Show me the data!

Twitter tips for Systematists

January 11th, 2013 | Posted by rmounce in Publications - (1 Comments)

I wrote a piece for The Systematist newsletter last year which has now been published & disseminated to members. The official version won’t be freely accessible from the website until next year (instant access is currently a perk of Systematics Association membership only) so in the meantime I’ll re-blog it here:

Is this the first mention of #icanhazpdf in scholarly literature?

I’d like once again (I already have by email) to thank the new editor Jane Droop for taking care to provide many many clickable linkouts in the PDF to all the different resources I mention – there’s a *lot* of links!

Here’s the full reference for the original version:
Mounce, R 2012 Twitter for systematists. The Systematist, vol. 34, pages 14-15

Twitter for systematists

Despite or perhaps because of being limited to just 140 character messages at a time, Twitter is an excellent medium for the near instantaneous dissemination of information over the Internet. It’s been successfully used to remotely sense earthquakes [1] and flu outbreaks [2], and to predict the outcomes of elections [3] and box office success [4]. It’s also a very hand tool for academics, with ever-increasing usage amongst the population.

Here’s my top tips for using twitter for science (a far from exhaustive list):

Remotely following conferences you can’t attend.

There are too many interesting conferences these days. No one has the time or money to attend them all. Furthermore some may occur simultaneously and one cannot be at two places at the same time! But with Twitter one can often get a reasonable description of what’s going on at a conference by following the official conference hashtag e.g. #evol2012 #ievobio (Evolution, Ottawa), and #HennigXXXI (Hennig, Riverside). At some conferences remote participation via Twitter is possible, to ask questions from afar at panel discussions and such.

Expand the impact of your conference talks

Extending upon the above, if you’re giving a talk at a conference – put your twitter handle on your conference name badge and on the title slide of your talk so tweeters in the audience can link to you on Twitter when describing your talk. This is particularly useful if you have a common name – John Smith could be anyone online but @JSmith69 exactly identifies who (and is shorter). If you can, put your slides online before your talk using a service like Slideshare or Prezi and use a URL shorterner to provide an easily tweetable link to that online slidedeck. Put this short-link on your first and last slides, so tweeters can disseminate this link to everyone following the conference hashtag from afar to also view your slides. This can dramatically increase the number of people seeing your talk (albeit, a slide-only version of it). For example, my talk this year at #HennigXXXI once tweeted out by @rdmpage and others (thanks!) was seen by over 200 people online after just a couple of days. At the conference itself there were less than 100 people in attendance, so it really helped maximise the impact of the talk.

Discuss, promote and critique papers on Twitter

Like a paper? Tweet about it including a link to the paper (attribution and links are key on Twitter) and maybe start a discussion with fellow academics. Don’t just tweet-promote your own papers or those of your close colleagues – this is bad netiquette. Some groups even have journal clubs conducted in the open on Twitter e.g.

Get help or canvass the opinion of your research community

Got a problem you can’t solve yourself, but might easily & quickly be solved by someone else? One can’t abuse twitter for this all the time, but the occasional well-put question on twitter often elicits good responses if you have enough followers. The key here is reciprocity – if you’re always asking for help you’ll soon be ignored. But if you can give as well as receive help you’ll generate a healthy respect. Twitter convention has it that questions are often marked with the #lazyweb hashtag – use this to indicate you have a question that you want answered. Similarly if you need a PDF you don’t have subscription access to, try supplying the URL link to the paper + your email address + #icanhazpdf in a tweet. @BoraZ created this convention and it’s now rather popular with many requests *every* day appearing on Twitter for PDFs. This facilitates quick and easy access to the literature, enabling thorough scholarship, by-passing the often tedious and slow inter-library loans procedure.

The Systematics Association, like other societies e.g. @SVP_vertpaleo, @GeolSoc, @LinneanSociety and journals e.g @systbiol @MethodsEcolEvol, @BiolJLinnSoc , @ecologyletters have had a presence on Twitter since 2011: @SystAssn.

Want to talk about systematics? Tweet us at @SystAssn . Happy tweeting tweeps :)


1. Sakaki, T., Okazaki, M., and Matsuo, Y. 2010. Earthquake shakes twitter users: real-time event detection by social sensors. In Proceedings of the 19th international conference on World wide web, WWW ’10, pp. 851-860, New York, NY, USA. ACM.
2. Culotta, A. 2010. Towards detecting influenza epidemics by analyzing Twitter messages. KDD Workshop on Social Media Analytics
3. Tumasjan, A., Sprenger, T. O., Sandner, P. G., and Welpe, I. M. 2010. Predicting elections with twitter: What 140 characters reveal about political sentiment. In Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, pp. 178-185.

