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I came across the Open Notebook Science concept today via a podcast. The term was put forward by Jean-Claude Bradley of Drexel, back in 2006.

Scientists maintain notebooks of their work, working through theoretical concepts and making detailed notes of experiments – how they are undertaken, what the results are, etc. Mostly the writings in these notebooks remain private. Only the successful experiments and final concepts are published in academic journals. However, the idea behind Open Notebook Science is that these ‘private’ writings are published online, and at the time the work is taking place. This means that the wider scientific community has access to not only data from successful experiments or final theoretical workings, but also from what may be considered ‘unsuccessful’ experiments or dead-end workings.

There seems to be a step change encompassed in this idea. No longer would you have to wait for the ‘delayed’ publication of results in academic journals before you could duplicate and build upon that work to progress scientific knowledge. This would inevitably lead to an increase in the speed of scientific progress and development of human knowledge.

So how would this material be published? Well, a wiki springs immediately to mind.

The wiki idea as a tool for research students to document their work was something I’ve been considering before I came across Jean-Claude’s concept. In May of this year I wrote a scenario for the research student needs from an institutional wiki:

“As a postgraduate researcher I want to use a wiki as a comprehensive ‘notebook’ drawing in all the strands of my research into one place. I can record and deposit all my data in various formats into the wiki. I can make links to useful and relevant external sources. This will assist cataloguing of my research, and assist final thesis writing up.

The wiki would need to be secure and archived if there was a system crash. I would require a high level or service availability, so the service must be robust. I would need on and off campus access. I want to be able to add other people with different rights access and have restricted access to some sections; for example I need read/write access, my supervisors needs read/comment access, external funders need read only access, etc. I may or may not want my supervisors to see data I am working on, so I need a toggle access switch for those ‘restricted’ areas. This access can’t be restricted to the University’s authentication system as one of my supervisors is an external, industry collaborator.

But as you can see this is the concept of a ‘closed’ notebook, whereas Jean-Claude’s is very ‘open’. I like the philosophy underlying Jean-Claude’s concept. But even for those who aren’t prepared to go that far, using a wiki tool for your notebook seems to be a sensible choice.

Jeremiah Faith in Boston wrote in his Big J’s blog about his experience with Open Notebook Science, including what he considered to be the potential positives and possible negatives. Jeremiah decided to make his notebook available as a pdf download.

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