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The Open Science Framework

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Issue: 
Spring 2014

John Porter (VCR)

One of the challenges in any complex process is keeping all the steps straight and keeping track of the files, notes, email etc. associated with a project. The Open Science Framework (http://OSF.io) is a new (beta) web-based tool for helping to manage the scientific process, and to share data. It is being developed by the newly started Center for Open Science (http://cos.io) to help promote reproducible scientific results and sharing of data. 

The Open Science Framework provides an easy-to-use and attractive web interface for managing the scientific process - from the formulation of hypotheses, to the collection of data and its analysis. How does it work? Users can define "projects" each of which have one or more "components" (e.g., hypotheses, methods, procedures, data, analyses, and communications). Each component contains a WIKI and a place to store relevant files. Components can be nested or shared with other project contributors. 

Open Science Framework web page

The attractive interface makes it relatively easy to maintain, good, real-time notes, sets of documents and files. But there is much more under the hood. Each activity by a contributor is logged, so it is easy to see who is working on what. Additionally, files are versioned, so that it is possible to go back and look at earlier versions of programs or data files. Providing an auditable project makes it easier to create a highly creditable scientific project. When the project is completed, it can be made public, sharing the entire scientific process with the community. 

One possible challenge is the task of keeping all the files on the web-site up-to-date. However, OSF also works with Dropbox, FigShare and GitHub, so that files in an OSF project are automatically synced. The only downside is that such changes are not currently logged. 

I've been experimenting with OSF for managing complex dataset workflows - where data collection, curation, QA/QC and analysis are all done by different people, often in different places. The hierarchical structure is flexible, allowing components to be added as needed, but what I especially like is the ability to fully annotate components and files. It makes it much easier to keep abreast of progress on a project when I can't work on it every day. It also is better than just sharing Dropbox with a collaborator, because the WIKI component allows additional opportunities for annotation.