Research Remix

August 7, 2007

Summary of ONS BoF at ISMB

Filed under: BOF, ISMB — Heather Piwowar @ 9:13 am

Back at home after a lovely cycling vacation along the Danube with my family.

Quick summary of the Birds of a Feather on Open Notebook Science (ONS) at ISMB:

The session was during a short lunchtime on the last day, thus not ideal for high attendence.  Nonetheless, about 10 young scientists attended (including Frank and Matt, what fun to meet in person), and we had an interesting discussion.

  • many of us, but not all, had heard of ONS previously.  Nobody doing it.
  • challenges specific to bio/biomed/informatics:
    • sharing details about invasive animal experiments on the open internet could (and has) lead to harassment
    • privacy issues with clinical data (comment:  would first be fired then sued)
      • maybe ways around this, share lots but not everything, model how it is handled in publications, etc
  • general points:
    • more “errors” are bound to be found, will need a new publishing paradigm to deal with this
    • process for assessing research is disjoint from these practices, though changes are underway
    • only valid in areas where no potential commercial benefit, otherwise universities won’t allow?
    • might encourage informal peer review, thus raising the quality of  submissions and helping the investigators
    • young investigators just can’t risk being scooped
      • time-marked stake in the sand a reasonable defense?  Parallels with patent law.
      • will need social change
      • fear of scooping perhaps more pervasive than it occurring
        • yet a first-hand example in the room of being scooped from a rejected grant application
      • flip side:  if someone realizes that other good investigators are already working on something and n months ahead, they may forgo it and do something else
      • flip side:  potential collaborations
      • thoughts that the benefits may start outweighing the risks after the work is already well underway, as opposed to just being started
  • at the end of the session (generalizing) most in the room felt that ONS is interesting to think about, hard to pull off, perhaps possible as small steps, social change required.

Thanks to everyone who attended.  I enjoyed meeting you, and learned from the different perspectives in the conversation.

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  1. Nice summary.
    Concerning your comment
    only valid in areas where no potential commercial benefit, otherwise universities won’t allow?

    This is really no different than publishing in traditional journals. Researchers don’t file a patent before submitting every paper unless they make commercialization a priority, which is not the case for most researchers I know. Filing patents is really a large additional burden on the researcher and expensive for the university. But if you are going to take that route then obviously you don’t do ONS.

    I hope you’ll continue the discussion with us on Second Life!

    Comment by Jean-Claude Bradley — August 7, 2007 @ 3:45 pm

  2. Those are good points about commercial data, I guess each person has to use their common sense on what they should and shouldn’t publish prior to patenting, etc. The animal testing point is an important one too.

    I think finding more errors is a positive side to open note book science. As you say, this may make submissions of a higher quality which would have a knock on effect making the jobs of reviewers slightly easier.

    We were discussing ONS over coffee yesterday, and the conclusion was that fear of being scooped is unfounded. In the majority scientists tend to think that their work is the only important groundbreaking work in the field, everything else is insignificant.

    Comment by Michael Barton — August 8, 2007 @ 5:10 am

  3. Just as “In the majority scientists tend to think that their work is the only important groundbreaking work in the field”, perhaps the majority of science bloggers suffer from thinking their work is getting more exposure than it really is. As far as scooping goes, I agree that it probably doesn’t happen as often some people think, but it also doesn’t necessarily matter as much as people may think either, because there’s a certain amount of repetition that’s allowed and needed. There are only a few cases where one study is the only final and definitive work ever done on the subject, and you have to be read before you can be scooped.

    Overall, I think the main value to accrue from “publishing” early and often is to reduce the burden on reviewers. If you reduce the number of submissions, or significantly improve them before submission, that will have a domino effect on the whole publishing process, giving reviewers time to write better reviews, and resulting in better publications for everyone to read and work from.

    Of course, let’s not forget that in order for this to happen to any significant degree you need many, many eyes looking over every submission. To put it in perspective, I get about 300 or so unique visits per week(pitifully small, I know), and the only comments on my thesis proposal were from two of the fellows in my lab that I emailed it to. Are there even 300 people blogging directly about what they’re doing in the lab?

    I’ve only found one case where someone was talking about an experiment, and I could offer a useful suggestion. The response to my suggestion was, “well, that would be a nice, but we don’t have the resources”. Now, partly it was my fault for writing more of a late-in-the-day rant than a information and links-packed comment, but that just makes the point even more that yeah, it’s one thing to worry about getting scooped or whatever, but those are secondary problems.

    You have to have people reading your stuff in the first place for that to even be an issue.

    Comment by Mr. Gunn — August 8, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

  4. Good points well made Mr Gunn

    Comment by Michael Barton — August 9, 2007 @ 6:01 am

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    Pingback by Impressions from ISMB 2007 (updated) « Suicyte Notes — August 9, 2007 @ 6:55 am

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