A list of some relevant accounts on Twitter to follow:

@David_Hillis (University of Texas)
@kcranstn Karen Cranston (Open Tree of Life)
@rdmpage (Professor of Taxonomy at Glasgow University)
@cydparr (EOL)
@phylofoundation (updates from The Phyloinformatics Research Foundation)
@phylogenomics (Prof. Jonathan Eisen, UC Davis)
@Dr_Bik (marine genomics, UC Davis)
@JChrisPires (plant genomics)
@k8hert (Kate Hertweck, NESCent)
@TRyanGregory (University of Guelph)
@pedrobeltrao (bioinformatics, UCSF)
@ewanbirney (assoicate director at the EBI)
@caseybergman (University of Manchester)
@ianholmes (compuational biologist)
@lukejharmon (University of Idaho)
@cboettig (theoretical ecology & evolution)
@tomezard (University of Surrey)
@eperlste (evolutionary pharmacologist, Princeton University)
@RosieRedfield (UBC)
@NYCuratrix (Susan Perkins, AMNH)
@theleechguy (Mark Siddall, AMNH)
@AndyFarke (vertebrate paleontologist)
@TomHoltzPaleo (paleobiologist)
@Bill_Sutherland (conservationist)

and at the Natural History Museum London:

@nhm_london (official NHM London account)
@edwbaker (biodiversity informatics)
@DavidMyWilliams (diatomist)
@vsmithuk (cybertaxonomist)
@Coleopterist (Max Barclay)
@SandyKnapp (Solanaceae taxonomist)
@NHMdinolab (updates from Paul Barrett’s lab)
@gna-phylo (updates from Thomas Richards’ lab)

So a week ago, I investigated publisher-produced Version of Record PDFs with pdfinfo and the results were very disappointing. Lots of missing metadata was found and one could not reliably identify most of these PDFs from metadata alone, let alone extract particular fields of interest.

But Rod Page kindly alerted to me the fact that I might be using the wrong tool for this investigation. So at his suggestion I’ve tried again to extract metadata from the exact same set of PDFs as last time…

Only this time I’ll be using exiftool version 9.10.

This time I’ve put the full raw metadata output from exiftool on figshare for each and every PDF file, just to really prove the point, reproducible research and all. I’d love to post the corresponding PDFs too but sadly many of them are not Open Access and this thus prevents me from uploading them to a public space.   **Insert timely comment here about how closed access publications stifle effective research practices…**

Exiftool is really simple to use. You just need type:
exiftool NameOfPDF.pdf
to get a human-readable exhaustive output of all possible metadata.

exiftool -b -XMP NameOfPDF.pdf
to get XML-structured metadata. I could only extract this from 56 of the 69 PDF files. The data output from this for those 56 PDFs is available as a separate fileset on figshare here.

Finally, if you want to test a whole bunch of PDF files in your working directory I’ve made a simple shell script that loops through all PDFs in your working directory, available here (oops, it’s not data, perhaps I should have put that on github instead?). [I’m sure many readers will be able to create a simple bash loop themselves but just for those that don’t…]


I’m assuming that the reason exiftool -b -XMP failed on 13 of those PDFs is because they have no embedded XMP metadata – an empty (zero-byte sized) file is created for these. This is an assumption though… I notice that those 13 exactly correspond with all the 13 that were produced with iText. I checked the website and I’m pretty sure iText 2.x and up can embed XMP metadata, it’s just whether the publishers have bothered to use & apply this functionality.

So if I’m right, neither Taylor & Francis, BRILL, nor Acta Palaeontology Polonica embed XMP metadata (at all!) in their PDFs. The alternative explanation is that the XMP metadata is in there but exiftool for whatever reason can’t read/parse it from iText produced PDFs. I find this an unlikely alternative explanation though tbh.

Elsevier have superior XMP metadata to everyone else by the looks of it, but Elsevier aside the metadata is still very poor, so my conclusions from last week’s post still stand I think.

