One of my more significant contributions to the world of bioinformatics is that I came up with the name for The Assemblathon.
Towards the end of 2010, our group at the UC Davis Genome Center was tasked with helping organize a new competition to assess software in the field of genome assembly. I remember a midweek meeting with my boss (Ian Korf) where he informed me that by the end of the week we had to come up with a name for the project, set up a website, and have a mailing list up and running…and by 'we' he meant 'me'.
I was aware that there had been several other comparative software assessments in the field of bioinformatics, and that a certain theme had arisen in the naming of such exercises:
- CASP - Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction: running since 1994 and organized by a team that are also in the Genome Center
- GASP - Genome Annotation aSsessment Project (later renamed GASP1): a 1999 attempt to assess annotation in a region of the Drosophila melanogaster genome
- EGASP - the human ENCODE Genome Annotation aSsessment Project: 2005–2006
- nGASP - nematode Genome Annotation aSsessment Project: 2006–2008
- RGASP - RNA-seq Genome Annotation aSsessment Project: 2005–2013 (RGASP1 and RGASP2 were designed to evaluate computational methods for RNA-seq data analysis whereas the latest RGASP3 is focusing on comparing RNA-seq read alignment software)
- dnGASP - de novo Genome Assembly aSsessment Project: 2010–2011 (something that ran in parallel with Assemblathon 1)
It seems amazing to me that after GASP decided to make a bogus acronym by including the 'S' from 'aSsessment', all subsequent evaluation exercises followed suit (although you could also argue that CASP could have worked equally well as 'CAPS').
I felt quite strongly that the world did not need another '…ASP' style of name and so I came up with 'The Assemblathon'. Although many might shudder at this, I was really thinking of it as a 'brand' name, rather than just another forgettable scientific project name. The Assemblathon name ticked several boxes:
- Website name was available
- Twitter account name was available
The last two items are kind of obvious when you realize that this is a completely new word. You may disagree, but I think that these are important — but not essential — aspects of naming a scientific project.
So what has happened since I bequeathed the Assemblathon brand to the world? Well, we've now had:
- Alignathon - A collaborative competition to assess the state of the art in whole genome sequence alignment (published in 2014)
- Variathon - A challenge to analyze existing or new pipelines for variant calling in terms of accuracy and efficiency (completed in 2013, but not published yet as far as I can tell)
- Poreathon - Assessment of bioinformatics pipelines relating to Oxford Nanopore sequencing data (announced by Nick Loman this week)
I don't have any issues with 'Alignathon', as the name is based on a verb and the goal of the project is probably guessble by any bioinformatician. Like Assemblathon, it is a portmanteau that just seems to work.
In contrast, I find 'Variathon' a horrible name. The name doesn't scan well and may not make as much sense to others. If you search Google for this name you will see the following:
Not a good sign if your project name is regarded as a spelling mistake!
So what about 'Poreathon'? While I find this less offensive than Variathon, I still don't think it is a particularly snappy name…a bit of a snoreathon perhaps? ;-) Pore is both a noun and a verb, so the dual meaning of the word somewhat dilutes its impact as a project name.
5 suggestions for naming scientific projects
- You should not feel committed to naming something in order to continue a previous naming trend
- Acronyms are not the only option for the name of a scientific project!
- If there is any confusion as to how your project name is spelt or pronounced, this will not help you promote the name among your peers.
- Consider treating the intended name as a brand, and explore the issues that arise (how discoverable is the name, how similar to other 'brands', can you trademark it, is your name offensive in other languages, can you buy a suitable domain name? etc.)
- At the very least, perform a Google search for your intended name to see if others in your field have already used it (see my post on Identical Classifications In Science)