Legacy of electronic mail accounts for dead scientists—trash or possible flash
To the editor
The Internet is a relatively new thing in the history of science. Its use became popular in mid-1990s, and resulted in the popularization of countless applications in virtually every aspect of modern human life.  As of 2009, an estimated quarter of the Earth’s population uses the services of the Internet. 
Messages between scientists, which often contained parts of their research, were sent previously by regular mail and, after the advent of the Internet, by e-mail. Historical museums all over the world contain important letters sent by scientists and they are kept due to their scientific and historical value. Many observations made by scientists are not published in journal articles but are shared with colleagues through personal correspondence. The scientific importance of such correspondence should not be underestimated! In the current literature, scientists refer to such important information as “unpublished data.”
After the death of a scientist, his or her legacy is not limited to money or scientific publications but may include his or her ideas, hypotheses, theories, observations, and incomplete research that may be found in his or her electronic mailing account if not in his or her regular mail box.
Needless to say, not all the messages in the electronic mailing account are scientific and some of them will be personal. There may even be important messages in the trash folder!
Having said that, we want the readers to share contemplations about these questions:
How can we know the password of the mailing account of dead scientists? Who is allowed to open it after his/her death? What are the ethical and legal issues that should be discussed in this matter?
Who was lucky enough to open the electronic mail account of Prof. Ackerman after his death?
Ali Raddadi, M.D., and Khalid Al Aboud, M.D., are from the Dermatology Section, Department of Medicine, King Abdulaziz Medical City, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Contact corresponding author via email: firstname.lastname@example.org .
1. Internet. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. [This page was last modified 2010 June 13; cited 2010 June 16]. Available at; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet.