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Where Does the Data Go?

Data from scientific studies are quickly lost to time, according to a report appearing in Current Biology.

A group of researchers in Canada examined 516 articles published between 1991 and 2011, and "found that availability of the data was strongly affected by article age." For instance, the team reports that the odds of finding a working email address associated with a paper decreased by 7 percent each year and that the odds of an extant dataset decreased by 17 percent each year since publication. Some data was technically available, the researchers note, but stored on floppy disk or on zip drives that many researchers no longer have the hardware to access.

"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," first author Tim Vines from the University of British Columbia said in a statement.

Vines also says that journals should require depositions as a condition of publication and that papers with accessible data should get priority for publication.

"Losing data is a waste of research funds and it limits how we can do science," Vines adds.