Are the wrong people looking at your lab data? Access Controls and Electronic Lab Notebook

Lab Organization, Lab Safety

Eletronic Lab Notebooks can control access to internal personnel
With Electronic Lab Notebooks, Access is limited to only assigned people Courtesy of


In 2009, Judy Mikovits published an instant success in the journal Science. The article sharing the results of her research into chronic fatigue syndrome generated interest from both the scientific community and patients afflicted by the disease. However, two years later, on November 28, 2011, Mikovits was arrested and placed in a California prison because she was in “possession of stolen property and unlawful taking of computer data, equipment, supplies or other computer-related property.”

The property allegedly stolen was lab notebooks from her employer, the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease, located in Reno, Nevada. The journals were needed because the research had recently been called into question by various publications including Science. The unaltered lab notebooks were needed to determine the specific details of the research performed.

Research disputes are not uncommon in the laboratory industry and lab notebooks are important to verify and prove research claims. To prevent theft and alteration, it is important to store notebooks in a secure place. However, lab notebooks in a secure physical location mainly protect against the wrong people from the outside gaining access to your data. What about preventing the wrong internal people from gaining access to your lab data?

The solution to protect your data from the wrong people both internally and externally is to implement an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN).  One of the key benefits of an electronic lab notebook is the ability to limit and control access.  As a complementary benefit, they also increase data accessibility to the right people.

ELNs Have Secure User Permissions

Electronic lab notebooks assign each user an ID.  This ID is associated with the files, folders and documents that users can access.  If you do not want a user accessing a particular file or viewing the results of a particular experiment, simply remove their permission from that file.

In 1947, if the Atomic Energy Research Establishment had an electronic lab notebook with access controls in place, they may have prevented Klaus Fuchs from gaining access to the principal theoretical outline for creating the hydrogen bomb. In turn, this would have prevented him from passing the designs to the Soviet Union and starting the cold war.

By design, physical access controls ensure that the wrong external people do not enter the lab and look at your data. However, in both examples previously noted, information was taken by researchers who had internal access. The access controls available with an electronic notebook would have prevented the wrong internal people from gaining access to data.

A secondary benefit of electronic lab notebooks is the ability to increase access opportunities for the approved users.  Since the notebooks are networked, approved users can access them from anywhere an internet connection is available.

For me, some of my best theoretical thinking is performed in the quiet confines of my own home.  With a traditional lab notebook, I would not be able to record these ideas into my notebook until I reach the lab.  With an electronic lab notebook, I could fire up my computer and record them directly to the notebook.

Electronic lab notebooks not only prevent the wrong eyes from seeing your data, but also allow the right eyes to access the data in more places. To learn more about the Accelrys Notebook, please visit our website today!


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