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I am a research software engineer for a behavioural science research group at a university, currently trying to help my academics with recruiting for and running psychology and economics experiments online. As part of this I have been reviewing the literature in the field and have come across a very useful paper. In the paper, a link is given for the source code and raw data collected by the authors, however the link is dead - it looks like the domain name registration has lapsed.

After a cursory internet search, it seems that the author whose domain the materials were hosted on has left academia and now works in industry. A co-author still works in academia though. Both are listed as corresponding authors on the publication, though the latter is marked as "principal corresponding author".

In a case like this, who should I approach to ask if accessing the data/source code is still possible? Should I try to contact the author who no longer appears to work in academia, but who seems to have been the one to initially host it? Or should I try to make first contact with the "principal corresponding author" who does still appear to be based at a research university?

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Always start with the principal corresponding author, that's why the authors list it. It's both common courtesy and will increase your likelihood of getting a response.

That said, two more minor points:

  • Note that just because someone left academia does not mean they do not engage in research. I've published more since I left the university than when I was in it.
  • Do keep in mind that material ages quickly, and in some fields very quickly. If they have left the field it is very possible that they don't have their notes, access to original data, access to their academic email correspondence with peers, etc. Heck, their email address probably changed as well, so you may have to hunt for their new one. If the principal author has moved on I would definitely recognize that in your correspondence and be understanding if they can't help you out.
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  • Thank you for the answer. When you put it like this, I don't know why I was overthinking it so much!
    – Ty Hayes
    Sep 14 '21 at 8:57
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I would guess that the person in academia would be the best person to contact first because 1) they are still ostensibly interested in research, 2) they are listed as the main correspondent contact, and 3) they might be more likely to be checking their email and responding to these types of queries. If they do not have access to the materials that you seek, they should be able to point you in the right direction. In the worst case scenario, you can contact the other author who now works in industry.

There seems to be no risk in simply choosing a person and trying to contact them.

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    Sending to both is also fine, I think.
    – Buffy
    Sep 10 '21 at 13:38
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    “more likely to be checking their email” — I’d say it’s the other way around. I know a lot of faculty that ignores (or seems to) email. Sep 11 '21 at 21:09
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    Thanks for the answer. You're completely right, there's no risk in just reaching out. I guess I just didn't want to bother the wrong person - but they can always ignore my email if it comes to that.
    – Ty Hayes
    Sep 14 '21 at 8:58
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While this is not a full answer (please convert into a comment if that's the right thing to do here), you may try checking whether the original URL has been archived by the Internet Archive. They store copies of various sites going back to the very early era of the Internet, with some possible omissions due to various technical limitations.

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  • Very good tip, thanks. I tried it out. Unfortunately, though the original site was archived, it looks like there were no direct links to the data within the site, so the wayback machine's crawler never found it. Never mind - this may still help someone facing a similar problem in the future.
    – Ty Hayes
    Sep 14 '21 at 9:00
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The other respondents have properly suggested going to the "principal corresponding author" and that person still appears to be academically active. The PCA may know the current whereabouts of the other author, that is if you need to get the code off him/her.

If the PCA has lost contact with the other author, also do a publications search for that author using publication databases in your uni library and/or Google Scholar. This is to find the last known paper from that person and their then employment (affiliation of author) for him/her. Either they still work in that organization or else staff there may know where they went after that. A quick LinkedIn search for the other author using the name and likely interests might flush the party out quick enough.

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  • Thanks for the answer, and good point about the PCA having a good chance of still being in contact/knowing the whereabouts of a former collaborator if they don't have the data themselves.
    – Ty Hayes
    Sep 14 '21 at 9:01

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