Imagine a world in which experimental laboratory notes are made freely accessible to fellow researchers in real time.

At first glance, the idea may seem to go against the fundamentals of sound research practise. However, it is an idea that is steadily growing in popularity, drawing interest from both researchers and funders alike, including the Wellcome Trust, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Gates Foundation.

The Open Lab Notebook initiative is founded on “a very positive pilot experiment” by Rachel Harding from the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC). For two years, Rachel kept an open lab notebook on her research into Huntington’s disease at Inspired by her work, fellow researchers from the SGC working in Canada, the UK and the US started to document their experimental work publicly, making it freely available through the Open Laboratory Notebooks portal. While some have labelled Open Laboratory Notebooks an “extreme open science”, the initiative has both stimulated wider discussion within the field and resulted in numerous, interesting collaborations.

The end goal of making lab notebooks open to all is to accelerate scientific discovery. Within current practices, there is typically a two-year waiting period between the time when an experiment is conducted and the time when the results are finally made available in a scientific publication. In terms of time and resources, two years can amount to a staggering cost, especially when experimental work is duplicated. In the STEM disciplines, this cost is further compounded by the sheer number of researchers involved in the production of research. By reducing the time lag in the dissemination of scientific research, Open Lab Notebooks could potentially increase the overall efficiency of the research process and in turn increase the pace of scientific discovery. One need only consider the success and “increasing popularity” of pre-print servers such as - which reduce by about 6 months the period of time when results are withheld - to recognise the potential benefits.

Understandably, many researchers will be concerned about the risks involved, including the not insignificant scenario of being scooped. However, given the success of similar open projects and practices, the measurable benefits, both in terms of impact and institutional recognition, will likely outweigh the perceived risks. The interest from funders is also an encouraging sign, and the support of open research repositories such as Zenodo from OpenAIRE and CERN will help provide the crucial metadata to ensure the work shared is both uniquely identifiable and discoverable.

As the pandemic has shown us, significant progress can be made in both knowledge and discovery, and consequently for society at large, in a research environment that values collaboration and openness. The Open Lab Notebooks initiative is just one of many endeavours that seeks to embody these values.

More information on the Open Lab Notebooks initiative can be found at: