Show me the data!

Today (2015-09-01), marks the public announcement of Research Ideas & Outcomes (RIO for short), a new open access journal for all disciplines that seeks to open-up the entire research cycle with some truly novel features

I know what you might be thinking: Another open access journal? Really? 

Myself, nor Daniel Mietchen simply wouldn’t be involved with this project if it was just another boring open access journal. This journal packs a mighty combination of novel features into one platform:

  • 1.) RIO will publish research proposals, as well as regular research outputs such as articles, data papers and software – this has never been done by a journal before to my knowledge
  • 2.) RIO will label research outputs with ‘Impact Categories’ based upon UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and EU Societal Challenges, to highlight the real-world relevance of research and to better link-up research across disciplines (see below for some example MDGs).


  • 3.) RIO supports a variety of different types of peer-review, including ‘pre-submission, author-facilitated, external peer-review‘ (new), as well as post-publication journal-organized open peer-review (similar to that pioneered by F1000Research), and ‘spontaneous’ (not journal-organized) post-publication open peer-review which is actively encouraged. All peer-review will be open/public, in keeping with the overall guiding philosophy of the journal to increase transparency and reduce waste in the research cycle. Reviewer comments are highly valuable; it is a waste not to make them public. When supplied, all reviewer comments will be made openly available.
  • 4.) RIO offers flexibility in publishing services and pricing in a bold attempt to ‘decouple’ the traditional scholarly journal into its component services. Authors & funders thus may choose to pay for the publishing services they actually want, not an inflexible bundle of different services, as there is at most journals.
Source: Priem, J. and Hemminger, B. M. 2012. Decoupling the scholarly journal. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience. Licensed under CC BY-NC

Source: Priem, J. and Hemminger, B. M. 2012. Decoupling the scholarly journal. Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience. Image licensed under CC BY-NC.


  • 5.) On the technical side of things, RIO uses an integrated end-to-end XML-backed publication system for Authoring, Reviewing, Publishing, Hosting, and Archiving called ARPHA. As a publishing geek this excites me greatly as it eliminates the need for typesetting, ensuring a smooth and low-cost publishing process. Reviewers can make comments inline or more generally over the entire manuscript, on the very same document and platform that the authors wrote in, much like Google Docs. This has been successfully tried and tested for years at the Biodiversity Data Journal and is a system now ready for wider-use.


For the above reasons and more, I’m hugely excited about this journal and am delighted to be one of their founding editors alongside Dr Daniel Mietchen. See our growing list of Advisory and Editorial Board members for insight into who else is backing this new journal – we’ve got some great people on board already! If you’re interested in supporting this initiative please do enquire about volunteering as an editor for the journal, we need more editors to support the broad scale and ambition of journal. You can apply via the main website here.

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


For those that know me as a biologist it might perhaps surprise you to know that my most cited publication so far is on Open Access and Altmetrics (published in April 2013, 25 cites and counting…) — nothing to do with biology per se!

So I took great interest in this new publication:

Wang, X., Liu, C., Mao, W., and Fang, Z. 2015. The open access advantage considering citation, article usage and social media attention. Scientometrics, pp. 1-10. DOI: 10.1007/s11192-015-1547-0

The authors have gathered some really fascinating data measuring day-by-day altmetrics of papers at the journal Nature Communications, which at the time was hybrid: some articles behind a paywall, some articles were paid-for open access at a cost of $5200 to the authors/funders. (The cost of open access here is an absolute rip-off. I do not endorse or recommend outrageously priced paid-for open access outlets like Nature Communications. PLOS ONE costs just $1350 remember! PeerJ is just $99 per author!)

The paper is by no means perfect – I’m not saying it is – but the ideas behind it are good. Many on twitter have commented that it’s ironic that this paper on open access advantage is itself only made available behind a paywall at the publisher.

The good news is, Dr Xianwen Wang has responded to this and has made an ‘eprint’ copy (stripped of all publisher branding) freely available at arXiv as of 2015-03-19 (post-publication).  The written English throughout the manuscript is not brilliant but I feel this reflects poorly on the journal rather than the authors – it’s remarkable that Scientometrics can charge a subscription fee to subscribers if they offer no copy-editing on accepted manuscripts!  Finally, technical detail on precisely how the data was obtained is rather lacking. So that’s the critique out of the way…

My tweets about this paper have been very popular e.g.

