Why the world will care about open notebook science

Back in June I was present at the #scienceatrisk meeting hosted by the Library of Congress. As part of day 1 of the discussions, the attendees were presented with a special manuscript viewing of historical scientific documents. I’ll post the images I took of the documents with some stories soon, but I bring this up because seeing these historical documents got me excited. Excited about the history of science, and excited about the future of it as well.

I was excited because I was getting a chance to touch and see several documents from famous moments in scientific history. In that moment I felt like I was a part of the discoveries made at those moments. I got to read the communications between scientists and relive their discoveries along with them. If only the rest of the world had access to these documents, how excited would the public be over being a part of world changing discoveries.

I showed the pictures to everyone who would stand to talk to me, most of them aren’t scientists or even very scientifically literate, but everyone was deeply interested and excited and impressed.

And then I realized, I’m providing this level of access in real-time. Sure right now the experiments I’m working on aren’t world-changing (yet!), but they are just as exciting.

Not too long after the manuscript viewing I presented on open notebook science, and was reintroduced to the importance of my work. Everyone (from what I could tell) was very interested in the concept of open notebook science. They could read about my experiments, read about my thoughts as I plan the experiment, and read about my conclusions while coming up with their own.

After receiving feedback about ONS and based on my own experience with the historical scientific manuscripts, I realized just how important open notebook science can be for the future of science and for its present.

Currently the only bridge between research and the public are press releases, newspaper articles, and blog posts about specific scientific research. But those outlets only highlight a small percentage of all of the research that goes on around the planet. And allow me to let you in on a little secret… there is a lot being studied around the world and it is ALL very interesting!

Imagine being in a library full of the original notebooks from all the most famous scientists, their collaborators, and even their competitors. Being able to see what they think about, how they think, and how they speak and write will bring you much closer to them as people. You will realize that some are eccentric, some are egotistical, some are clever, some are persistant, but they are all like you. You will also get to live the experience of their work and their discoveries along with them. How is that not exciting?

And this is where open notebook science comes in. Through ONS and the internet, people around the world can have access to all the things I just mentioned. The only difference is the experiments are in real-time and you can interact with the scientists as they work. You may even help them out!

Half of the fun of science is being able to share knowledge with the world. The other half is impacting it via that knowledge. I believe that open notebook science can be the gateway to the whole fun of science.