Most of the others do contain metadata (of some sort) but by and large it’s rather poor. I need to get some other work done on Monday so I’m afraid this is where I’m going to leave this for now. But I hope I’ve made the point.

Further angles to explore

Interestingly Brian Kelly, has taken this a slightly different direction and looked at the metadata of PDFs in institutional repositories. I hadn’t realised this but apparently some institutional repositories (IRs) universally add cover pages to most deposits. If this is done without care for the embedded metadata, the original metadata can be wiped and/or replaced with newer (less informative) metadata.  Not to mention that cover pages are completely unnecessary -> all the information on a cover page is exactly the kind of stuff that should be put in embedded metadata! No need to waste time and space by putting that info as the first page. JSTOR does this too (cover pages) and it annoys the hell out of me.

After some excellent chat on Twitter about this IR angle I’ve discovered that UKOLN based here on campus at Bath have also done some interesting research in this area, in particular the FixRep project which is described in more detail here. CrossRef labs pdfmark tool also looks like something of interest towards fixing poor quality metadata PDFs. I’ve got this installed/compiled from the source on github but haven’t tried it out yet. It would be interesting to see the difference it makes – a before and after comparison of metadata to see what we’re missing… But why should we fix a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place? Publishers are the point of origin for this. It’s their job to be the first to publish the Version of Record. They should provide the highest level of metadata possible IMO.


Why would publishers add metadata?

Because their customers – libraries, governments, research funders (in the case of Open Access PDFs ) should demand it. A pipe dream perhaps but that’s my $.02.  I would ask for a refund if I downloaded MP3’s from iTunes/Amazon MP3 with insufficient embedded metadata. Why not the same principle for electronically published PDFs?


PS Apologies for some of the very cryptic filenames in the metadata uploads on figshare. You’ll have to cross-match with this list here or the spreadsheet I uploaded last week to work out which metadata file corresponds to which PDF/Bibliographic Data record/Publisher.

