time. Homepages are at At this time, the reports page at does not actually link to these report pages. Only the report issue pages, at do. One reason the reports page does not link to report pages is that I have not decided how to do the links. The other, more important reason is that at this time, the contents of a report page is just the bimser detail and the list of issues. While both are important, they don’t have the heft for an impressive page. The page for a report just lacks the grandeur of the reports page that lists all reports. However, in the future, the report pages will furnish more useful information. Their most important feature will be a facility to subscribe to the report issues via email. Doing this right is an extensive job. I am not sure whether I can finish it this year.

The movement away from the list of reports as the centrepiece of the representation of bims is important. As the system grows, we can’t have potential report readers scan a list of report topics sorted by timeliness. That will be as informative as reading the phone book. Instead, we need to insist on bimsers telling potential report readers where the homepage of their report is. Then, that report can link to reports on similar topics, allowing report readers to navigate the space of reports in a meaningful manner. Recall that bims is a collection of reports all run completely independently. There is no hierarchy whatsoever. And that should be reflected in the way readers come to the site.

This brings me to what I consider the most important matter I want to touch on this year. I don’t use Twitter. Once this year I was bored. I perused some twitter pages, and found somebody—don’t remember who—writing that the report issue was prepared in collaboration with Biomed News. This is not the way I see things. Sure, I am very happy for people to mention us. But the idea that a bimser “collaborates” with bims is not how I see it. I consider bims to be a tool. It allows literature wonks to show off their wares. When a report is successful, that is the result of the bimser’s work. When it fails, the bimser is to blame. Saying that you collaborate with bims is a bit like saying you collaborate with the manufacturer of a piece of equipment that you have in the lab.

An important extension of the concept of bims being a tool is that bimsers don’t form a community. Being a non-community frees us from having to constrain individual behaviours. All we do is place you in a “use it or lose it” situation with your report. We are not going to sanction any other behaviour in any other way. I think this is very liberating. It’s completely at odds with what is happening around us. Nowadays most online groups require you to sign up to a code of conduct. Usually it has a laundry list of stuff you can and you can’t do, of beliefs you may have and others you must not have. No wonder the world seems be becoming more polarised every day … Oh dear. It looks like I am digressing.

So let me sum up what I ought to have written about. 😏

At this time there are three things to do.

  1. Build the email system.
  2. Bring the arrows to the sorting screen. Sorting should take advantage of users who work with the arrow keys. At this time, it’s either clicking yourself silly or entering numbers. The numbering system works well for me but I doubt anybody else uses it.
  3. Speed up the release of issues. At this time, we spend about five minutes per report. Clearly this will not scale to, say, a thousand reports.

Both write:

We will continue to focus our work on recruitment, fund-raising to support the system and technical improvements of the platform. Once again, we thank you for your support and the time you spend to keep your reports up to date and your comments to improve the system. Wishing everyone a successful 2021.