But I wanted to dig deeper into the data. So I emailed the corresponding author; Xianwen for a copy of the data behind figure 2 and he happily and quickly sent it to me. I was fairly shocked (in a good way) that he sent the data. Most of the times I’ve sent email requests for data in the past have been ultimately unsuccessful. This is well documented in the field of phylogenetics *sad face*. The ’email the author’ system simply cannot be relied upon, and is one of many reasons why I feel all non-sensitive data supporting research should be made publicly available, alongside the article, on the day of publication.

I did my own re-analysis of the raw data Xianwen sent over, and discovered there were lots of odd jumps in data, which couldn’t really be explained by peaks in social media activity e.g. for A cobalt complex redox shuttle for dye-sensitized solar cells with high open-circuit potentials (visualized below). ~520 days after it was first published, in one single day it apparently accumulated 21,577 page views! There was also a smaller spike of 2000 page views earlier.

Article View Spikes

Xianwen had filtered these suspicious jumps out of his figures but neglected to mention that in the methods section, so upon informing him of this discrepancy he’s told me he’s going to contact the editor to sort it out. A great little example of how data sharing results in improved science? The unfiltered data looks a little bit like the plot below:

Anyway, back to the spikes/jumps in activity – they certainly aren’t an error introduced by the authors of the paper – they can also be seen via Altmetric (a service provider of altmetrics). The question is: what is causing these one-day spikes in activity?

I have alerted the team at Altmetric, and they have/will alert Nature Publishing Group to investigate further

Most of the spikes are likely to be accidental in cause but it would be good to know more. A downloading script gone awry? But there is still a possibility that within this dataset there is putative evidence for deliberate gaming of altmetrics, specifically: article views. I look forward to hearing more from Altmetric and Nature Publishing Group about this… the ball is very much in their court right now.

Moreover, now that these peculiar spikes have been detected; what, if anything, should be done about it?

Just a quick post to congratulate the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their fabulous new research policy covering both open access & open data.

One of the key things they’ve implemented for 2017 is ZERO TOLERANCE for post-publication embargoes of research. Work MUST be made openly available IMMEDIATELY upon publication to be compliant. No ifs, no buts.

Let’s just remind ourselves why other major research funders like RCUK & Wellcome Trust allow publishers to impose an embargo on academic work before it can be made public:



Do any academics want a post-publication embargo on their work, that stops it being shared, read & re-used by the widest readership possible?




Does it benefit readers, patients, policy-makers or practitioners to have a post-publication embargo delaying their access to the very latest research?




Does it benefit research funders themselves to have a post-publication embargo on work they fund?




The only stakeholder that benefits from research funder policies that allow post-publication embargoes preventing free access to research are the legacy publishers. The fact that RCUK, Wellcome Trust and many others pander to these parasitic publishers and their laughably unfit-for-purpose business model is just WRONG and it makes me angry. JUST SAY “NO” TO POST-PUBLICATION EMBARGOES!




It’s high-time that major research funders wrote policies that ask for what WE ALL ACTUALLY WANT, instead of a bullshit compromise that minimises fiscal harm to the multi-billion dollar legacy publishers.


I admire the Gates Foundation. They understand what we all need and they’ve implemented that in a clear and appropriate policy; optimal for readers, researchers, patients, practitioners and policy-makers. We want immediate open access, and we want it NOW! The ball is now in your court Wellcome Trust, make your move!


Day 0 of OpenCon started with me missing the pre-conference drinks reception because my flight from Chicago was delayed by 2 hours. I got into Washington, D.C. (DCA) at about midnight & then had to wait half an hour for a blue line train to take me the short distance from the airport to the conference hotel — I’m a diehard for public transport! Finally arriving at the hotel past 1 o’clock in the morning. Not a great start. Sincere apologies to my excellent room mate Alfonso Sintjago, to whom I hastily introduced myself the next morning #awkward 

Day 1 started with a real bang. Michael Carroll gave a short speech. Then Pat Brown gave a long but HUGELY enjoyable talk about his role in the founding of PLOS & some excellent take home messages from the talk:

  • * Write petitions & letters for change with colleagues. Even if you fail to directly achieve all the goals or immediate aims of the petition, the act of doing it, the publicity & thought-provoking it raises can have real and important positive effects.

