Show me the data!

BMNH specimens used in PLOS ONE

May 24th, 2015 | Posted by rmounce in Content Mining | Open Data

In this post I’ll go through an illustrated example of what I plan to do with my text mining project: linking-up biological specimens from the Natural History Museum, London (sometimes known as BMNH or NHMUK) to the published research literature with persistent identifiers.

I’ve run some simple grep searches of the PMC open access subset already, and PLOS ONE make up a significant portion of the ‘hits’, unsurprisingly.

Below is a visual representation of the BMNH specimen ‘hits’ I found in the full text of one PLOS ONE paper:

Grohé C, Morlo M, Chaimanee Y, Blondel C, Coster P, et al. (2012) New Apterodontinae (Hyaenodontida) from the Eocene Locality of Dur At-Talah (Libya): Systematic, Paleoecological and Phylogenetical Implications. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49054. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0049054


I used the open source software Gephi, and the Yifan Hu layout to create the above graphical representation. The node marked in blue is the paper. Nodes marked in red are catalogue numbers I couldn’t find in the NHM Open Data Portal specimen collections dataset: 10 out of 34 not found.

Source data table below showing how uninformative the NHM persistent IDs are. I would have plotted them on the graph instead of the catalogue strings as that would be technically more correct (they are the unique IDs), but it would look horrible.


I’ve been failing to find a lot of well known entities in the online specimen collections dataset which makes me rather concerned about its completeness. High profile specimens such as Lesothosaurus “BMNH RUB 17” (as mentioned in this PLOS ONE paper, Table 1) can’t be found online via the portal under that catalogue number. I can however find RUB 16, RUB 52 and RUB 54 but these are probably different specimens. RUB 17 is mentioned in a great many papers by many different authors so it seems unlikely that they have all independently given the specimen an incorrect catalogue number – the problem is more likely to be in the completeness of the online dataset.

Another ‘missing’ example is “BMNH R4947” a specimen of Euoplocephalus tutus as referred to in Table 4 of this PLOS ONE paper by Arbour and Currie. There are two other records for that taxon, but not under R4947.

To end on a happier note, I can definitely answer one question conclusively:
What is the most ‘popular’ NHM specimen in PLOS ONE full text?

…it’s “BMNH 37001”, Archaeopteryx lithographica which is referred to in full text by four different papers (see below for details).

I have feeling many more NHM specimens are hiding out in separate supplementary materials files. Mining these will be hard unless figshare gets their act together and creates a full-text API for searching their collection – I believe it’s a metadata only API at the moment.

37001 in PLOS ONE papers


I’ve purposefully made very simple graphs so far. Once I get more data, I can start linking it up to create beautiful and complex graphs like the one below (of the taxa shared between 3000 microbial phylogenetic studies in IJSEM, unpublished), which I’m still trying to get my head around. The linked open data work continues…

Bacteria subutilis commonly used