Data Acquisition Management Sharing and Ownership

Issues related to data acquisition, management, sharing and ownership come from a wide variety of research situations and activities.  The most serious data issues often involve human subjects and so it should not be surprising that the Office of Research Integrity at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services have designated data management as one of the core research integrity areas. The tutorial Guidelines for Responsible Data Management in Scientific Research can be found here on the website at is highly recommended and the principles outlined in this guide and other resources found at this site are general principles that can be used or easily adapted to other research settings.

On this site we will touch on some of the more common issues starting with:

Who owns the data? Many faculty and students are surprised to find out that in most cases there are several entities who “own” the data and have certain rights and privileges along with responsibilities. For research done at The University of Tulsa using university resources (and this is generally true at other institutions of higher learning) the university owns the data. In most cases, the funding agency, whether federal, state or private, will have stipulations in the grant guidelines or agreement that also give them certain rights and privileges to the data.  Faculty and students generally have the right to publish their data in scholarly articles, theses and dissertations, although in some cases there may be restrictions.

As one can see, this is a complex set of issues.  Students are encouraged to discuss their concerns with faculty mentors and faculty are encouraged to discuss ownership concerns with their chair, the dean or the Vice Provost for Research.

Who is responsible for the data? Protecting data is a shared responsibility. Students and faculty working with the data, as well as the University, have responsibilities to archive and protect the integrity of research data.

For example, faculty and students generally have the right to publish their data and use it for reports, thesis and dissertations. If they leave the University, they may take copies of the data. But, for example, if a faculty member leaves, the University is responsible for archiving the data. If a student leaves, their advisor generally takes on this responsibility.  There are many reasons why data needs to be preserved to make it available.  Some of these are:

  • External sponsors of the research, federal or state agencies, or journals or colleagues in the field may legally be entitled to review the data after publication or dissemination of results.
  • Individual researchers within a team have a right to access data gathered by all members of the team.
  • If there are allegations of research misconduct, the University may need to review the integrity of the data.
  • The University may need to respond to questions about accuracy and authenticity of data to comply with laws and regulations related to the conduct of research.

Data for sponsored projects should be kept for at least three years after the final report is submitted or the final paper has been published, which ever is later.

Confidentiality of Data: Faculty handle confidential data on a regular basis. Grades and other student records are governed by FERPA regulations, which states that all student records are confidential and governs the release of that confidential data to parties inside and external to the university.  Students who handle other student records should treat all student records with the greatest of care and should not release those student records to anyone except supervising faculty and appropriate university administrators.  If you are not sure if you should release a student records, consult immediately with your supervisor or the department chair.

Research data may also be confidential.

All parties who handle the data are responsible for preserving the confidentiality of the data as required.

Research Misconduct has its own area on this site, but some of the topics under Research Misconduct involve data problems.  In particular, falsification of data: ranging from fabrication to deceptive selective reporting of findings and omission of conflicting data, or willful suppression and/or distortion of data with the intent to falsify results is strictly prohibited.