Whoa, who stole the data?

1 minute read

OK, as you know I do this thing where I read the supplementary information in papers. I hate doing it; think they should put the stuff in the actual paper where it belongs, but well, that’s life, right?

Sooooo…I’m reading through the 73 pages of Supplementary Information for the Ardipithecus dental paper…

Supplementary table S1 from Suwa et al. 2009

Now let me just explain what’s going on here. This is a spreadsheet of all the dental specimens they studied, and all the dental elements that they could measure. And they’ve entered an “m” in the table if they could measure the specimen, and an “f” if it was too fragmentary to measure. Fair enough.

But wait a minute. There aren’t any measurements. IT’S A DATA TABLE WITHOUT ANY DATA.

What kind of rinky-dink journal is this?

They give us descriptive statistics for each tooth, and print the canine measurements necessary to replicate their sex assignment bootstrap program, but they include no other measurements and no plots of measurements that aren’t multiplied or divided by others.

I understand why the authors don’t want the numbers published. There’s nothing you can do to compare individuals in the dataset to other samples of fossils. The summary statistics are enough to compare species with A. ramidus tooth by tooth, but not enough to study the relation of different teeth to each other. Some of the authors must want to do this themselves.

What I don’t understand is the journal. I mean, it’s like some kind of government agent blacked out all the information. It’s not like anyone can say it’s appropriate to hold the data for a monograph – there are SEVENTY-THREE PAGES here. It’s not even like many of them are secret – the ones discovered by 1994 have the measurements reported in White and colleagues’ 1994 paper. In the current supplement, much of the information presented is valuable, and includes multiples of many of the measurements. I’d expect that any journal would include the measurements, and routinely require it when I edit papers. That way, other scientists can use the data in comparisons of their own samples, and outsiders can replicate the study’s conclusions.

Don’t get me started on the scans….