Thursday, July 17, 2008


One of my students, DC, emailed me, very confused. I had asked her to compile data on sex-baised dispersal in primates, and she has been doing a huge amount of work, digging through the literature, and has found data for about 50 species. Then in April, a paper came out in a high profile journal which, among other variables, examines sex-based dispersal in primates. DC student found the paper, but couldn't find the data on sex-biased dispersal. There are lots of references, and lots of supplemental materials, but nothing to our cause. So DC emailed me, and I read the paper and the supplemental materials. I also could find no data and no sources on sex biased dispersal, even though there were graphs (with 70 unlabeled diamonds, circles and squares labeled as male biased dispersers, female biased dispersers or both sexes dispers equally) and analyses based on those data. "Must have been left out by accident," I thought, and looked up the author's website to see if the data were posted there. Nope.
So I emailed the author, asked for either the data table or the references on which it was based, and got an almost immediate reply. She stated that:

A. The data and sources had been cut out to save space. This is fishy, as the journal has no space limits on supplemental online materials, and many papers come out in this same journal with far more appendixes than this paper has.

B. It would be too much work to track down all the references and sources again. This is fishy, as the paper came out only this year, and it would be truly remarkable to lose track of one's data set and all of its sources so quickly and thoroughly.

C. If I wanted information on a particular species, she would be glad to see what she could find. This too is fishy, as it implies that she would have to go to the library looking for the data that her published paper is already based on.

I can't help but wonder if there ever were data and sources. I would like to think of some innocuous explanation, but have not done so yet. I told my student to take this as an example of what not to do.

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