I saw immediate parallels of this with the recent ‘Open Peer Review Oath‘ , Jon Tennant’s & co’s ‘Open Letter to AAAS‘ , Erin McKiernan’s ‘Open Letter to the Society for Neuroscience‘, Gower & Neylon’s ‘The Cost of Knowledge, the [ongoing] Elsevier Boycott‘ and my own petition to ‘Support Palaeo Data Archiving‘ (2011). All of these, have made people sit-up and take notice. They have ALL been worthwhile activities in my opinion.

  • * Sometimes you’ve got to do odd things that might be against your ethos, to support your interests in the long term e.g. the traditional review selectivity of PLOS Biology & initially, printing paper copies of PLOS Biology.
  • * Sometimes you have to fake it to make it (N.B. said in the context of collective action, not scientific research)


The State of the Opens

Next there was a panel with talks and discussion on the state of Open Access, Open Data and Open Educational Resources. I was giving the Open Data talk (slides here) and found it hard to give — to be authoritative on the state & practice of open research data requires significant research, and I simply didn’t have time to really do the topic justice. I guess my main points were:



I’m so glad Victoria Stodden gave the next talk after the panel, I think I was the one on the organising committee who first suggested her for a keynote slot (sorry to brag!). Victoria did not disappoint – her talk was a remarkable display of undeniable deep-thinking & scholarship. Her reminder to us all of Merton’s Scientific Norms (1942) was an excellent grounding in the basis of open research:

  • Communalism: scientific results are the common property of the community
  • Universalism: all scientists can contribute to science regardless of race, nationality, culture, or gender
  • Disinterestedness: act for the benefit of a common scientific enterprise,
    rather than for personal gain.
  • Originality: scientific claims contribute something new
  • Skepticism: scientific claims must be exposed to critical scrutiny before being

This was clearly appreciated by the audience and others e.g. Lorraine have already blogged about it. I also took home from the talk that it’s important to distinguish between the 3 different types of reproducibility: Empirical Reproducibility, Computation Reproducibility, and Statistical Reproducibility, and that the Bayh-Dole Act is the an awfully bad motivator for NOT opening-up research in the US (of which I pointedly reflected-on in a meeting at the NIH on day 3).

REAL TALK: at the end Stodden made a great point, which I hope was listened to: young academics should not be expected to martyr themselves for the cause of open scholarship, and that it should be the more senior academics leading the way — here, here!

Don’t martyr yourself for the cause. “Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian”. By Giovanni Bassi, 1525. Public Domain

After lunch there were parallel sessions. Uvania Naidoo led a workshop on Open Access in the Context of Developing Countries. I regret I can’t report on that session because Peter Murray-Rust and myself were holding a ContentMine workshop in the alternate room at the same time. The ContentMine session was really good fun, and very interactive — you can see the discussion from the session on the etherpad here. Jure Triglav had some great ideas around mining the literature for software citations, Nic Weber chimed-in that HPC citation /mentions would be great to do too. April Clyburne-Sherin was interested in clinical trials data mining etc… I could go on. The trick now is for us to explore these ideas and see if we can make them happen after the conference. The epidemiology/ebola, content mining looks like it’s definitely going to happen, many people were interesting in forming a collaboration around that.

Innovative Publishing Models

I’m not going to report every session in full detail. This is one where I’m probably skimping. Meredith Niles (Harvard postdoc) moderated talks and discussion by a panel consisting of Arianna Becerril (Redalyc), Pete Binfield (PeerJ), Mark Patterson (eLife) and Martin Paul Eve (Open Library of Humanities).

Meredith Niles and myself at the Day 1 evening reception. Twitter / M. Niles. All rights reserved, copyright not mine.

Meredith Niles and myself, in my new favourite t-shirt at the evening reception, Day 1. Twitter / M. Niles. All rights reserved, copyright not mine.

