The first generation of World Wide Web capabilities rapidly transformed retailing and information search. More recent attributes such as blogging, tagging and social networking, dubbed Web 2.0, have just as quickly expanded people’s ability not just to consume online information but to publish it, edit it and collaborate about it—forcing such old-line institutions as journalism, marketing and even politicking to adopt whole new ways of thinking and operating.
Science could be next. A small but growing number of researchers (and not just the younger ones) have begun to carry out their work via the wide-open tools of Web 2.0. And although their efforts are still too scattered to be called a movement—yet—their experiences to date suggest that this kind of Web-based “Science 2.0” is not only more collegial than traditional science but considerably more productive.
Bill Hooker, a postdoctoral cancer researcher at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Oregon says:
“To me, opening up my lab notebook means giving people a window into what I’m doing every day,” Hooker says. “That’s an immense leap forward in clarity. In a paper, I can see what you’ve done. But I don’t know how many things you tried that didn’t work. It’s those little details that become clear with an open [online] notebook but are obscured by every other communication mechanism we have. It makes science more efficient.”
And the expected counterpoint:
The whole point of publishing papers is that scientists wade through vast amounts of data, extract those that are informative, and generate figures that accurately and concisely distill out the useful features. Why would a working scientist want to expend the huge amount of effort necessary to wade through, extract, and distill this same information on her own?
My prediction is that “Open Lab Notebooks” is an idea that is going to go absolutely nowhere, at least in the biomedical sciences, and for a very good reason.
picture via Stacina