Open-notebooks anyone?

Doctors are generally known to lag behind the times as far as technology adoption goes ( my personal experience : no citeable reference yet). Scientists in the life-sciences come very close.

I spent my morning reading about Vioxx and then read a very interesting article about postdocs and data falsification. All this got me thinking about my earlier opinion about the NIH taking the lead on developing frameworks to make electronic lab notebooks a routine practice in any lab receiving NIH funding.

As a graduate student some 5 years ago I was always told about “NIH guidelines” about note-taking and about how any entry in my lab notebook was very important. But face the truth. My results were only written in a form most convenient to me and me alone. While it could obviously mean that I was the rotten apple in the barrel. There is no denying the fact that notebooks can benefit enormously from becoming electronic.

I cannot wait for the NIH to take the lead in at-least providing the frameworks ( like software maybe?) for electronic information storage and retrieval. And importantly records that the NIH can mandate to be made public once a paper is published.

As a crystallographer, I am now very used to depositing a lot of data on the process behind my structure solution into public databases to be later organized and available for all to use.There is no denying that thanks to an NIH funded effort, a variety of tools are available-for understanding structural and genomic data. I would hope that the NIH or NSF would take the lead in funding the development of an NIH-wide notebook project that will eventually provide the “supplementary material” section for all future peer reviewed publications.

Other reading:

Electronic Notebooks a New leaf : article by Declan Butler

ELNs my collection of connotea tags

HHMI Bulletin on archival data providing leads for discovery

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One response to “Open-notebooks anyone?

  1. The least the NIH can do is define guidelines that ELN vendors must adhere to. Right now, I think most of those standards are being driven by the FDA which, unlike the NIH, is a regulatory body and therefore carries a lot more clout.

    Do things have to be that complicated? What about specialized wiki’s which maintain an audit trail. That is the kind of software framework that the NIH is very good at. One of the nice things about being a computational scientist was the fact that my data was, for the most part, always backed up and stored for use later if need be. Standardized, easy, electronic data capture not only helps the whole issue of data falsification, but will also help future graduate students and postdocs.

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