As previously stated in Part 1 and Part 2 of our labfolder story, we wanted to create a digital laboratory notebook, able to organize, archive and share scientific data. Before finally launching the first version of our laboratory notebook, there were various obstacles we encountered as researchers: To write a research article without ever having performed an experiment, you just would have to be arrogantly complex enough inventing your scientific story and at the same time superficial enough in describing your methods. Everyone would think: “What complex thoughts, what a genius, no wonder the method description had to be shortened” – and they would believe you. I actually think that primarily, the pressure to publish and to survive (such as keeping your job), not the greed for fame and funds drive people in doing so.
Prominent examples for “methodological obscuring” and scientific misconduct are Hwang Woo-suk Hwang Woo-suk and more recently, Diederik Stapel. The pressure to publish and its effects are addressed in many articles , like, for example, “The Pressure to Publish and Scientific Misconduct“, “Publishing pressure eroding research integrity“. Apart from that, I am convinced that researchers are responsible and helpful, that they are simply good people by heart. Why else would you go into research? You started being a researcher with the motivation that your work would be of benefit for others. If the reputation as a doctor or a professor, even the fame as a noble laureate, are added as drivers for your motivation later on, that’s great. Because scientific degrees, titles and fame are based on the social appreciation of the smart brain you devote to make life on earth better. Therefore I never could and cannot picture scientists as selfish enough to hold back so much valuable information, in their laboratory notebooks and in publications. I guess, there are a maximum of 10% of researchers who deliberately obscure their methods for the purpose of competitive behavior. 30% do not perceive it as important to publish methodological details and another 10% do not work accurately enough as to have the detailed content at all.
I think that most researchers are willing enough to contribute more information on methods, experimental procedures and parameters if they had a convenient way to do so. In a recent study by Tenopir et al., more than 70% of all researchers say that they would like to share their data, but don´t do so because there is no easy and direct way. Therefore we envision our digital laboratory notebook labfolder as an open knowledge platform you can use to contribute and to retrieve information, directly from and into your private laboratory notebook. Imagine searching for a protocol on this knowledge platform, finding detailed information and transferring the protocol as a template directly into your lab book. Of course, contributing protocols is accompanied by an authorship. Other researchers will see your name when using your data contribution for their own research. Within the electronic laboratory notebook, you decide what you contribute – and what you want to keep for yourself.
In times where publications in other formats than classical journal articles (see Florian’s blog post on nanopublications, Nature article: value all research products) become more and more appreciated, such contributions would even give a sense to all the dead-end experiments, all the dead-end stories and negative results in your laboratory notebook: Simply publish your protocols that never led to a comprehensive scientific story.
We’re working hard on the labfolder knowledge base, further improving our digital laboratory notebook in order to give you the opportunity to retrieve detailed methodological knowledge and accelerate your research!