What is Open Notebook Science?

Most scientific information is stored in countless journals, recorded in infinite articles produced by scientists from all over the world and across many decades. And in the age of the internet, 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, science publication 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. The worst part is scientists accept all these barriers. We accept that results won’t be published many months after a study is completed. We accept that we have to spend time to digest those results. And we accept that we will spend even more time replicating or building on an experiment.

But what if there was another way? What if the speed of science could be improved so it isn’t an excuse anymore? And what if access wasn’t a barrier anymore?

The truth is a solution exists. It’s called open notebook science, and I do it every day and have been doing it for the past 5 years.

Open notebook science is simply 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 would 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 hamper this movement. To combat this, practitioners (like myself) encourage any form of open notebook contribution, 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. There will be no need to sift through pages of an unorganized paper notebook. Access to data will be available, and better yet access to detailed protocols will improve the speed and reproducibility of research.

If you are interested in further details of open notebook science, I have a lot of information in the “Open Notebook Science Info” category and even more if you search “open notebook science” in this notebook. In addition, feel free to email me questions or comments, or better yet leave a comment on any post here in my notebook!