What type of open notebook science are you? (Plus, more logos)

Photo by sararah on Flickr

Photo by sararah on Flickr

A scientist’s notebook is like an artist’s sketchbook mixed with captain’s logs. It can be extremely personal and yet it is the definitive record for both day to day scientific research and for higher-level brainstorming. It can be haphazardly disorganized or meticulously organized. But until electronic media came around, we were stuck with pasting pieces of paper alongside handwritten notes in stacks of bound notebooks or 3-ring binders – a pain not only to store but also to search through when you’re looking for how exactly you ran that particular experiment on that particular sample on that particular equipment.

While it’s not quite the norm yet, these days it’s not uncommon for people to use software such as wikis or journaling programs to record their everyday research activities. This has obvious advantages beyond legibility and saving trees; you can search your notes, link them to data files or figures, and back up multiple copies. You can tag and categorize entries, and the electronic files are automatically timestamped. Wikis, in particular, include versioning, so that any modifications you make to an entry are also recorded and timestamped.

These features should be a boon to any researcher, but there are some important “meta” benefits that can be yours (and ours) if you choose. Making things electronic lowers barriers to access and sharing. If you use a wiki or a blog to record your notes, you can choose to keep them online (useful for accessing from anywhere there’s an internet connection), and further, to make them public. At it’s logical extreme, this translates to “making the entire primary record of a research project publicly available online as it is recorded” along with all raw and processed data, the current definition of open notebook science (ONS) on Wikipedia. A number of scientists and labs practice and advocate ONS, including Jean-Claude Bradley at Drexel, Cameron Neylon at the ISIS Neutron Facility, and Gus Rosania at University of Michigan. They argue that the benefits – both to themselves and to the scientific community at large – far outweigh the risks.

Complete ONS obviously isn’t for everyone, but regardless of whether the practice becomes widely adopted, we should now be able to designate certain labs or notebooks of satisfying the definition of ONS. We can even designate partial ONS – whether all or only part of the content is available, and whether the content is made available immediately or after some time delay (usually for IP or publication purposes). Jean-Claude Bradley has broken down these types of ONS into a set of claims inspired by Creative Commons licenses along with initial logos created by Andy Lang.

The Creative Commons model is great for getting across the terms of your content quickly and unambiguously, so I am a big fan of this initiative. I would love to see more research notebooks online, and to see them displaying badges or banners identifying them as a type of ONS. I got so excited that I started making my own logos, which, happily, Jean-Claude and Andy Lang seem to like:

ons-patch1 ons-patch2

Two potential problems with these logos  that I can think of are:

  • whether it reads as “ons” rather than o-n-s (in which case perhaps uppercase would help),
  • the use of a beaker which could feel exclusive to those not in the experimental or life-sciences,

Incidentally, I made these images in Keynote (Apple’s version of Powerpoint), of all places. I simply couldn’t be bothered to fire up Adobe Illustrator with its bajillions of tools and palettes, and while I had to fudge a bit to get certain things to look right (my way of coloring in the beaker, for example, is hilariously crude), it was still pretty painless. Who knew?

I’ll be making more official mockups for Andy in the next day or two, so if anyone has additional feedback on these designs (or a different design entirely) I’d love to hear it!


8 Responses to What type of open notebook science are you? (Plus, more logos)

  1. Nice explanation of the issues Shirley – and your logos are pretty!

  2. hjl7 says:

    This is an outstanding explication of ONS and should be required reading for all science teachers at any level and by all librarians, science, medical or not.

    As to the logos, they are indeed pretty. But will people get the abbreviations AC, SC?

  3. When implemented clicking on the logos should take you ultimately to this page with the explanation of the options:

  4. Hope Leman says:

    Hi, guys. As a new user of WordPress, I am just learning that when on a WordPress blog like this one I am defaulted into my WordPress identity. What a bother. I am hjl7 above.

    Ah–thank you for the useful info Jean-Claude. I do think we need on that page some indication of who the governing authorities are on these matters of logs. Such info would raise comfort levels and, thereby, adoption rates.

  5. Beautiful logos Shirley.

    1) Why does the “Delayed” ONS clock clock thingy have a hand at 12:00 o’clock, a hand at 1:00 o’clock, but the white part goes all the way to 5:00 o’clock? The “Immediate” clock thingy the hands & shades are in sync.

    2) I agree about the uppercase might be better to communicate the acronym, although lowercase is more aesthetically pleasing, IMHO.

    3) I don’t like the beaker’s pouring snout, but that’s just me.

  6. shwu says:

    Thanks, everyone! I am working on an updated set and hopefully will have them up in a few days for more feedback.

    Iddo – I believe the clock is meant to be a stopwatch but I agree it can be confusing. Do stopwatches have both the nobbly things at angles to 12oclock? That could help clarify what it’s supposed to be.

  7. @shwu: stopwatches traditionally have buttons at 10, 12 and 2 o’clock, or any of the permutations above.

    So those are knobs, not hands.. OK. What confused me was the alignment of the shade with the knobs.


  8. Pingback: The Indispensable Man of Open Science: A Talk with Cameron Neylon « Significant Science

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