“Science 2.0 Open Access Lab Notebooks” Is Completely Absurd
April 23, 2008
Bora linked to a recent article at the Scientific American Web site concerning “Web 2.0” and its relationship to the conduct of science. The basic concept is that “THE WEB TOTALLY CHANGES EVERYTHING!11!!!!!1!ELEVENTY!11!!!!!1!” and scientists are and/or should be going to completely alter their way of communicating their findings to one another. One aspect of this is the notion of “Open Access Lab Notebooks”, pursuant to which scientists will keep their lab notebooks on publicly accessible Web sites where other scientists can view them and update the information they contain on a daily basis. In other words, scientists will essentially be continuously live-blogging their experimental activities in the lab. This is a totally fucking stupid idea.
Bill Hooker was quoted in the article very cogently explaining his perception of the appeal of this idea:
“To me, opening up my lab notebook means giving people a window into what I’m doing every day,” Hooker says. “That’s an immense leap forward in clarity. In a paper, I can see what you’ve done. But I don’t know how many things you tried that didn’t work. It’s those little details that become clear with an open [online] notebook but are obscured by every other communication mechanism we have. It makes science more efficient.”
This is completely nuts. Reading other people’s lab notebooks will decidely not provide a “leap forward in clarity”. You can barely understand your own lab notebook entries weeks or months after they occur. Lab notebooks contain a huge amount of totally irrelevant obscure information, the vast majority of which relate to failed experiments.
Half of the pages of my post-doctoral lab notebooks contain stuff like “God fucking damnit!!! Ran desired fragment off end of gel while drinking in bar!!!! Fuckit!!” Who has the time or inclination to wade through all of that irrelevant boring shit, just to find some nugget of useful information?
The whole point of publishing papers is that scientists wade through vast amounts of data, extract those that are informative, and generate figures that accurately and concisely distill out the useful features. Why would a working scientist want to expend the huge amount of effort necessary to wade through, extract, and distill this same information on her own?
My prediction is that “Open Lab Notebooks” is an idea that is going to go absolutely nowhere, at least in the biomedical sciences, and for a very good reason.