I just looked over this article from Retraction Watch.

To make a long story short, a student used previous data from their former lab and then published it without the PI's permission or knowledge.

While the above is a rather extreme example of poor ethics, I'm curious where the line gets drawn regarding the ownership of research. I can understand if the data was produced in one environment and then get published in another. What about reagents (clones come to mind) that were produced in a previous lab and then were transported to a new lab? What about ideas that were developed in one lab and then taken to another?

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    I'll leave this to lab scientists to answer, since I think this question is more relevant there. However, it's worth pointing out that you should be very careful about ideas that include input from other people. If there's even the slightest doubt or ambiguity, it's much better to discuss it in advance than to sort it out after a paper has been written. For example, the messiest situation I've ever seen a grad student get into involved an idea they thought someone else had abandoned, but where that person did not think so. You don't want to end up on either side of that mess. May 8, 2012 at 1:36
  • @bobthejoe I totally don't get how does publishing materials from a previous lab, under the previous affiliation, relates in any way to an extreme example of poor ethics. Could you explain it a bit? May 8, 2012 at 6:50
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    @Piotr: Based on the Retraction Watch story, it sounds like the materials were published without including collaborators in the research (who had been asked about publishing but had said it was too preliminary and needed replication first) and without mentioning the original lab at all. May 8, 2012 at 12:30

1 Answer 1


I think that so long as the principal investigator is actively involved in the planning, performance, or analysis of the research being funded, it is the duty of any researcher working in that group to determine the PI's status as a co-author. However, only if there is no active intellectual activity taking place—in other words, it's an entirely self-driven initiative, then it might be possible to say that the PI doesn't merit co-author status. (Even then, though, the provision of financial support should be clearly recognized.)

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