‘Irreplaceable Scientific Data Must Be Saved’:
Researchers at the University of British Columbia chose a random set of of 516 studies published between 1991 and 2001 and found that all data from the two-year-old papers was still available but that the chance of it still existing fell off by 17 per cent for each year of age.
The paper, published this week in Current Biology, warns that scientists are “poor stewards of their data” and calls for journals to begin uploading information onto public archives so it can be preserved for the future.
Having access to the raw data of a study is vital in order for other scientists to asses, replicate or build on that work.
Data was requested from the authors of each of the randomly-chosen studies, but the researchers found that the odds for even finding a working email address declined by seven per cent each year since publication.
Tim Vines, a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia and one of the authors of the paper, said: “Publicly funded science generates an extraordinary amount of data each year. Much of these data are unique to a time and place, and is thus irreplaceable, and many other datasets are expensive to regenerate.
“The current system of leaving data with authors means that almost all of it is lost over time, unavailable for validation of the original results or to use for entirely new purposes.
“I don’t think anybody expects to easily obtain data from a 50-year-old paper, but to find that almost all the datasets are gone at 20 years was a bit of a surprise.”
Vines argues that papers with readily accessible data are more valuable for society and thus should get priority for publication.
“Losing data is a waste of research funds and it limits how we can do science. Concerted action is needed to ensure it is saved for future research,” he said.