Huge congratulations to the organising committee for bringing this particular panel together. These are without doubt in my mind, representatives of four of the most important, innovative organizations in academic publishing right now. They all gave excellent talks but particular kudos should go to Martin Paul Eve for delivering a swish Prezi and more importantly, a passionate, invigorating talk on the possible future of OA in the humanities.

The impact of open

The line-up alone for the next session was stellar. The conference had it’s first glimpse of Erin McKiernan on stage, moderating a panel consisting of Jack Andraka, Peter Murray-Rust, and Daniel DeMarte. Forgive me for a lack of detail here, it was near the end of a long day. Jack gave his usual polished speech, with humour and grace. As well as ably fielding a couple of tough but fair questions about his patent pending. As ever, a lot of people wanted to take pictures with him and he was gracious to allow everyone who wanted a photo with him

Four people proudly pushing boundaries. Photo: mine! All rights reserved. CC-BY

Four people proudly pushing boundaries. Photo: mine! Licence: All rights reserved. CC-BY of course!

Jon Tennant (pictured above) gave Jack, as promised, a copy of his new book, which I also have a copy of. Peter Murray-Rust gave a rebel rousing talk, and an emotional slide of respect for the visionary pioneer of open notebook science, Jean-Claude Bradley, who sadly died this year.

The day ended with a closing keynote from John Wilbanks which was really the perfect cherry-on-top of the icing of a brilliant first day. It’s only been a few days but his talk slides, ‘Open as a Platform‘ have racked-up nearly 1000 views and I’m not surprised. I’d better not blather on too much, but put it this way: Wilbanks is a hero to me. I love some of things he’s said before and I’ve really taken them to heart in my work e.g. “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The 2nd best time is NOW” from ‘Data sharing as a means to a revolution‘. It was simply great to be able to chat to both Michael Carroll and John Wilbanks at the evening reception.

Miscellaneous Day 2 Highlights (If I don’t abbreviate this blog post soon, it’ll be book length)

Audrey Watters keynote talk ‘From “Open” to Justice‘ had a clear closing message: open is necessary but it’s not enough, we need meaningful political engagement, care and justice. The word ‘open’ alone does not solve all our problems (I may have paraphrased!).

Erin McKiernan‘s keynote was an inspiration to us all. ‘Being Open as an Early Career Researcher‘ was a masterclass in DOING IT THE RIGHT WAY, with an abundance of supporting evidence. I haven’t had the privilege of seeing her speak before, and had heard lots about how good a speaker she is – I wasn’t disappointed. I completely stand with Erin when she says:

If I am going to ‘make it’ in science, it has to be on terms I can live with.

I sincerely look forward to working with Erin, Prateek, Meredith, Nick and others on future projects, most immediately, the Open Access Ambassadors meeting in Munich this December.

Project Presentations

All the project panels on day 2 were excellent. It’s great to see so many of our attendees, many of whom travelled along way to be here to get time on stage to tell us about their work.

Open Access around the world

Open Access around the world. Twitter / Iryna Kuchma. All rights reserved, copyright not mine.

I was particularly taken by Ahmed Ogunlaja‘s clever response, to the question of how he approaches OA advocacy in Nigeria:

Open Access wins all of the arguments all of the time

That in itself got a round of applause. It’s no exaggeration to say there were a lot of earnest rounds applause that day; no polite applause.

Another such spontaneous round of applause came when Penny Andrews took the microphone to raise a really important point/question about diversity and social mobility in research in a calm, professional, clear tone. The audience, myself included were simply floored by how erudite it was. Stunning. This is but a small sample of what Penny brought to OpenCon:

If you only work with people who are like you, your work will only be FOR people like you. Embrace diversity, even if it’s hard #opencon2014

Late into the night at the ‘unconference’ session perhaps circa 11pm, Jure Triglav found out that his ScienceGist summaries are being used (in a good way!) by a researcher as sample data to test against a machine-based paper summary approach — I hope Jure blogs more about that, it seemed pretty cool to me. I’m also hoping ScienceGist might be used on PeerJ. Watch this space…

Mitar, gave an excellent talk, PeerLibrary has come-on a lot since I last looked at it, and he seemed to be literally overflowing with brilliant ideas, awaiting implementation. He told me had been considering applying for a Sloan Foundation grant to support his excellent work, but hadn’t yet applied, so without his knowledge/consent I decided to send a cheeky tweet to encourage him! If Sloan won’t fund his project(s), I’m sure Shuttleworth will!


