random thoughts on science and tech... yeah, it used to be about electronic lab notebooks but that was a decade ago

The Academia Problem – Preventing ELN Adoption


I’ve been hanging out in the ‘Ivory tower’ of Academia for quite some time now. Trying to push my crazy/complicated tech nerd ideas. (These people work out complex signal transduction cascades of chemicals in the neurons of the brain, but writing into a searchable computer notebook is too complicated?)

We know that as tech in Universities goes, so goes tech in the world. That’s why apple gave computers to schools in the 80s, and that’s why software is cheap or free to students. So why is the electronic lab notebook working in reverse?

Interestingly, the bottom line that drives companies drives the push toward ELNs, efficient collaboration, and searchable results.

Ironically, Academia (which prides itself on pure research and rich collaboration) is actually quite insular in it’s approach. The whole process of publishing research in journals and aquiring grants does not lend itself to collaboration. In fact, collaboration has been heavily pushed recently in Academia. However, this collaboration is utilized to publish, publish, publish. And when you publish, you publish what ‘worked’ and what supports your story. What is missing is all the information on what didn’t work – so every lab has to learn on their own what doesn’t work. An ELN in a business is easily searchable and everyone in the company can learn from everyone else’s mistakes.

The essence of the problem is that the value of a network of ELNs grows exponentially with more users – and Academia essentially has units of 2-10 people that work by themselves and share only bits of information with the rest of the academic world (in Journals).

The best remedy would be to get rid of journals altogether and just have instant public access to everyone’s ELN.

Can you imagine!! All experiments tagged and searchable… yeah right, that’s a long ways off.

First ELNs need to infiltrate the system as it is now. The academic ELN must target small, small groups (like 3 people) and look to really add value to the small group. And, quite frankly, it needs to be pretty much free (unfortunately for ELN companies). However, Google is free, right. There are ways to make it worth the company’s time. In fact, a great step toward the super Academia ELN that could replace journals would be an online (or online/offline hybrid) ELN that has advertising. Sigma, Invitrogen, Eppendorf,… they would all love to advertise :)

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