Boffins who fail to back up their data are causing a huge problem for modern science.
According to a study published today in Current Biology, which we get for the centrefold of the sexually liberated protozoa. crucial data is going missing making it impossible to check results.
Authors of 516 biological studies published between 1991 and 2011 were emailed and asked for the raw data of their experiments so that it could be replicated. More than 90 percent of the oldest data, from papers written more than 20 years ago has died. Only 23 percent of papers published as recently as 2011 still had accessible data.
Timothy Vines, a zoologist at the University of British Columbia, who led the effort said there had been no systematic estimates of how quickly the data held by authors actually disappears.
More a quarter of studies active email addresses couldn't be found, with defunct addresses listed on the paper itself and web searches not turning up any current ones. For another 38 percent of studies, their queries led to no response. Another seven percent of the data sets were lost or inaccessible.
In one case the data was saved on three-and-a-half inch floppy disks, so no one could access it, because they no longer had the proper drives, Vines said.
Vines said that old data was extremely useful to his own research on a pair of toad species native to Eastern Europe that seem to be in the process of hybridising.
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. Additionally, field data is affected by the circumstances of the environment in which it's collected—thus, it's impossible to perfectly replicate later on, when conditions have changed, he said.