This is the topic I will be presenting on at our annual ENC Symposium on March 9, 2008. If you happen to be attending this conference in Asilomar, check out the agenda and register here.
I mentioned this before, but I follow the Depth-First Blog authored by Rich Apodaca rather closely and I highly recommend it.
I mention it again because Rich had a very interesting post a few weeks back inspired by a discussion about Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) that took place on Derek Lowe's In the Pipeline Blog (which is another blog I follow frequently and highly recommend!)
Fascinating posts and discussion for sure!
The wasteful process of entombing valuable scientific data often begins with the paper lab notebook, so the subject of ELNs should be of great interest to anyone involved in creating, using, or reprocessing chemical information.
Why do paper notebooks continue to persist in chemistry?
The issue is complex, but in my view stems from the lack of a truly usable and affordable tool. Although the term "tool" may suggest software, it actually involves a much more complex beast consisting of hardware, software, an ergonomic hardware/software user interface, and a computer network. In chemistry, the problem is compounded by the centrality of chemical structures and the inability of most generic ELN products to capture or use them. Given these constraints, and the costs associated with creating and marketing general-purpose products designed to work within them, it's not surprising that many organizations decide to roll their own ELN. And it's even less surprising that many others decide sticking with paper is a better option - at least for now.
I think this is a good argument, and I want to add to it with the question, "Why does paper spectra continue to persist in chemistry?"
Personally, I am amazed by the number of times I have encountered groups who are already using ELNs, but are still routinely using paper spectra. Sure when the time comes to attach their PDFs (Rich has shared his feelings on this format as well, but that's an entirely different discussion!) to their notebook records, they will extract the electronic file, but until that point many chemists will walk back to the instrument room, pick up their data printout, study it, and then toss it in the recycling bin or toss it on their bench!
For example, I was recently visiting with some chemists in the pharmaceutical industry who were providing me with feedback on our products and discussing their workflow. They mentioned that while they religiously use the desktop NMR processing software for viewing, processing, analysis, interpretation, and reporting to their ELN right on their laptops, in their lab...many chemists from their group still make the walk to the instrument room for their piece of paper instead.
Old habits, I guess.
Why use a piece of paper when you can access the data electronically? Meaning you can zoom in and zoom out on regions of the spectra to take a closer look? I guess in most cases, you don't really need to do that but in many labs where the data can be accessed electronically on a laptop in your lab, why make the walk back to the instrument room for that piece of paper?
What are your thoughts? Are you still attached to the paper printout? If so, why?
I'll share my opinion in part 2 of this topic tomorrow.