Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Nature recommends e-notebook science and data sharing

The use of electronic laboratory notebooks should be supported by all concerned, Nature, May 3, 2007.  An unsigned editorial.  (Thanks to Maxine Clarke, whose blog post is collecting comments.)  Excerpt:

The use of electronic laboratory notebooks should be supported by all concerned.

Too often when errors or cases of fraud occur in science, the lab data required to reconstruct what happened have gone astray....

Electronic laboratory notebooks offer a partial solution and have other advantages too. This is despite the fact that maximizing their benefits will require a change in culture that many researchers will no doubt initially resist.

Electronic notebooks, like their paper cousins, record the daily thoughts and experiments of bench scientists. Ideally, they contain data that flow automatically from lab instruments and can be read by all lab members. Pages are date- and time-stamped, and all changes tracked and signed. Earlier versions can be reconstructed.

There are numerous e-notebook products available, but none dominates in all sectors. The pharmaceutical industry, which is well accustomed to regulation, has adopted company-wide solutions, and the US Food and Drug Administration has determined that the use of electronic notebooks is acceptable in drug filings. This high degree of usage is in stark contrast to academia.

So why bother? Most importantly, e-notebooks allow the sharing of data, to the immediate benefit of collaborators (for examples, see Nature 436, 20; 2005)....

But one can and should go further. Electronic notebooks can be archived by researchers' employers, with a number of attendant benefits. If each notebook (or subset of it) is allocated a unique identifying code a permanent alphanumeric string containing information about provenance, creation dates and digital location it can be cited in journals as a confirmation that the data are safely stored, ultimately available and sharable....[Other researchers may also cite it] enabling due credit to be given to the researchers who produced them....

Funding agencies also need to recognize that, by providing such support, some of the concerns over the loss of data can be assuaged, and the rigour and transparency of publicly funded research will be improved.