My scientific workflow includes email between myself and lab members and collaborators, annotations on previously published papers, adding information and ideas to the lab wiki, Python programs to create visual displays and run experiments with them, and Python and R code to plot the results and do the statistical analysis.
A long-term goal is to link these things together so that each project in the lab has an electronic paper trail of different python programs that were written, emails that were exchanged, experiment variants that were tried, data that was collected, statistical analyses conducted, and manuscripts that were written.
I want all this for two reasons.
- Most importantly, to compensate for my failing ability to keep abreast of all the lab projects and remember everything we’ve done for each. I should be able to type ‘Frohlich’ into a searchbox somewhere and see all the materials related to our experiments on the Frohlich effect.
- Second, to move closer to open research, where others can see what we’re doing, get in touch if they’re interested in collaborating or know something relevant, and see our unpublished negative results so that they needn’t repeat all the associated work.
There’s a lot of discussion recently about how to move towards open research and open notebook science (e.g. Cameron Neylon and Ian Davis). I don’t know how much others are already saying this, but to me the way forward is to create a system that would appeal to nearly every scientist’s desire for #1 above regardless of whether they support open research: a system to archive what the lab does in an organized fashion so that each lab member can access it. I find this easiest to do by using web archiving systems like Google Groups for lab email and files. I don’t have most steps working in easy and automated fashion and I don’t have the programming skills to get them working with necessary ingredients like version history, linking code and output files, etc. However once someone does, bona fide open research would be just a matter of changing the permissions so that anyone in the world can access it.