According to a recent paper:

Of 3556 analyzed articles, 3416 contained DAS. The most frequent DAS category (42%) indicated that the datasets are available on reasonable request. Among 1792 manuscripts in which DAS indicated that authors are willing to share their data, 1670 (93%) authors either did not respond or declined to share their data with us. Among 254 (14%) of 1792 authors who responded to our query for data sharing, only 122 (6.8%) provided the requested data.

Assuming I encounter such a paper where the author refuses to share their data despite claiming otherwise when publishing, what recourse do I have? Should I contact their institution? Or perhaps I should contact the journal? Or are data sharing statements non-binding and there's nothing I can do to force the paper author to comply with their original promise?

  • I assume it is a hypothetical question, but could you still specify the assumed reactions from the author(s) on the request? No response will be different from a blatant "Actually we don't want to share it" answer and again different from a "Sorry we've lost the data" answer.
    – silvado
    Jun 10, 2022 at 14:51
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    @silvado the paper says that 86% didn’t respond at all and out of those who responded half outright refused to share the data. I’m interested in both scenarios. Jun 10, 2022 at 15:03
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    I am not sure I would share a large data set with researchers who were not going to use it for beyond checking a box. That is, the study authors were not making a reasonable request. These numbers seem skewed. The hypothetical question is still a good one. Jun 10, 2022 at 16:41
  • @TerryLoring Seems like a slippery slope excuse to never sharing your data at all. Jun 10, 2022 at 16:53
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    @JonathanReez Highly disagree there is a slippery slope here, there's a pretty clear distinction between someone asking for your data to use it, and asking for your data to not use it.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jun 10, 2022 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


First, you should ask them again, but nicely. Often, the papers / projects are "administered" by Ph.D. students, who after graduation loose access to the machines on which the data might be. They might also no longer have an institutional email and their supervisor might have difficulties getting to them. Thus, getting the data to you might not be quite trivial and involve some work. An explanation why you want the data is therefore more than appropriate.

You might seek someone out that is more senior and commands more respect to intervene for you.

If you really want their data and they do not oblige you:

In academia, you can contact their department and school. In industry, you can contact their PR people and their supervisors. Promising data and not giving them is somewhat close to plagiarism. If the threat of a committee will not work, it will take a long time in academia for a committee to report their findings and even longer for any reaction.

You can also check whether any one of the authors is a member of a professional society that has an ethics statement. Not keeping promises could lead to sanctions.

Many funding agencies (e.g. NSF) will have a data availability policy for funded research. They will not be glad to hear that one of their fundees is taking data availability statements too lightly. Losing access to funding is a very serious threat.

You can also write to the editor of the journal. They have more standing in the field. If the editor of a journal that publishes them is angry, any author will reconsider.

You might also have legal recourse. After all, the data availability statement is a type of public promise that can be enforceable. Starting a lawsuit will get the attention of the legal team of the hosting institution.

Finally, administering data is not simple, especially when there is churn among the administrators (e.g. graduate students) and things get forgotten or lost. In this case, there is not much recourse. You might get an admonition and shaming of the leader of the group, but not the data.

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    Can you clarify your basis for suggesting some of these courses of action? In particular, your statements about plagiarism and your suggestion to start a lawsuit seem very questionable; stating your experience with these courses of action might help mitigate these doubts.
    – cag51
    Jun 11, 2022 at 9:09
  • If an academic is credibly accused of plagiarism, either they themselves or their department or their institution will start an investigation of faculty misconduct. The same should happen if public promises are broken. Saying that data is available when it is not is not proper conduct for faculty. Jun 11, 2022 at 11:13
  • The thread of a lawsuit can be very powerful. If you are harmed by authors not keeping their promise, you can have legal recourse. It should of course be your last option. Jun 11, 2022 at 11:15
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    Also, keep in mind that these data availability statements are relatively new and there is no system yet in place. Jun 11, 2022 at 11:15

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