Saturday, March 13, 2010

Open Notebook Science Tips

Beth Ritter-Guth just wrote an article for MakeUseOf.com: "How To Get Started With Open Notebook Science". She had asked me to list a few tips for doing Open Notebook Science. I didn't quite make her deadline so I thought I would post them here. These are ideas that I have discussed in different talks and documents but never put together in one place.
1) Accept that reporting science in real time is not always pretty. Do your best to avoid and correct mistakes as soon as possible but mistakes and ambiguous results will happen on the way to completing any scientific project. Just be honest about your level of certainty when discussing preliminary results.

2) Provide as much raw data as is reasonable and frame it in such a way that other researchers can understand what you have done and follow your conclusions based on your data without having to ask you questions.

3) Don't wait for the perfect technological solutions before starting to share. General purpose wikis can serve as an excellent starting point for an Open Lab Notebook.

4) Don't wait for the perfect data structuring scheme before starting to share. First share for human readability - you can always restructure the data later for machine readability.

5) Periodically write summaries of your research progress in the form of milestones or significant challenges in a format that non-specialists can understand. A blog is a good platform for this. If you link to specific lab notebook pages from your summaries, experts can always click through to dig deeper.

6) Create snapshot archives of your notebooks and supporting raw data files. You can use these as backups and as a convenient way to cite a particular version of your entire research project.

7) Cite specific lab notebook pages and archives when publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

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