Publisher Identifier Journal Contains embedded XMP metadata? Filename
American Association for the Advancement of Science Ezard2011 Science yes? ezard_11_interplay_759293.pdf
American Association for the Advancement of Science Nagalingum2011 Science yes? nagalingum_11_recent_719133.pdf
American Association for the Advancement of Science Rowe2011 Science yes? Science-2011-Rowe-955-7.pdf
Blackwell Publishing Ltd Burks2011 Cladistics yes? burks_11_combined_694888.pdf
Blackwell Publishing Ltd Janies2011 Cladistics yes? janies_11_supramap_779773.pdf
Blackwell Publishing Ltd Simmons2011 Cladistics yes? simmons_11_deterministic_779537.pdf
BRILL Barbosa2011 Insect Systematics & Evolution no barbosa_11_phylogeny_779910.pdf
BRILL Dellape2011 Insect Systematics & Evolution no dellape_11_phylogenetic_779909.pdf
Cambridge Journals Online Knoll2010 Geological Magazine yes? knoll_10_primitive_475553.pdf
Cambridge Journals Online Saucede2007 Geological Magazine yes? thomas_saucegraved_07_phylogeny_506869.pdf
CSIRO Chamorro2011 Invertebrate Systematics yes? chamorro_11_phylogeny_780467.pdf
CSIRO Daugeron2011 Invertebrate Systematics yes? daugeron_11_phylogenetic_780466.pdf
CSIRO Johnson2011 Invertebrate Systematics yes? johnson_11_collaborative_750540.pdf
Elsevier Lane2011 Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution yes E3-1-s2.0-S1055790311001448-main.pdf
Elsevier Cunha2011 Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution yes E2-1-s2.0-S1055790311001680-main.pdf
Elsevier Spribille2011 Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution yes E1-1-s2.0-S1055790311001606-main.pdf
Frontiers In Horn2011 Frontiers in Neuroscience yes? fnins-05-00088.pdf
Frontiers In Ogura2011 Frontiers in Neuroscience yes? fnins-05-00091.pdf
Frontiers In Tsagareli2011 Frontiers in Neuroscience yes? fnins-05-00092.pdf
Hindawi Diniz2012 Psyche: A Journal of Entomology yes? 79139500.pdf
Hindawi Restrepo2012 Psyche: A Journal of Entomology yes? 516419.pdf
Hindawi Savopoulou2012 Psyche: A Journal of Entomology yes? 167420.pdf
Institute of Paleobiology, Polish Academy of Sciences Amson2011 Acta Palaeontologica Polonica no amson_11_affinities_666987.pdf
Institute of Paleobiology, Polish Academy of Sciences Edgecombe2011 Acta Palaeontologica Polonica no edgecombe_11_new_666988.pdf
Institute of Paleobiology, Polish Academy of Sciences Williamson2011 Acta Palaeontologica Polonica no app2E20092E0147.pdf
Magnolia Press Agiuar2011 Zootaxa yes? zt02846p098.pdf
Magnolia Press Ebach2011 Zootaxa yes? ebach_11_taxonomy_599972.pdf
Magnolia Press Nelson2011 Zootaxa yes? nelson_11_resemblance_688762.pdf
National Academy of Sciences Casanovas2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yes? casanovas-vilar_11_updated_644658.pdf
National Academy of Sciences Goswami2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yes? goswami_11_radiation_814757.pdf
National Academy of Sciences Thorne2011 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences yes? thorne_11_resetting_654055.pdf
Nature Publishing Group Meng2011 Nature yes? meng_11_transitional_644647.pdf
Nature Publishing Group Rougier2011 Nature yes? rougier_11_highly_720202.pdf
Nature Publishing Group Venditti2011 Nature yes? venditti_11_multiple_779840.pdf
NRC Research Press CruzadoCaballero2010 Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences yes? 650000.pdf
NRC Research Press Druckenmiller2010 Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences yes? 80000000c5.pdf
NRC Research Press Mazierski2010 Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences yes? mazierski_10_description_577223.pdf
NRC Research Press Modesto2009 Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences yes? modesto_09_new_577201.pdf
NRC Research Press Parsons2009 Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences yes? parsons_09_new_575744.pdf
NRC Research Press Wu2007 Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences yes? wu_07_new_622125.pdf
Pensoft Publishers Hagedorn2011 ZooKeys yes? hagedorn_11_creative_779747.pdf
Pensoft Publishers Penev2011 ZooKeys yes? penev_11_interlinking_694886.pdf
Pensoft Publishers Thessen2011 ZooKeys yes? thessen_11_data_779746.pdf
Public Library of Science Hess2011 PLoS ONE yes? hess_11_addressing_694222.pdf
Public Library of Science McDonald2011 PLoS ONE yes? mcdonald_11_subadult_694229.pdf
Public Library of Science Wicherts2011 PLoS ONE yes? wicherts_11_willingness_779788.pdf
SAGE Publications deKloet2011 Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation yes? Invest-2011-deKloet-421-9.pdf
SAGE Publications Richter2011 Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation yes? Invest-2011-Richter-430-5.pdf
SAGE Publications Wassmuth2011 Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation yes? Invest-2011-Wassmuth-436-53.pdf
Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden Fresneda2011 Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny yes? fresneda_11_phylogenetic_785869.pdf
Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden Mally2011 Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny yes? ASP_69_1_Mally_55-71.pdf
Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden Shimizu2011 Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny yes? ASP_69_2_Shimizu_75-81.pdf
Springer-Verlag Beermann2011 Zoomorphology yes? 10.1007_s00435-011-0129-9.pdf
Springer-Verlag Cuezzo2011 Zoomorphology yes? cuezzo_11_ultrastructure_694669.pdf
Springer-Verlag Vinn2011 Zoomorphology yes? 10.1007_s00435-011-0133-0.pdf
Taylor & Francis Bianucci2011 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology no bianucci_11_aegyptocetus_778747.pdf
Taylor & Francis Makovicky2011 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology no makovicky_11_new_694826.pdf
Taylor & Francis Pietri2011 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology no pietri_11_revision_689491.pdf
Taylor & Francis Rook2011 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology no rook_11_phylogeny_694916.pdf
Taylor & Francis Tsuihiji2011 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology no tsuihiji_11_cranial_660620.pdf
Taylor & Francis Yates2011 Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology no yates_11_new_694821.pdf
Taylor & Francis Gerth2011 Systematics and Biodiversity no gerth_11_wolbachia_779749.pdf
Taylor & Francis Krebes2011 Systematics and Biodiversity no krebes_11_phylogeography_779700.pdf
Sociedade Brasileira de Ictiologia Britski2011 Neotropical Ichthyology yes? a02v9n2.pdf
Sociedade Brasileira de Ictiologia Sarmento2011 Neotropical Ichthyology yes? a03v9n2.pdf
Sociedade Brasileira de Ictiologia Calegari2011 Neotropical Ichthyology yes? a04v9n2.pdf
Royal Society Billet2011 Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences yes? billet_11_oldest_687630.pdf
Royal Society Polly2011 Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences yes? polly_11_history_625430.pdf
Royal Society Sansom2011 Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences yes? sansom_11_decay_625429.pdf

I’ve enrolled in some MOOCs

January 5th, 2013 | Posted by rmounce in phdchat - (2 Comments)

I’ve written about MOOCs last December but never actually enrolled in one myself… until now.

