Sunday, November 04, 2007

Cameron's ONS Talk

Cameron Neylon gave a very thoughtful talk at Drexel on Friday about using blogs to capture the science going on in his group then deciding to open his laboratory notebooks to the world.

He was refreshingly honest about his progress and motivations. For example, at one point he noted that a gel image was missing on one of the posts. Instead of glossing over it, he pointed out how this just makes transparent how difficult it is to properly maintain a laboratory notebook. As long as you don't have to show it to anyone, it is tempting to claim that your lab notebook is better maintained than it really is.

And this is a positive thing - science is messy and even through the human failings of ideal record keeping, science gets done. Now if we finally admit to that and are willing to work transparently, we have an opportunity and an incentive to set a higher standard.

That is one of the tangible benefits of Open Notebook Science.

Cameron's talk was recorded and is available here.

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6 Comments:

At 9:49 AM, Blogger David Bradley said...

I just listened to the first half of Cameron's interesting talk and got as far as the mention of legal and ethical issues before my writing deadline pressed.

I just wanted to ask whether there might be patent and publication problems associated with open notebook. If anyone can access your results and discussion before you submit them to a journal might that not be tantamount to prior publication? Same would go for patent applications, wouldn't it?

Or, if it doesn't then some attorney some where could probably argue that it does and have your patent overturned or paper rejected.

db

 
At 10:11 AM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

These are certainly issues that researchers need to consider before doing Open Notebook Science. This does count as prior publication for patent purposes so you would not want to do ONS if you are planning to patent. But the same goes for speaking about unpublished work at conferences. In my experience most researchers do not sytematically try to patent all of their projects.

As for the publication in traditional journals we'll find out which publishers will accept the work. Many publishers accept pre-prints (e.g. ArXiv) so this should not be a problem. But I'll report on this when the time comes.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger David Bradley said...

But, you might do ONS and then suddenly hear from your tech transfer department that they think some of your work (which they've been keyword monitoring via the ONS by now) is patentable...so you'd be stuffed.

Conferences are slightly different though aren't they, small select, often closed audience, whereas an ONS would be accessible to all and sundry like arxiv preprints. The journal publishers would have to adapt if there were enough of their authors using ONS, as they've done with physicists and arxiv, but there'd have to be a serious groundswell to push them that far, especially given the pressures the closed publishers are already under from OA publishing models.

 
At 3:20 PM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

Dave,
The situation is usually the reverse - the researcher trying to convince the tech transfer office to file a patent. It is such an expensive (and time consuming) proposition that I've never heard of a university tech transfer office putting pressure on a researcher to postpone publishing.

By that logic, researchers would file for a patent (or at least a provisional patent in the US) before every single publication. Most tenure-track faculty are much more worried about getting papers than patents.

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous David Bradley said...

Ah, fair comment. Although when I worked for the RSC oftentimes we'd get a call from a researcher asking to postpone publication because the patent attorneys at the sponsoring company (usually pharma) needed a little more time.

db

 
At 4:29 AM, Anonymous David Bradley said...

I finally got around to listening to the second half ;-)

Very interesting.

I've pulled out a few of the points to which I wanted to draw attention and have posted about open notebook science on ChemSpy. The heatshock tube anecdote, for me, highlights the power of ONS. I've also been pondering the idea of an InChI key for bio...could it be done. Would a hash mashup be possible that converted a sequence into a short unique code or tag, much as a torrent or Gnutella file can be hashed? I don't know, just thinking aloud...

 

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