Q: Is there any timeframe for the original data for a previously published article to be kept or shared?

Detailed Question -

I had had an article published two years ago. Today, the editor-in-chief (EIC) of the journal sent me a mail asking for the data sheet of the original study because of some concerns sent to him. Unfortunately, I do not keep the original data that long. For this journal's instructions for the authors, I was not asked to sign a data sharing agreement nor was there any specification for keeping the data for any specific duration after publication. My question is: Is there any timeframe for the original data to be kept or be shared? Do I have to keep the data forever?

1 Answer to this question

We understand your predicament. However, it is advisable to retain your research data (raw data, analyses, original figures, etc.) for as long as possible for exactly the reason the journal editor has reached out to you. :)

Retention of data generated from your study is important for verifying or reproducing the findings. In particular, if you anticipate questions about the validity of the data or conduct of the research, you must retain all the original research data until such issues have been completely resolved. Another reason to hold on to your data is if you want to re-use the data in some way for a different study. Ideally, data should be retained for as long as possible, even indefinitely, provided that this does not breach the conditions of ethics approval or any agreement under which the data were obtained.

Coming to your predicament, you might need to check if your institute mandates a minimum period of data retention and/or if your sponsor/funder’s contract has any such requirements. This would particularly be so for studies involving human participants. For example, FDA requires research records to be retained for two years after the study is over, while for research that involves collecting identifiable health information (and thus subject to HIPAA requirements), records must be retained for at least six years after the health information was disclosed.

On the other side of this scenario, journals do not typically provide instructions to authors about data retention. To respond to the journal editor in this case, you might need to explain why you no longer have the data. You could simply/frankly state that you were not aware of minimum data retention policies pertinent to your data. :) Going forward though, as already emphasized, we would advise that you determine which regulation applies to your research and retain the data accordingly. Here’s wishing the present scenario is addressed satisfactorily.

To avoid/equip yourself for such situations in the future, you may wish to go through the following articles: