Not This "Open Notebook" Shit Again!

June 26, 2008

People are still going on about the completely absurd idea of “opening” working lab notebooks by publishing them on the Web?
Who the fuck wants to read someone else’s lab notebook? I want to see digested, processed, analyzed data, with bad experiments thrown out. Maybe bloggers have the time to wade through the piles of shit in other people’s lab notebooks to find the meaningful nuggets, but working scientists do not.
And if we are talking about publishing curated, analyzed datasets on the Web independently of peer-reviewed publication, well this ain’t a “notebook”, and calling it “Open Notebook” is fucking stupid.

No Responses Yet to “Not This "Open Notebook" Shit Again!”

  1. Dave Bacon Says:

    I can understand why you don’t want it (apparently you want sparking clearn SCIENCE) but why the hell do you care if others do? Translation into words you can grok: what the fuck crawled up your butt?
    I agree calling datasets “Open Notebook” is silly.


  2. Dave Bacon Says:



  3. I can think of many cases in which one scientist might wish to see another’s notebook.

    A new student in the lab picking up someone else’s project.
    A collaborator in another lab who doesn’t want to reproduce some basic experiments
    Someone concerned with data falsification/reproduction for oversight

    These are just a few that I can rattle off without giving it too much thought. I don’t think that anyone who advocates Open Notebooks is suggesting that these are going to be read cover to cover for every detail. The point is to get the data in a more accessible format which can be easily indexed and searched by anyone who might want to examine specific facets
    One of the last things I’d like to see is “bad experiments thrown out”, anyway. Notebooks are full of experiments that didn’t work, and being able to check what others have tried and failed might mean a lot less wasted effort.
    Like Dave, I don’t really understand the vehemence of the objection here.


  4. meh Says:

    let them do it. i’m sure the webpgae hit counters will be maxing out. /sarcasm


  5. microfool Says:

    Not This “Blogging” Shit Again!
    People are still going on about the completely absurd idea of “blogging” their polemic and publishing it on the Web?
    Who the fuck wants to read someone else’s half-completed thoughts and uninformed arguments? I want to see digested, processed, analyzed essays, with all the crap from the first drafts thrown out. Maybe bloggers have the time to wade through the piles of shit on other people’s blogs to find the meaningful nuggets, but regular people do not.


  6. Mr. Gunn Says:

    Totally agree, microfool. I heard of this thing called twitter, where people just spout off random shit that no one wants to hear. I can’t believe they actually think that’ll fly.


  7. microfool Says:

    On the other hand, I guess search engines, RSS newsreaders, and my ability to skim large amounts of text quickly for content allows me to hone in on my preferred shit to read.
    Your mileage may vary. The great thing about the internet is that there is always plenty of shit to ignore.


  8. pinus Says:

    so you want people’s lab notebooks to be available to everybody…do any of you work in competitive fields? If I were to do this, I would get scooped…not only on papers, but also novel new ideas for grants.


  9. microfool Says:

    I don’t want to be too much of a cheerleader for open notebook science. If your field is highly-scoopable or highly patentable, then open notebook science (and probably electronic notebooks) are not for you. Your field is very competitive, and maybe that’s what has made your field productive or ‘good’. That’s great for you, then, but no one is advocating open notebook science for everyone.
    I hope that open notebook science can help new ways of doing science develop, however slowly. Maybe this new way of doing science will work on a different set of incentives, perhaps real rewards for being collaborative, for instance. Maybe it will fizzle out because work in every field is scoop-able. Sitting back and bitching won’t help us figure out if open notebook science is a worthwhile way to go.
    Finally, what do the people doing open notebook science think about doing open notebook science? They seem to enjoy it, and find it rewarding. They may be stupid, brave, or both, but at least they are trying to change the conduct of science.
    THAT is to be commended.


  10. 1) replace mentions of open notebook with papers in low impact journals
    2) serve in a blog post as flame bait


  11. PhysioProf Says:

    Are there any experimental scientists out there advocating for and using open notebooks? Not navel-gazing theoreticians that sit around drinking coffee and making shit up, but actual real scientists: people fucking with shit in a laboratory. Because frankly, this sounds like the kind of batshit wackaloonery that people who don’t even know what a real lab notebook looks like would be propounding.


  12. pcr Says:

    actually PP, i wonder if there’s some other impetus for pushing for this sort of thing. perhaps it’s part of a grant proposal? “data sharing” 😛


  13. BiophysicsMonkey Says:

    I won’t touch the “real scientists” comment, but PP seems to be correct that it is mainly theoreticians who are enthusiastic about the open notebook idea.


  14. PhysioProf, pcr, BiophysicsMonkey, you can find scientific research being shared in many ways over at There are open lab notebooks being set up and used on a regular basis.
    Jean-Claude Bradley also keeps his work open to all. And there is also the RRResearch blog that is research in the open.
    So, it seems it’s far from “batshit wackaloonery” 🙂
    Disclaimer: I work at OWW.


  15. Mr. Gunn Says:

    Yeah, I was just about to mention Rosie’s open science blog.
    I’m an almost exclusively wetlab guy, and I keep all my notes in my own little version of an ELN, because the available software sucks ass, kinda like the reference manager software used to suck ass. Hmmm….


  16. Alethea Says:

    I also have an open notebook on the OWW site. It’s easy enough to set up, but it’s not very old, so I don’t have a lot of perspective yet. I have to shuttle between two laboratories and it’s nice to be able to consult what I wrote on different projects when I am in the other place. In theory, it should be good for my students/postdoc to consult and add to, as well.
    However, in practice, it’s not so much the wet lab stuff that makes it in, because of the time involved. If it weren’t wiki markup, and if I had anyone else in my lab interested in making the time investment, I’d note down a lot more. For instance, it’s a hassle (from my POV) plugging in cell culture photos, much as I’d like to. Lots easier to print out a photo of a culture or a gel (which is digital to begin with, so should be good for an electronic notebook) and just tape it into my physical lab notebook – or not, and just stick it in a folder on my computer, send it to the one or two people who might be interested in that particular result.
    I totally agree with Mr. Gunn, and am waiting for some software-savvy scientist to come up with an electronic lab notebook that is really worth the investment of my time and does what I want it to, with a minimum learning curve. This is part of why I don’t invest totally in the OWW open notebooks. It would change the way I work.
    I’d just as well someone else potentially benefit from the things that go wrong in lab. In particular, we went through two years of troubleshooting when we were doing the SAGE technique in our particular conditions. If we had noted, or if any of the other people whom we ended up consulting had noted, our troubles in an open lab notebook, one could have found those efforts with a Google search. And saved oneself a lot of time. Think of all the spectacular papers you read in Cell with a given technique that few have ever published with since – thinking ChIP-SAGE for instance.
    In the meantime, even as a “wet lab” scientist, I still do a lot of sequence manipulation and read articles and it’s convenient to note with clickable links the articles I read a given day that are relevant to what I was thinking about the experiments that are underway. Or the Ensembl BioMart result.
    Since there seem to be two parallel threads going here, I’ll post this twice as per the example of my illustrious colleague, PhysioProf.


  17. Alethea Says:

    I posted a comment 24 hours ago, but your spam eaters must have quarantined it because it had a link or two. Never mind. There is a version lite on my blog but the debate seems to have fizzled out. Time will tell, in any case.


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