Prince:Why Open Notebook

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Open Notebook

The advent of better tools for electronically recording and sharing information along with the vast success of the open source software movement have prompted many to consider using a public, or "open" lab notebook where raw data is accessible along with the entire scientific process.


  • "maintains the integrity of data provenance by making assumptions explicit" slide 5
  • Easily access your own data and lab book from anywhere in the world.
  • Easier collaboration with others.
  • Encourages better recording and organizing of data since it is open for inspection.
  • Encourages reuse of data in meta-analysis.
  • Third party time stamping ensures that discoveries may be properly attributed.
  • Encourages others to share their work and data, which may help you and others solve their problems.
  • Near real-time feedback from others is possible.
  • Makes accessible failed experiments to prevent you or others from duplicating mistakes.
  • Lowers the barrier of entry to the field.


  1. You cannot patent previously disclosed discoveries under the current system.
  2. One may be scooped or have data stolen.
  3. American Chemical Society does not allow prepublication of the manuscript in any form.

Some responses to potential cons

  1. There are two concerns here:
    1. Since you cannot patent, your idea will not make it to market. While monopoly is not ensured, if it is a useful discovery it will likely be taken to market in some form. If it is obvious or not that useful, why worry about the patent in the first place.
    2. Since you cannot patent, you and your institution will make no patent royalties. An institution may regard patent licensing a means for recouping initial investment. Open notebooks could represent a direct loss in these royalties. However, it remains to be seen if the total gain from open projects outweighs these losses. Perhaps remuneration may occur in other forms such as consultation. Finally, the researcher and institution may not become rich, but they can still make important contributions.
  2. Since the date of publication is publicly established, the incentive to "steal" or "scoop" is decreased. Instead, researchers are more likely to properly attribute or collaborate on finds related to their field of interest.
  3. [I'm working to get this clarified with ACS]. As long as you don't develop the entire manuscript in the open, you would probably be ok is my naive assumption on this.

Compiled, with additions from

Prince Lab Philosophy: The Best of Both Worlds

The Prince Lab Philosophy® is that things should be open unless there is a good reason for them not to be. If you are inclined to patent your inventions and your patent senses tingle when you are thinking about a certain aspect of your project, you should keep those pages on your local network. If you know you want to publish in an ACS journal, don't prepare/release your manuscript in the open. Other than that, why not keep it open?

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