Carolina Botero’s talk  was an important closer for day 2. So so important. Sharing Research Is Not A Crime!

I’ve a written a long post and most of it is glowingly, sickeningly positive. What didn’t go well?

Well… this is all my fault but I do feel the ‘How to be an open researcher’ session run by Erin & myself could have been smoother. We had technical difficulties setting-up the computer. BOTH our laptops only have HDMI connectors, no VGA, so we had to borrow Georgina‘s Mac & neither Erin nor I are particularly great Mac users (4-finger swiping between the browser and the presentation slides was challenging!), on linux this is very easy to do, just Alt-Tab & cycle through to the window you want. I must also apologise to Erin for launching into a mini-rant about figshare without forewarning her – I have concerns about putting too much open data on a commercial platform, that there simply isn’t enough space in this blog post to get into. Another time! But in principle I think double-teaming a lively workshop like this works really well — especially if we have slightly different viewpoints on some tool or strategy.

Day 3: On The Hill

Well, I learn’t a little about Minnesota whilst sitting in Amy J. Klobuchar‘s office. In our short time with a legislative assistant of hers, we pitched hard for Open Access & Open Educational Resources.

I highlighted that US taxpayer-funded academics give their work for free to commercial publishers, other academics peer-review this content, for free, the publisher barely does anything aside from typesetting & putting the content online, and hence most of the big publishers are consistently making 30-40% profit margins on taxpayer-funded research. [Standard knowledge basically] I was also quick to allay any concern that it would harm US businesses – I pointed out that most of the large publishers were European – Elsevier (Dutch), Springer (German), Nature Publishing Group (UK). It was a little disappointing to have only 30 minutes but that apparently was a good innings as these things go.

Whilst I honestly have no idea what will come of the Minnesota Senator meeting, the meeting at NIH was seriously productive.

NIH was simply fabulous for all involved, including NIH if you ask me! Many of the younger early career researchers got to see detailed & complicated concerns of their (relatively) more senior attendees e.g. Prateek Malwahar, Daniel Mietchen, Lauren Maggio, Karin Shorthouse and myself. I was worried that perhaps we might have ‘dominated’ the discussion a bit too much, but after discussing it with Shannon Evans afterwards – many actually really enjoyed seeing research-savvy people really dig into difficult policy issues. Natalia Norori‘s question near the end was also brilliantly appropriate, and the response rather chilling (although I should be clear, I’m not trying to shoot the messenger here!) — the USA has some deep political problems if disclosing the number of people using PubMed from outside the US is a ‘bad’ thing (those who were there will know exactly what I’m talking about!). I’m also hugely excited by the prospect of the OA_Button *potentially* getting a linkout button on Pubmed – Kent Anderson’ll love that, eh?.

Daniel Mietchen & I gave some valuable feedback on the packaging of the PubMed OA subset – the contention was that it wasn’t seeing much visible use, and yet Daniel & I both feel this is wrong — there are many users out there — it’s just hard to publish mining research because it’s often new/interdisciplinary and how does one ‘cite’ PubMed corpus usage anyhow? — it’s clearly going to be difficult to track users.

I was hugely flattered when Neil Thakur said he’s read my blog before! wow! Hope you like this post Neil.

Swapping shirts & the super-friendly culture at OpenCon

I gave out my 2 spare ‘Boycott Elsevier’ t-shirts at OpenCon this year, and I think I’ll make shirt-swapping a regular thing if I can! First, it was my immense pleasure to swap shirts with Daniel Mutonga at the organizing committee dinner. To his credit, Daniel was the one who suggested it: ‘like football players after a game’ , so I put on his MSAKE tee & he put on my ‘Boycott Elsevier’ tee. Fantastic. I think I should swap t-shirts with someone at every conference. Shannon (?) told me an interesting variation on this one, which also sounds like a good idea to implement: swapping pin badges.

