Day-to-day record keeping the lab notebook
To establish good work practices
To teach the people in your lab
To meet contractual requirements
To avoid fraud
To defend patents
To allow work to be reproduced by others
To facilitate preparation of formal reports, presentations and papers
To validate your research
To serve as a source for assigning credit to lab members
Tracking and storing information
Notebooks should err on the side of completeness. Someone from outside your lab should be able to read what was done without your verbal interpretation.
Recording the use and locations of materials
Permanently affixing extrinsic data such as charts and pictures
Teaching tools for grad students, postdocs, and technicians in how to:
Construct new theories
Retrace their steps to identify errors
NIH, e.g., has the legal right to audit and examine records relevant to any research grant award
Whenever research is done with third party funding, there will be additional obligations placed on the investigator or institution. The Principal Investigator will bear the responsibility for complying with the requirements for data gathering, storage, and protection.
US patent law currently follows a first to conceive or “first to invent” framework. Documentation to support the date of discovery or invention is especially critical for this type of framework. The technology industry is currently lobbying for overhauling the U.S. patent laws related to “first to invent”. It wants to shift to the “first to file” method used in most other countries. See: “ Senators offer sweeping patent system changes ” from an August 2006 News.com report.
Uncover and correct carelessness
Uncover and correct outright fraud
Safeguard against fraud
“ Research fraud needn't happen at all ” is the name of a February 2002 article from the APA's Monitor on Psychology. The article points out that though research fraud is rare; there exists the perception that it is more common. Each case that comes to light does damage to the credibility of researchers. By carefully supervising your lab you can avoid one of these damaging situations.
See the following articles for other examples of research integrity in the news:
Faked Research Results on the Rise? Wired News, July 10, 2005
Truth and Consequences , Science Magazine, December 2006
Good practices for laboratory notebooks
Permanently bound book (not spiral)
Pages should be consecutively numbered
Record entries chronologically
Recorded in English
Each entry should stand on it's own
Organize material with sections and headings
If a page is left blank draw a line through it
Identify material sources (e.g. manufacturer, lot number, expiration date)
Identify and describe reagents and specimens
Include instrument serial numbers and calibration dates
Explain nonstandard abbreviations
Use permanent ink – don't remove pages or obliterate original entries
Use glue to permanently attach graphs computer printouts etc. to the notebook (sign & date)
Outline new experiments, include objectives & rationale
Include periodic factual summaries of findings
Enter observations immediately
Summarize discussions from lab meetings and ideas made by others citing the person's name
Who owns the data?
This is an important question to answer before you begin gathering data. It would seem that the one who conducts the research would own the data but that is almost never the case. The one who funds the research is usually the owner. This gets complicated when funding comes from more than one source and careful attention to the obligations of any grants or contracts is paramount.
Address ownership issues for each of the following parties:
The PI and co-PIs, especially in collaborative projects
All involved in the lab
The funding agency
Research subjects and entities
Accessibility to data can be arranged for non-owners.
The Bayh-Dole Act (Public Law: 96-517) specifies that universities, small businesses and non-profit institutions are to have access to any data they generate using federal funds. This provides them incentive to continue their research.
Some researchers are allowed to take data with them when they change institutions. This is not always the case and should be agreed upon ahead of time.
When is a witness warranted?
When you think you have conceived an invention
When an idea may have intellectual property value
When the idea is put into actual practice
A witness must be someone who is not involved in your work but one who has enough scientific understanding to explain your idea. The date of the witnesses' signature becomes the date of invention.
Lab notebooks “in progress” – kept at the bench
Completed lab notebooks – kept in central repository
Generally kept for at least 5 years after the study ends.
For patented items – generally keep for the life of the patent plus six years
These are general guidelines. You should, however, always check with your institution for policies on data storage and ownership. Also check on regulations related to grants, contracts and patents.
What is the best way to assure the physical quality of records?