Say I come across a paper e.g. from 1980, which refers to a dataset which I believe could have further interesting information that was not analysed (or at least the analysis was never published). This was long before the time when datasets might be included as supplementary information. The sole author has not published recently (10 years +) and I can’t find any reference to them at the listed institution or indeed anywhere else. They are likely retired, quite possibly passed away by now.

Given that the author is no longer contactable, is there any way of getting hold of that old dataset? My instinct is that the answer is “no”, but is there any hope? How could I go about it?

  • Data from my 1980 experiments sit on a 5 1/4" floppy disk in a box in my basement...
    – Floris
    Feb 10, 2017 at 4:35
  • 1
    If the dataset is included in some kind of plots, you could try to extract it from them, see this question
    – Alf
    May 17, 2017 at 10:16

1 Answer 1


Lots of old datasets still exist and are stored in repositories, exactly to solve the problem you face. So my first port of call would be to look there. Which one depends on your discipline.

If that is not the case you can try track down her or his PhD students from that time. Chances are they worked with that data, and may know what happened to it.

Sometimes data is just lost. I remember a case where data was stored on punch cards in a university cellar, and there were also mice that liked eating cardboard in that cellar...

  • 1
    Good point regarding PhD students. Presumably the way to do this would be to contact the department in question? Feb 9, 2017 at 15:32
  • Yes, contact the department. Feb 9, 2017 at 15:55

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