Saturday, December 28, 2013
The Vast Majority of Raw Data From Old Scientific Studies May Now Be Missing; Smithsonian.com, 12/19/13
Smithsonian.com; The Vast Majority of Raw Data From Old Scientific Studies May Now Be Missing: "One of the foundations of the scientific method is the reproducibility of results. In a lab anywhere around the world, a researcher should be able to study the same subject as another scientist and reproduce the same data, or analyze the same data and notice the same patterns. This is why the findings of a study published today in Current Biology are so concerning. When a group of researchers tried to email the authors of 516 biological studies published between 1991 and 2011 and ask for the raw data, they were dismayed to find that more 90 percent of the oldest data (from papers written more than 20 years ago) were inaccessible. In total, even including papers published as recently as 2011, they were only able to track down the data for 23 percent... These might seem like mundane obstacles, but scientists are just like the rest of us—they change email addresses, they get new computers with different drives, they lose their file backups—so these trends reflect serious, systemic problems in science... There’s also the fact that so much of this research is paid for with public funding, much of it coming through grants that stipulate that resulting data be made freely available to the public. What’s the solution? Some journals—including Molecular Ecology, of which Vines is a managing editor—have adopted policies that require authors to submit raw data along with their papers, allowing the journal itself to archive the data in perpetuity. Although journals, like people, are susceptible to changing email addresses and technological obsolescence, these problems can be much more easily managed at the institutional scale."