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Toronto scientist sharing research in real-time

Rachel Harding is doing more than lab work. She's advancing the whole scientific world with her approach.

Rachel Harding is a post-doctoral fellow with University of Toronto’s Structural Genomics Consortium.

Courtesy Melissa Hooper

Rachel Harding is a post-doctoral fellow with University of Toronto’s Structural Genomics Consortium.

As researcher Rachel Harding works away in her Toronto lab, she’s breaking scientific ground with more than just her discoveries.

She’s publishing her lab notes and data online along with blogging about her work in lay language at labscribbles.com. She’s believed to be the first biomedical researcher to open access to work in real time rather than waiting for experiments to be completed or their results published.

When other researchers see what’s she’s doing, they can choose to build on it, use it to inspire their own work or simply take note to avoid duplication.

“One of the biggest problems in the way academic science is done is everyone is kind of sitting in their own corner, not really talking too much to each and not sharing with everything,” said Harding, who’s researching the huntingtin protein, which is linked to the cognitive and physical decline of Huntington’s disease.

“Everything is being duplicated, and it’s the person who gets to the one point where they can publish first who gets the glory.”

The movement toward open access to scientific data movement is meant to create collaboration among researchers around the world and speed up discoveries. But, openness isn’t the norm in the world of academic research. That’s because the money that’s needed to sustain the work is often tied to making big discoveries instead of the incremental breakthroughs those discoveries are built upon, Harding said.

“The biggest risk about being open from the beginning is someone can come in, see what you’ve done, leave out all the experiments that didn’t work—which obviously, is going to happen—and they can reach then end goal more quickly than you, scooping you on your own work,” Harding said.

“But the goal here is that it isn’t a super competitive thing and we work as a community rather than out-compete each other.”

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