Get it right, keep it clean, make a record

Keeping detailed records of your research and taking the right decisions when analysing your data is easier said than done. Yet, despite its importance, researchers often receive no formal training in these and other issues key to scientific integrity.

The PRBB Good Scientific Practice Working Group – formed by members of all the centres at the park, including myself – run a survey at the PRBB last year in which improper record keeping was the most relevant (mis)behaviour identified by scientists at the park, with over 40% of the 521 respondents saying they had “sometimes or often” noticed it.  Several surveys (Martinson BC et al. Scientists behaving badly. Nature 2005; 435:737-8) from around the world show this is not unusual – so the group decided to tackle this seemingly general problem in its first action campaign since it was created at the end of 2014.

poster gsp

A series of activities were organized for the week starting on the 25th of January.

The BIG QUIZ were a series of questions regarding data recording and managing that invited scientists to discuss amongst themselves in the restaurant or the lifts, and to record their opinion via the Good Scientific Practice website.

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The questions were posted via Twitter as well as in posters around the building during the whole week. More than 285 people visited the website during that time, with between 70 and 120 replies to each of the questions.

eg tweet gsp



Without really aiming at answering those questions – rather, in any case, at opening new ones – three special workshops were held during the week. These were aimed at slightly different audiences, as a way of trying to cater for the great variety of science that takes place at the PRBB, and the different needs of each field.


Keeping the data record straight in the lab” – aimed at people working on wet labs – had Lola Mulero from the CMRB explaining the audience her centres’ system to keep track of the more than 100 experiments they deal with in parallel. This was followed by an open discussion on do’s and dont’s of a good lab notebook, and the seminar ended with a look to the future with the last talk focusing on the CRG’s pilot experiment of using electronic notebooks such as Onenote.

In silico data tsunami: will you survive?” was the suggestive title of the second workshop. It was led by Cedric Notredame from the CRG, who set the ground for the following discussions on reproducibility, traceability and sharing in computational data with a statement (“Science is about being able to measure something in a reproducible way”), a question (What to do with the growing amount of unused – but potentially useful for others – data we are producing?) and a reference to the #data#parasites recent controversy. Three short talks followed about the importance of metadata, how to ensure your experiments are reproducible, and the specific challenges of creating software for clinical applications. At the end of the workshop, group discussions took place on several open questions and ideas were put together with Ivo Gut, director of the CNAG, as the host.

The last workshop “Managing data in human research” gave some tips about how to create and maintain reliable and secure databases with human data and tackled the issues of privacy, anonymisation and data protection, before going on to the second, interactive part. This consisted of three case studies that made the audience think twice about the issues at hand when designing a study or the huge problem they could face if their data manager left without warning – just at the tip of the iceberg of problems would be finding the final version of a document/analysis/experiment amongst the files called “final”, finalv2”, “supefinal”, “final_draft”, “final_MM”,…20160128_141549

All three workshops were well attended, with over 60 people in each, and the feedback from the assistants was positive. You can see the presentations for all the seminars here.

The aim was achieved: to raise awareness about the intricacies and difficulties of proper record keeping and data management and to discuss with colleagues about possible solutions.

And the next challenge was set for the PRBB Good Scientific Practice working group. Watch this space for more upcoming activities!




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