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How do astronomers share data? Reliability and persistence of datasets linked in AAS publications and a qualitative study of data practices among US astronomers.
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  • Alberto PepeOrcid,
  • Alyssa Goodman,
  • August Muench,
  • Merce Crosas,
  • Christopher Erdmann
Alberto Pepe
Orcid
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Alyssa Goodman
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August Muench
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Merce Crosas
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Christopher Erdmann
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Abstract

We analyze data sharing practices of astronomers over the past fifteen years. An analysis of URL links embedded in papers published by the American Astronomical Society reveals that the total number of links included in the literature rose dramatically from 1997 until 2005, when it leveled off at around 1500 per year. This rise indicates an increased interest in data-sharing over the same time period that the web saw its most dramatic growth in usage in the developed world. The analysis also shows that the availability of linked material decays with time: in 2011, 44% of links published a decade earlier, in 2001, were broken. A rough analysis of link types reveals that links to data hosted on astronomers’ personal websites become unreachable much faster than links to datasets on curated institutional sites. To gauge astronomers’ current data sharing practices and preferences further, we performed in-depth interviews with 12 scientists and online surveys with 173 scientists, all at a large astrophysical research institute in the United States: the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, MA. Both the in-depth interviews and the online survey indicate that, in principle, there is no philosophical objection to data-sharing among astronomers at this institution, and nearly all astronomers would share as much of their data as others wanted if it were practicable. Key reasons that more data are not presently shared more efficiently in astronomy include: the difficulty of sharing large data sets; over reliance on non-robust, non-reproducible mechanisms for sharing data (e.g. emailing it); unfamiliarity with options that make data-sharing easier (faster) and/or more robust; and, lastly, a sense that other researchers would not want the data to be shared. We conclude with a short discussion of a new effort to implement an easy-to-use, robust, system for data sharing in astronomy, at theastrodata.org, and we analyze the uptake of that system to-date.