The University of British Columbia (UBC) has discovered that a shocking 80% of “scientific data [is] lost within two decades, disappearing into old email addresses and obsolete storage devices.”
By tracking data over long periods of time, the researchers at UBC were able to obtain original research documents between 1991 and 2001.
This marked the end of research papers being obtainable with a marked 17% drop in document availability after 2001.
Scientific research that is “unique to a time and place” is not only priceless; but extremely expensive to maintain on the web. Therefore this valuable information is “lost over time, unavailable for validation of the original results or to use for entirely new purposes.”
Tim Vines, visiting scholar at UBC explained: “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 maintains that scientific journals should “require authors to upload data onto public archives as a condition for publication, adding 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.”
Shockingly, “including papers published as recently as 2011, they were only able to track down the data for 23 percent.”
Vines said : “Some of the time, for instance, it was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks, so no one could access it, because they no longer had the proper drives.”
Statistics from the study include:
• 25% of active emails were not found
• 38% of requests for information were unanswered
• 7% of data was permanently lost or inaccessible
Vines stated that the unfortunate truth is that “if your research is paid for by public money, in some sense the data doesn’t belong to the authors. It belongs to the people who paid for it.”