The debate got me thinking again about something that's been bothering me recently. I've been having a hard time getting my thoughts straight, and that's still true. I'll quote myself and then try to clarify:
A really good motto for a scientist who wants to be open could be this: "Be as open as I personally want to be." This is very different than "be as open as possible." What I am specifically thinking is that young scientists (i.e., not yet beaten-down) seem to usually have very natural tendencies towards open science. But the overall level of natural talent for openness may vary enough that "open notebook science" may just not be the best method of openness for some people. But everyone can strive to "be as open as they want to be", and resist pressure to be closed coming from outside (fear of scooping; lack of technical means; resistance from colleagues). In contrast to these external pressures, I think it may be legitimate for someone to want to be open, but also maintain some privacy so they can get a personal reward of doing something all by themselves, for example. Perhaps posting all of their electronic notes 6 months or a year down the line.
"Be as open as I want to be." I don't know if that has value for anyone else, but it a very powerful mission statement for me right now. It's powerful, because I really believe in it, but I am not achieving it. I'll talk about that later in the post. But, first I want to talk about it in a more positive light.
What kind of openness should be required?
I am starting to decide that I'm not going to try to force my lab members to do specific kinds of open science. I am thinking instead that my goal will be to remove as many barriers as possible so that my lab members can achieve the level of openness they desire. I believe that adults have unchangeable natural talents, and I think that scientists will be cutout for different kinds of openness. For example, Anthony in our lab has recently started doing open notebook science, true to its definition. I am really excited about this. He is a natural for ONS. I don't think that he has any problem writing anything in public. In fact, I think his notebook being open is a motivator for him to make it even better than he would a private notebook. This is the way he's wired, and it's not surprising if you know him. In contrast, I think some people would find that their creativity and drive are seriously hampered by doing ONS. For example, me as a graduate student. I don't know whether doing ONS would have worked or not. I actually kept what I think is a very good electronic lab notebook. But it was private, and I don't know whether I would have taken as many notes (and dropped as many F-bombs) if I knew it was public. I also don't know if I would have reacted well to someone posting a suggestion to me when I was immersed in trying to figure out something by myself. I do know that I would have been fine posting my notebook in public with some time delay. In fact, if anyone posts a comment to this blog asking me to post my grad school notebook in public, I'll go ahead and do that...f-bombs and all.
So, while I don't think I'll require ONS for all lab members, I may have other requirements, such as delayed notebook publishing. What I am worried about is hampering creativity and productivity of young scientists by striving for inappropriately selected open science goals. I do want my students (and postdocs in the future) to strive for open science, but I want them to do it in the way that best leverages their talents.
I am failing at my own principles
"Be as open as I want to be." I and our lab have made some great strides in the past few months towards this principle. For me, I think the transformation was fueled by a strong belief in the power and even morality of open science. But it did take a heavy dose of "what the fuck" to spark the flurry of steps I took this past winter break. (I think that may be my first f-bomb while blogging; I feel alive.) I'm happy and excited about what we're doing. But I'm also not achieving openness as much as I'd like. And I'm confused. Two themes dominate my struggles with openness:
- The students in my labs and their scientific careers
- My collaborators, their careers, and my gratitude for their assistance and mentoring
Being scooped would be emotionally devastating. This is true. And it would have an impact on my lab and my students. This is what my students and I have been discussing the past couple years, and I think we've developed a collective (perhaps unspoken) understanding that we'll be OK even if that does happen. I think I can protect and rescue my students from that scenario. The collaborator issue is so much more complicated.
The collaborator issue is what is bothering me quite a bit now, and I really don't have any answer. Most of the scientists I know personally are "traditional." The ones I am trying to collaborate with are outstanding and highly respected by everyone, including me. The ones I am thinking about right now have put in a huge amount of effort helping me throughout various stages of my career. These traditional scientists, of course, are not Scientists 2.0, but they are fantastic scientists. I suspect, and in some cases directly know, that they would not approve of my science openness. So, I don't know how to deal with this external pressure towards closed science. The "what the fuck" strategy seems so disrespectful to people who've put energy into my career. But the "try to convince" them strategy is futile. "Showing them the way" will work...but at the risk of looking like "what the fuck" along the way and angering them. If we do get scooped, my students and I will be OK. But our mentors may never forgive us?
OK, I'm going to stop now...those are the challenges that are really bothering me this weekend.