so I've found a few open lab notebooks such as this online. I think the philosophy is great, basically an extreme form of open-access. I work in theoretical neuroscience as a fresh post-doc. I'm also continuing to work for my PhD supervisor, but I plan to look for a position elsewhere ASAP to 'fly the nest' so to speak. I don't have any of my own publications yet, just the publications that came from my PhD. As a general career move I would either like to start publishing myself or with new collaborators.

My question is about the advantages vs disadvantages of starting an open lab notebook. A few pros would be:

  • Increased scientific visibility
  • Extra motivation
  • Possible feedback, discovering new research directions

The the big danger are:

  • Getting 'scooped'
  • Getting sidetracked from current post-doc

If anyone has any advice for a person in my position, I would like to hear your viewpoint. Specifically, it should relate to an early career researcher looking to make a name for himself.

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    IMHO the biggest danger is 'writing things that no-one reads' (for time, motivation). – Piotr Migdal Dec 14 '12 at 13:53
  • @PiotrMigdal hopefully you already keep a (closed) lab notebook to document your research, so making it open shouldn't be an additional burden. I think the question drives rather at the consequences (good & bad) of what happens if someone else does read it (e.g. the open part). – cboettig Dec 17 '12 at 20:59
  • Another concern may be the "prior publication" definitions used in your field. Many top journals are okay with this, but check first. – cboettig Dec 17 '12 at 21:01
  • @cboettig May depend on one's working style, but my notes for myself are not human-readable (written in a dialect of Migdalish). – Piotr Migdal Dec 17 '12 at 22:09
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    @cboettig: however, the patent office will not be OK with open lab books (no idea whether this is of importance for theoretical neuroscience, but people from other fields will need to think about this). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Dec 21 '12 at 19:52

I really like that you put 'scientific visibility' on top of the list. That is one side of open notebook science (ONS) that is often overlooked. Also, one thing I would like to add to the pros part of the list is how ONS really facilitates collaboration between researchers. If you are going to keep several projects going and collaborate with different groups, then I think you'll find ONS really helpful.


If you are worried about the cons and excited about the pros, why not take a "middle-of-the-road" approach? At first, you may want to avoid publishing everything—at least until you get a manuscript or two accepted. At that point, it will become a lot easier to go ahead with a more "open" approach, because you'll already have some material "in the can," so to speak.

You could also take a "staggered" approach, so that you wait a while before putting a given unit of work online. In this way, I think you're honoring the commitments of open research, while still maintaining some control over the release schedule in a way that will make it more difficult to get "scooped."

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