Wednesday, December 05, 2007

At this lab, everyone is required to maintain a science blog

I think this is a fabulous idea. Via The World's Fair:
Posted on: December 4, 2007 1:44 PM, by David Ng

Last week (or thereabouts), I had a chat with Rosie Redfield, an evolutionary biologist at the University of British Columbia. She had come over to visit because I noticed that every member of her lab (predominantly postdocs) had their own blog, and I was curious to see what was up with that.


Anyway, it turns out that Rosie makes it a requirement for her lab members to maintain a blog. This was primarily to act as an appendum lab book, and a place to reflect on the experiments carried out recently.

Chatting with her, she was quite excited by the prospect of such a thing becoming common practice. She noted a number of side benefits to the process:

1. It allows her, as a supervisor, to remotely keep track on what's going on. Think of it as preface material before the lab meeting, or the one on ones.

2. She's convinced that with the public facade to the posting, folks in her lab tend to conceptualize more fully what the experiments and data could signify. In doing so, there's a great opportunity for blogging to help clarify the experiments necessary to move the research projects forward.

3. Scientists are not necessarily noted for their writing skills. Which is too bad, because that ability tends to come in very handy in the fine art of preparing grants. Here, you have a platform where you can work the "practice makes perfect" angle.

4. Depending on the tact of the blogger, you may inadvertently end up with a significant amount of draft material for that thesis or paper you going to have to write later.

Then, of course, Rosie got into the whole issue of open access. In that, her efforts to promote science blogging in her lab, could possibly be thought of as a powerful exercise in scientific communication. Imagine a scenario where facets of the standard "lab book" are offered for public viewing.

This means that things like negative data, serendipity findings (things that don't normally get published) have a chance to be publicly aired, which only adds to the body of scientific knowledge. And what about unpublished data? How open is that? For instance, Rosie herself has no qualms in presenting her grant proposals, even before competition deadlines.

Mind you, her lab happens to focus on a research area that is not too competitive, so the relative merits of what her lab's blogging is obviously subjected to this important nuance.

Still, it's interesting to imagine a scenario where what Rosie's lab does is common practice. i.e. what if NIH, NSERC, NSF, CIHR made it explicit in their funding structure.

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