Monday, September 12, 2005

I say this because, ...

... inspired by this guy, I've been thinking it might be useful to start a research blog. In getting started in my thesis lab I've found that many of the ideas I want to bounce off my PI really only crystallize fully when I am actually writing an email to him. Just going down the hall and letting ideas come out of my head for the first time via my mouth is often not a good strategy, as upon escaping to the outside world in that sudden manner they often tend to mostly engage in a lot of ineffectual flailing about.

No, for now at least ("for now" because this is probably an issue of practice, and if I keep working at it I might someday be able to work things out in my head just as well as on e-paper), I think it will be productive to write out potentially useful trains of thought fully when working. And since blogging software allows one to easily keep a journal on a computer, a blog seems like an obvious place to put research notes. (A wiki would be another option.) Plus, the exhibitionist thrill of having my thoughts in a format designed to be accessed by others could be an additional incentive to keep up with my writing (ok, so maybe that incentive hasn't done much to help me keep up this blog.)

An issue to consider would be whether I would be violating any "no prior publication" rules of any journals we might want to publish in (if, God willing, my projects are successful) by keeping a work diary online. It's somewhat sad to have to think about this, but the biological sciences really do seem to encourage secrecy before publication. In theory, one's productivity could be increased by making the whole process public, but that's just not the way our field works right now. (Exposing your entire process to the public could of course also increase the productivity of other researchers--and thus the field of the whole--for if everyone had access to everyone's ideas, duds as well as gems, one researcher might find in the idle, never to be published thoughts of another researcher a solution to one of his or her problems.)

Is there a snowball's chance in hell of ever getting neuroscience to be this open? Could we ever convince people to stop hiding things and start turning the web into a vast collective neuroscience thinking machine? Can we restructure the field such that everyone collaborates and shares with everyone every single day? (I mean, when you tour grad schools, everyone talks about their love of collaboration. But if they love collaboration so much why do they limit its scope to a handful of their peers?) Can we agree to start preserving all ideas, good and bad, in case the bad ones turn out to be good ones later?

Sigh. We're a long way away from neuroscience working like this. It seems like CS and physics communities do function more like this, and that's probably because a much larger percentage of the members of those communities are computer geeks who have internalized the various FOSS philosophies.

(This is a thought many people have had, but think of the labor that could be saved, too. As AM brought up yesterday, if you spend a couple months doing experiments to test an idea and they don't pan out, you don't publish it and move on to something else. This leaves the failure of that bad idea as an unpublished secret. Does anyone benefit from having people try the same bad idea over-and-over again?)

So the moral of the story is that if I start a research blog, I'll probably have to restrict the IP space from which it is accessible. That's not because I think I actually have great ideas, or that anyone would read a research blog about my obscure project, but merely because if I have to sign a form prior to publication swearing that I have not published my thoughts elsewhere, and that the internet counts as "elsewhere," I want to be able to sign it.


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