Opinions III: Open Notebook Science

[Disclaimer: I feel that the experience I had with ONS was very limited and not very comparable to an experience that would supply legitimate support or opposition regarding the current debate about it. While I would love to keep an open notebook for other labs I have in the future, I don’t know how I would feel about posting everything I do concerning research.  Since I have never had the experience of undertaking my own research, I don’t know how committed I would be to the privacy of my work or of the research group. Also, I have never actually had a ‘closed’ lab notebook, so I can’t validly compare one to the other. This is my opinion when taking all of this into account. ]


The benefits.
I’ve always liked the idea of a blog and have read and written blogs starting from the age of fourteen. However, I have never written a blog on scientific material. As I continuously updated this notebook I learned several things:

  • Having an open notebook demands accountability.

Before publishing a post I would try to make sure concepts, data, procedures, errors and explanations were as clear, correct and honest as I could possibly make them. This was because of the extra pressure of potential public eyes; if reading my notebook misinformed or was completely useless to someone, it would lower the credibility of my notebook aka my work. If I use an open notebook it’s because I want it to be of some potential help to others, which brings me to my next lesson learned.

  • Having an open notebook might potentially help others.

Throughout the course of the semester I never received any comments from outsiders on my lab work, so I have no idea if this blog has been of use to anyone at all. However, I have had many experiences where I have understood a concept or solved a problem via something open source. A number of those sources haven’t had many hits, but they were helpful regardless. In those times I was immensely grateful of the existence of the internet and its members like youtube. I think this is a great benefit of ONS; the help it can bring to others who are searching for it can be very impacting.

  • Having an open notebook is kind of neat.

I think the main reason why blogs are so popular is because of the creative freedom of being able to write whatever you want, however you want and obtaining potential feedback from it. This opens an opportunity for different creative approaches to a topic. In a scientific context, people are able to present their research in a creative and unique but yet concise way, which is pretty neat to have openly available on the internet.

The drawbacks

  • Having an open notebook might cause questions of credibility.

Today, people mostly get their information from the internet. But it’s typically understood that if you really want to get credible, honest, and complete information you must reference prints. I think that until the credibility of internet database surpasses that of the print database, information on the internet will most likely keep raising credibility questions. This definitely affects the notion of credibility of open notebooks especially if they’re presented in blog format. Although I did mention the extra accountability ONS requires as one of the benefits, one can’t ensure that all authors follow this responsibility.