Confessions of a hoarder

I admit it, I am a hoarder. Buried in a few large boxes in my garage, are the original surveys from my doctoral dissertation, collected in Jamaica 25 years ago. They have traveled with me to three countries crossing oceans twice – and yet, I have barely looked at them since placing them in the box a quarter of a century ago. Yet, in the back of my mind, I have this footnote – my work is not only archived, but is available to anyone who wants to wade through my handwritten notes, or listen to audio tapes (are they still usable? I wonder…). I may have erred in my work, but those errors can be examined under scholarly scrutiny should the need ever arise. It should be possible to determine the accuracy of virtually any data point.

At the last academy, there was considerable debate and heated arguments concerning the retraction of certain articles. One of the issues was that the author had lost the primary data backed up on jump drives – and there was no way to authenticate or replicate the analyses from a number of papers. This happened despite a journal requirement that primary data be stored for at least five years after publication.

This is not an isolated incident. More recently, I became aware of a colleague who lost primary digital files and was unable to replicate her own work. The result was a discussion regarding possible retraction – clearly an unfortunate and, in this era of cheap digital storage – a totally unnecessary event. Had she simply taken a minimum effort to ensure her original files were positioned somewhere, perhaps a much more effective approach might be in order.

The Academy of Management’s code of ethics is surprisingly silent regarding the storage of relevant data – perhaps this is an area of development for our code. However, two related points can be read:

4.1.4. In keeping with the spirit of full disclosure of methods and analyses, once findings are publicly disseminated, AOM members permit their open assessment and verification by other responsible researchers, with appropriate safeguards, where applicable, to protect the anonymity of research participants.

4.1.5. If AOM members discover significant errors in their publication or presentation of data, they take appropriate steps to correct such errors in the form of a correction, retraction, published erratum, or other public statement.

Thus, we can see that our code not only expects us to share relevant data, but also to report our errors in a public forum. Obviously, the implication is that our data will be secure, available, and not “lost”. However, as of now, the onus is on each of us to perform the necessary data archival work, hording our respective files in our garages and our disk drives, in perpetuity.

Clearly, a more professional model would be for each journal to arrange to archive relevant material for each published article. The data could then be dispensed, with appropriate safeguards, to other interested scholars, students, and the public. Given that much of our data is paid for with public funds, this should be a minimum requirement of prestigious “A” journals.

I’m sure my wife looks forward to the day I can scan, and  finally dispose of those ancient boxes taking up space in our garage.






One thought on “Confessions of a hoarder”

  1. Great post, Benson! These days there’s very little excuse, both for losing your data and for not making it public.

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