Monday, March 22, 2010

Open Notebook Science - The Chytrid Project

Open notebook science (ONS) is the practice of making the primary record of a research project publicly available online as it is generated. This involves placing the personal, or laboratory, notebook of the researcher(s) online along with all raw and processed data, and any associated material. The approach can be summed up by the slogan "no insider information".

Regular readers will know that I've been thinking and writing a lot about ONS recently. There are two reasons for this. First, it is a natural extension of the work I have been doing in education over the past few years. Second, over the past few weeks I have been discussing with my colleagues the possibility of setting up an ONS project. ONS is far from the norm of accepted scientific practice (I'll be writing more about norms here tomorrow), but over the last year of talking to some of the leading practitioners of ONS, notably Jean-Claude Bradley and Cameron Neylon, I have become convinced that I would like to try it myself. Based mainly on the experience of Jean-Claude, we have set up a blog as one part of our feasibility test of ONS, a space where out part-formed thoughts, ideas, planning, and general commentary on ONS stuff will appear. The other part is our open notebook on Wikispaces, where all the data will be posted. Anyone familiar with ONS will immediately recognize that this is a clone of the Jean-Claude's approach. I have discussed this with him and it seems sensible to carry out our first faltering steps in a tested format. If you want to follow our progress, subscribe to the RSS feed for the blog, or go to this page and subscribe with the feed reader of your choice. If you prefer, you can receive updates via your email account.

Open or closed? It's not that simple. There are many flavours of ONS, and it's not clear yet which one(s) we want or are able to pursue. Indeed, our style of "open" is one of the first things we need to work out about this project. For a variety of reasons, not all of the research done in our laboratory will switch to ONS. Initially, we intend to try it out with a new chytrid project we are developing (which I'll describe in a subsequent posts on the new blog). Thus our approach to ONS is itself an experiment. Only time will tell if we are able or willing to continue in this format. Apart from funding, this depends whether this idea wins hearts and minds - not only in our lab, but beyond it - at the University of Leicester and in the wider scientific community. In part, that depends how much interaction we receive from colleagues, near and far. The project we are beginning is a new field for us, so we don't expect the world to be queuing up to help us, but to be successful, the downside risk of ONS needs to be balanced by the upside of helpful positive interactions from interested observers. Without the generosity of my colleagues, who have been prepared to entertain my madcap ideas about open science, I would not even have got this far.

My institution will judge the success of this project in terms of grants and publications, so that must be our yardstick too. On a purely personal basis, I also have other, possibly more important, criteria for judging the success or failure of this venture: openness, collaboration and the advancement of science. Judge us on these criteria.