Even more open science?

Whether a theoretical weblog can be truly allowed to be called open notebook science has been questioned recently. I’m not sure where I stand here. Wikipedia’s definition reads: “Open Notebook Science is the practice of making the entire primary record of a research project publicly available online as it is recorded.” This is roughly what I’m trying to do here: I have notebooks containing the records of my research projects and instead of letting them collect dust on my filing cabinet I’m typing them up as I go and sharing them here. (So, naturally, this means you’ll get a lot of dead ends and half explored ideas…) If enough people feel passionately that my weblog doesn’t count then I’m happy to go with the flow and accept whatever definition is deemed more appropriate by those more involved in this kind of thing (open theoretical brain dump, or open theoretical posturing perhaps?) 🙂

On another note: you’ll probably have noticed the twitter updates and del.icio.us bookmarks boxes on the right: I’m experimenting with increasing the “openness” of my research. I intend to post updates on what I’m up to via twitter and to share what I’m reading via del.icio.us bookmarks. (However, at the moment I can only display my entire twitter feed, rather than just my tweets…) Probably one or the other will turn out to be less than useful.

Any comments or suggestions are, as always, greatly appreciated! Also, please feel free to comment on any of my posts at any time: any questions at all would be greatly appreciated! Please don’t feel afraid to ask “stupid” questions: if you have a question then the odds are that someone else does as well.


7 Responses to Even more open science?

  1. matt says:

    How many theorists actually keep formal notebooks? I know some theorists that fill meticulous pages with equations, each logically following from the line above, but many others (including myself) are much more haphazard, with a lot of half-baked ideas, each of which is hard to explain in a formal way until it is actually done.

    So, any criticisms of what it means to be “open notebook” are a little off-target, I think. It just is a way to say what one is thinking about; basically, this is a blog about science, it seems, rather than just a blog by a scientist.

  2. Tobias,
    First of all I think what you are doing is great and there is no question that you are doing Open Science! Hopefully this post explains a little more clearly my comments about ONS vs PONS.

    My comments were based on this quote from your blog: “On openness: Michael Nielsen asks how open I intend to be (i.e. what does it mean for a theorist to be open!?). To be honest I hadn’t even thought about it!” so I got the impression that you were not intending to keep a completely Open Notebook.

    In the experimental sciences, it is really easy to tell if someone has an Open Notebook because there is such a document – the lab notebook – and if you make it completely open in close to real time it is ONS – if you don’t then it is PONS.

    For theoretical sciences it really is turning out to be tricky because from what I understand there is not a formal notebook. I suppose the key questions would come down to what I wrote in my post linked above: 1) reproducibility: – are you providing enough information that other theorists can verify the logic of the ideas you discuss (whether half-baked or not 🙂
    2) exclusion: – are you saying that if it isn’t posted here you are not actively “working” on it, at least for this project?

  3. tobiasosborne says:

    Jean-Claude: many thanks for your comment and the clarification; I really appreciate hearing from an actual practioner of ONS!

    When going into this I initially had the (admittedly vague) platonic intention of making all of my primary notebook where all my ideas are recorded (which does exist, in a somewhat scrappy form) available as close to real time as possible.

    After a couple of weeks, due to my haphazard approach to thinking about problems, I don’t think I can quite manage it (although I intend to use twitter a lot more to try and do so). I’m roughly converging on an approach whereby pretty much everything I’m thinking about will get mentioned, in some detail, but this would probably fail the reducibility requirement, at least for anyone who doesn’t actually collaborate with me and knows precisely what I’m referring to. But I do intend to maintain “exclusion” as much as possible, i.e., with some specific exceptions, if it isn’t posted here, I’m not thinking about it at all.

    If push comes to shove I think I’d like to go for exclusion over reproducibility. This might sound a bit selfish, i.e., like I’m only writing for myself. But I would argue that theorists would be able extract *something useful* from a comment where I mention I’m thinking of applying lemma X to problem Y, even if the exact steps might take serious work to reproduce. Whereas, if I just don’t mention whole areas of my work at all then these ideas aren’t of any use to anyone, except myself.

    But, I’m sure I’ll change my mind as time goes on…

    It’s been really helpful thinking about this as I realise I’ve not been 100% sure what I want to achieve out of all of this: it all began because, for various reasons, I can’t travel as much as I used to but I still wanted to maintain a dialogue about research with fellow academics — like what takes place at theoretical conferences…

  4. tobiasosborne says:

    matt: good point! I would certainly agree that this is a blog about science rather than a blog by a scientist :). I sometimes feel like I am experimenting (especially when running numerics), and I haven’t seen this aspect of theoretical science emphasised in other blogs, so I wanted to convey this feeling a bit. But, I suppose, ONS is probably too strong for what I trying to do here: so let’s settle for open science? 🙂

  5. […] Even more open science? « Tobias J. Osborne’s research notes […]

  6. Hope Leman says:

    Hi, guys. This is a fascinating discussion. Could Jean-Claude explain why there would be any value in Partial/Pseudo Open Notebook Science? Why not just wait for a published article? The term “Partial Open” seems oxymoronic.

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