Sure, I’ve done Codecademy courses and Codeschool courses which I’ve immensely enjoyed but they’re perhaps(?) not quite the same thing.

This year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and do some Coursera courses (depicted below, confusingly there are different courses run by different teams with the exact same titles/topics):

Coursera courses
The more I think about it – why not? It’s free to enrol. It’s free to drop-out & ignore if you don’t have the time for it, or you realise it’s too easy/hard/uninteresting. WHY NOT?

So I’ve sent a few tweets out that unashamedly I’m enrolling in some Coursera courses this year and not unsurprisingly found that other people I respect are also dipping their toes in the MOOC water: @gawbul (Steve Moss, University of Hull) a fellow PhD student, is also taking many of the same courses that caught my eye.

Some initial observations:

  • Coursera definitely isn’t Open. I see no Creative Commons licenses anywhere – you probably can’t repost or remix the content provided on each of these courses which is a big shame IMO. It’s an MFOC (free rather than open) not a MOOC, but sadly few would recognize this distinction.
  • Roger Peng is running the Computing for Data Analysis course. I’m a huge fan of reproducible research, I got my first little peer-reviewed contribution in Nature simply through reproducing (and finding significant error with) published research – it’s really cool to see lectures from someone you kinda idolise. There’s 0% chance of personal interaction with him through the course; there’s simply too many thousands enrolled but still that’s pretty cool – a big name draw.
  • The sheer diversity of people enrolled in the courses is very inspiring, in one discussion thread of IT professionals I find Ahmed from Sudan “Software Architect Trying to Learn more about Statistics and Business” and Gurneet from India, old and young people from across the globe all wanting to learn. I really do get that warm fuzzy feeling that MOOCs could contribute significantly to educating the world and making it a better place. It’s not about replacing or being the alternative to a college degree, it’s just about learning what you want to learn and feeding curiosity.
  • Without looking at any of the lectures or materials on my first attempt I managed to get 9/10 on the first Computing for Data Analysis quiz assessment (which I’ve since re-attempted to get the full 10/10 score). So at week 1, introducing R and data manipulation in R, it’s fairly easy for me. But even so it did help me tighten-up, refresh and test my knowledge. I’m looking forward to week 2 of the course starting 9th January. And especially the start of the Machine Learning & NLP courses. These will be invaluable for my postdoc work I suspect…

So far so good. Do let me know in the comments if you’ve signed down for a MOOC too, I’d be interested to know. At first I felt mildly guilty as a PhD student enrolling for these things but now I see it’s a no brainer – if you have time for it, and it might benefit you – why not give it a try? There’s no shame in that.

Just a quick note that BMC journal APC’s have increased from what they were in 2012.


Luckily I had the 2012 data saved on my computer so I can compare prices directly.
I’ve put the data for 97 journals (not all of them) here on figshare.

The mean price increase is just over 5%.

Although to give it a fair statistical treatment – the median price increase is just 3.3% (to 1 d.p.). There is a lot of variance. Some of the biggest price hikes appear to be from society journals e.g. Journal of Physiological Anthropology (An official journal of the Japan Society of Physiological Anthropology) and thus the price hike is probably the society decision rather than BMC’s doing. But in the era of PeerJ & eLife should prices be going up at all? If anything I’d expect prices to go down to remain competitive. Perhaps BMC are hoping things will be business as usual this year?

I got what I assume to be the correct 2013 prices over at the official BioMedCentral website today.

It’s a shame y’know. I’ve read a little of the history of the Open Access movement and in earlier times, perhaps a decade ago BioMedCentral really helped enable Open Access, convincing sceptical academics that it could work.

But now, it does make me wonder whether their prices aren’t a bit too high:

BMC tweet

As James McInerney tweeted on 1st January 2013. Are BMC price gouging?