Open Notebook Series: What is an Open Notebook?

June 22, 2012 | Posted by Anthony in Research |

This is the first in a series of posts by Anthony Salvagno about open notebook science.

Most scientific information is stored in countless journals, recorded in disparate articles produced by scientists from all over the world and across many decades. And in the digital age, this content is easily found all over the web. Journals have adapted to host .pdf versions articles, they host blogs to make the content more approachable, and there are some that are built on open access or have preprint hosting capabilities (also open access).

Despite the digital revolution though, science hasn’t changed. Even though information is right at our fingertips, it is still locked. Locked behind a paywall. Locked behind technical jargon. And locked behind interpretation.

If journals are the masterlock for science, then what’s the combination?

Enter open notebooks. Open notebook science is the practice of making your entire research project available online as it is recorded. This online location is known as an open notebook and is the online analog to the paper notebook most scientists keep in their lab. It is the storage center for project plans, experimental protocols and setups, raw data, and even unfiltered interpretations.

Open notebook science was first coined in 2006 by Jean-Claude Bradley (Drexel University), to clarify a subdivision of open science (at the time open source science) and to avoid confusion with the term open sourced software. The term itself is an umbrella for several types of notebooks that are classified by publication time (from immediate to delayed posting) and content (ranging from all research content to some content, usually parts of a project).

Ideally, every scientist could maintain an open notebook in real-time which would encompass all aspects of their research. But many fears about dealing with complete open access, conflicts with patent applications and publications, and online data overload and hamper this movement. To combat this, practitioners (like myself) encourage any form of open notebook science, even if that means uploading some information for a project from many years ago that never saw the light of day.

The goal of this practice is to enhance research. Through open notebooks, scientists would no longer need to repeat the mistakes of other scientists, have no need to sift through pages of an unorganized paper notebook, have access to raw data from papers, and much more.

In the coming weeks I’ll walk through the various aspects of open notebook science. I’ll provide examples of different types of notebooks, and different notebooking platforms. I’ll provide tips for maintaining an excellent notebook in the online environment. And I’ll present ways that you can enhance your notebook to do just about anything you’d like.

About the author

Anthony Salvagno (Twitter: thescienceofant) is a grad student in the KochLab in the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of New Mexico. He is an open notebook scientist and publishes all of his experimental results in real-time on his IheartAnthony open notebook / blog. Anthony is also a member of the Science Advocate program.

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