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I have recently read a paper in the Journal of Empirical Finance.

I was interested in the methodology that the author was using, but in terms of the data collection, the writing was particularly brief and I struggled to replicate their results.

This could have been clarified easily by the author, but they choose not to reply.

Is there anything I can do here or is it the authors choice not to answer questions about a published article?

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    How long has it been since you emailed them? It could just be that they are busy and haven't had time to reply, or maybe your email ended up in their spam email box. – Earlien Jul 19 at 7:27
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    This is no different from any other situation where someone doesn't answer your email. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 19 at 7:30
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    Have you discussed the methodology with your advisor? It may be the author regards that methodology as self-evident and won’t reply. – Solar Mike Jul 19 at 7:50
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    To paraphrase Yogi Berra, "if people don't want to answer your questions, how are you going to stop them?" – Nate Eldredge Jul 19 at 13:58
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    Was the author indicated as a "corresponding author" with their contact info in the paper, or did you just search for them? If it's the former, one could argue that the author "owes" you a response, but it might be an outdated email address. – Max Jul 20 at 4:31
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I would consider it all right if you write one or two reminder emails, maybe after three weeks and six weeks.

A lot of people just forget about emails, or put them aside, especially if they cannot answer the questions immediately.

Furthermore, try to make your email as "easy" as possible, so if your email is a wall of text or more than five bullet points, it is much less likely to receive an answer as if you just ask one short and precise question.

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    For unsolicited contact, I would say one reminder email at most. If they want to answer, they'll keep the email and eventually answer. A third unsolicited email on the same topic would simply look demanding. – Greg Martin Jul 20 at 16:09
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    @GregMartin I have seen too many professors who follow the principle: Either answer an email today or never. I have never understood why they don't mark emails which need a reply. Probably they got used to the fact that if something is important, people will send the email a second or a third time. – J Fabian Meier Jul 20 at 17:46
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    What is important to the email-writer is not necessarily the same as what is important to the recipient. Sending repeated emails ignores this fact, and it looks bad. – Greg Martin Jul 20 at 17:47
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    Actually, I consider it rude if someone chooses not to answer an email with a reasonable question (I don't mean forget it, but ignore it on purpose). So I see nothing bad in reminding people. People often argue with lack of time, but nobody can tell me that he/she does not have the 20 seconds to write a reply like "Sorry, I don't have time to answer you question in the next months". – J Fabian Meier Jul 20 at 17:53
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I get far more emails than I can reply to, but occasionally I do reply to random emails from people I don't know concerning papers I have written. The main factors that lead to me replying are: (1) I can see that the person is genuinely interested and has tried pretty hard to understand. (2) The person has a very concrete question that I can easily write down the answer to. (3) I am not overly pressed for time from other obligations.

In your case I cannot tell what kind of email you wrote. But if it says roughly "Dear X, I am interested in your paper but I don't understand your data collection methodology. Could you explain it in more detail? Best regards, Y." then I would ignore it for sure. Why? Basically the person has written a minimal-effort email, and so I assume they probably read the paper with minimal effort too. And what they want from me is completely unreasonable: They want me to write an expanded methods section just for them.

On the other hand, if the email would show a deeper understanding of the topic, and they would clearly explain their confusion and ask a specific question that I can easily clarify, then I am happy to do so, even if it takes a couple of paragraphs of explanation. However, such emails are rare.

When you publish a paper, the paper stands on its own, with all its strengths and weaknesses. A paper does not come with any warranty or guarantee that the author will freely provide all interested readers with further personalized instruction on the topic of the paper.

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Ideally, all researchers respond to reasonable* requests, however, quite often they don't. Here are a few things you can do to increase your chances they even get your email (adding to Fabian Meier's answer on how to increase your chance to get a response):

  • make sure you have the correct email address - many people change institutes and are no longer checking old accounts, or have left science altogether, even for papers that were just published

  • try contacting co-authors, if any. If possible, aim for those that might know something (in case author contributions are published; generally reserch assistants, PhD students, postdocs; less likely old professors and co-authors from a different institute)

  • for recently published papers, check outlets such as twitter for posts by the (co)authors metioning the paper, and reply to those

However, in the end it is the authors choice to answer your question. Unless you are a reviewer, then you have a bit more leverage - but still cannot force them (the editor might, but they could refuse and even retract the paper).

** something not obviously stated in the paper, basic knowledge in the field, or probably suggestions for future studies etc

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It is the choice of the author to answer emails, or not. Presumably the contents were sufficiently clear to warrant publication, so if the authors choose not to reply there remains the indirect route of extracting details from several papers on the topic, either by the same author or by others cited in the bibliography.

Note that you might have more leverage in getting data from the authors, if this is possible.

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Write a paper detailing your failure to replicate their results.

If you replicated their methodology and got a different result, then that's something noteworthy in itself. As a result, the most logical thing to do is to write a paper citing their paper, and then explaining how in your attempt at replicating their paper, you have obtained different results. Given that the ongoing replication crisis is apparently affecting economics, producing proof that a paper has failed to replicate should be eminently publishable.

It might be polite to give the authors of the original paper a little bit of warning of what you're planning on doing, though.

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    I don't think this is all correct. You are talking about reproducibility, not replicability. I can firmly say that majority of researchers (including myself) in this forum can't even reproduce their own results just based on methodology described in the published papers. – Coder Jul 21 at 5:18

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