they will strengthen science. But if publication practices, either new or traditional, bypass quality control mechanisms, they risk weakening conventions that have served science well.


Ed, a fourth-year graduate student, was still several months away from finishing an ongoing research project when a new postdoc arrived from a laboratory doing similar work. After the two were introduced, Ed automatically asked about the work going on in the other lab and was surprised to hear that researchers there had successfully developed a reagent that he was still struggling to perfect. Knowing that both labs had policies requiring the sharing of research materials, Ed wrote a letter to the head of the other lab asking if the laboratory could share some of the reagent with him. He didn't expect there to be a problem, because his project was not in competition with the work of the other lab, but a couple of weeks later he got a letter from the lab director saying that the reagent could not be shared because it was still "poorly developed and characterized."

The new postdoc, upon hearing the story, said, "That's ridiculous. They just don't want to give you a break."

  1. Where can Ed go for help in obtaining the materials?

  2. Are there risks in involving other people in this situation?

  3. What kinds of information is it appropriate for researchers to share with their colleagues when they change laboratories?

An example is the scientist who releases important and controversial results directly to the public before submitting them to the scrutiny of peers. If the researcher has made a mistake or the findings are misinterpreted by the media or the public, the scientific community and the public may react adversely. When such news is to be released to the press, it should be done when peer review is complete—normally at the time of publication in a scientific journal.

Sometimes researchers and the institutions sponsoring research have different interests in making results public. For example, a scientist doing research sponsored by industry may want to publish results quickly, while the industrial sponsor may want to keep results private—at least temporarily—to establish intellectual property rights prior to disclosure. Research institutions and government agencies have started to adopt explicit policies to reduce conflicts over such issues of ownership and access.

In research that has the potential of being financially profitable, openness can be maintained by the granting of patents. Patents enable an individual or institution to profit from a scientific discovery in return for making the results public. Scientists who may be doing patentable work have special obligations to the sponsors of that work. For example, they may need to have their laboratory notebooks validated and dated by others. They may also have to disclose potentially valuable discoveries promptly to the patent official of the organization sponsoring the research.

In some situations, such as proprietary research sponsored by industry or

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement