Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

Anything you’d like to share?

Hi everyone, this is my first entry so I thought I’d blog about… well, blogging.

Last week I attended a talk by Tony Hey, from Microsoft. He was speaking about e-science and, among other things, talked about CombeChem, an EPSRC project based at the University of Southampton. A small part of the project (see this BBC news article last year) involves replacing the traditional notebook by a digital form. The degree of privacy of the digital lab book could be determined by the user (only themselves? their research group? their university?). Of course the ultimate openness in science is Jean-Claude Bradley’s Open Notebook Science initiative at Drexel University, where he and his group use a wiki as a lab notebook (UsefulChem) and make all their data publicly available. Bill Hooker at 3 Quarks Daily also refers to it in his trilogy about the future of open science, where his posts progress from Open Access to the research literature (here), to the “openness” of data (here), to a fully open practice of science (here).

Nobody can really predict what the future of science will look like. But for now, would you consider blogging about your unsuccessful experiments – those that will never make it into a paper or thesis – to make them available to everyone?


Anne Pichon (Intern, Nature Reviews Drug Discovery)


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    Jean-Claude Bradley said:


    I’m glad to see you bring up the issue of sharing failed experiments. As a synthetic organic chemist, success should be very simple to assess – we either obtain the compound we’re trying to make or not. But in reality, understanding why the reactions that don’t provide the desired product behave as they do is a real form of success, since it is a step towards our main objective. Even beyond that, the typical chemical reaction is comprised of several modules that can be assessed separately and re-used for other purposes. For example, in some of our unsuccessful attempts to carry out a Ugi reaction, we determine the kinetics of the first step, the formation of an imine, which is successful in most cases. Since these attempts are available as open data, that information can be re-purposed for an entirely different project by someone else.

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    Propter Doc said:

    It isn’t just failed experiments that should be published. How many PhD theses contain molecules new to science or new synthetic routes that never see light of day, let alone a CAS number? When you spend 3 years synthesing things and then the final step fails, there is usually no route to publish them.

    I’d love to see a journal (opensource or otherwise) where researchers can simply write ‘we made these molecules, here is how and here are the characterization data’. No need for any explanations, just give this work life beyond the dusty lab book.

    And if such a forum exists, could someone let me know? I’ve got stuff to submit!

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    Bill said:

    But for now, would you consider blogging about your unsuccessful experiments – those that will never make it into a paper or thesis – to make them available to everyone?

    Personally, I am only waiting for sufficient “ownership” of my work so that I can blog about ALL of it. I recently joined an established group, and have yet to carve out my own niche, so to speak — so I still have co-workers with a strong stake in the work I am doing and an aversion to what they see as the risks of open science. But when enough of the risk is mine that I can have the final say, I plan to follow Jean-Claude’s model and keep an online notebook. My hope — and I will be staking my research career on it, I guess — is that the benefits will outweigh the risks.