I gave the other spare ‘Boycott Elsevier’ t-shirt to Erin McKiernan. We joked it would be hilarious to wear at SfN. Although, slightly concerned for how it would be received I did make clear that I didn’t mind if she chose not to wear it at SfN. She’s since tweeted me a picture wearing it in front of the Elsevier stand – exactly what I’d do! Every penny spent on those t-shirts has been totally worth it – such a good medium for non-violent, high profile activism!

The ‘backchannel’ discussion on twitter between OpenCon attendees & remote followers of the conference was also brilliant. Lots of lively, informative, intelligent threads of discussion sparked by lots of the talks, simply excellent.

It was also great to see Celya Gruson-Daniel again – she’s a real unsung hero of open science – if you aren’t aware of her project HackYourPhD go check it out NOW. Community building is immensely important and she’s clearly very good at it. It’s immensely & deservedly popular in the Franco-phone world. (I wonder if there are similar wildly successful Spanish-language open science communities? Please point them in my direction if you know of one!)

I must also thank Kurtis Baude for interviewing me about open research data in one of the breaks – his enthusiasm for spreading open science is infectious – we had a great chat together.


People making change for the better

People making change for the better

Being at OpenCon, more than at any other meeting, I was truly amongst friends. I was going to list everyone here in thanks but a list of 175 names isn’t much fun to read & I wouldn’t want to miss anyone out! Sorry to anyone I didn’t mention by name!


Rejected. Image copied from . All rights reserved, not my copyright

Rejected. Image copied from HuffPo / Leslie Goshko. All rights reserved, not my copyright.

I have to admit, I went to OpenCon feeling a little bit low. My cranial / postcranial data comparison manuscript from my PhD had been recently rejected (again). Not on the basis that it was bad science, just that it wasn’t quite interesting enough for readers of the particular journal we (re)submitted it to. I gather this happens a lot with traditional impact-factor chasing publication strategies, and it can ruin alter career paths before they even get started. To have spent 4 years doing a PhD & 3 years of that on/off trying(ish) to publish this particular chapter and STILL have nothing, not even a preprint to publicly show for it (don’t even ask why I can’t put up a preprint. I think preprints are a great idea myself…). I was a tad depressed – let’s not pretend this doesn’t happen to us all, folks. Real Talk

Luckily, OpenCon has completely changed my mood for the better and reminded me of all the important things I did do during my PhD:

* I published *shrugs* in academic journals. I’m not even going to link to what I did manage to publish. I have a h-index, yada yada… I think all of the below were more important contributions, with more real-world impact to be honest:

* I debated Open Access live on BBC Radio 3 with MP David Willetts & others

* I gave a pretty darn good talk about content mining at the European Commission ‘Licences for Europe, Working Group 4: Text & Data Mining’ event. Which helped stave-off the unwanted imposition of ‘licensed’ content mining in Europe.

* I submitted well-reasoned, written evidence, to the UK Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) call for information on Open Access policy

* I wrote popular & influential, blog pieces for the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog: one on simple steps towards open scholarship, and the other on the UK Hargreaves copyright exception allowing non-commercial content mining.

I write the above list, self-indulgently to convince myself I’m not stupid. I can do clever stuff. I’m pretty sharp when it comes to research policy, and I have ideas and enthusiasm to help make research more open (== better). I think I’ve proved that now, time and time again.

Next week I’m meeting up with my supervisor and we’re going to work on revising & resubmitting that manuscript again. And thanks to OpenCon 2014 I’m actually in the mood to do that. Thanks Generation Open. You’re awesome.

Stay cool. Copied from Haney. All rights reserved, not my copyright.

Stay cool. Copied from Tumblr / Haney. All rights reserved, not my copyright.


A quick blog from Meise, Belgium at the Pro-iBiosphere wrap-up event.

Yesterday I gave a talk about my progress liberating, and making searchable, OA figures from academic literature:


I’ve had a lot of great feedback and interest in what I’m doing with this.

Cyndy Parr has pointed out that EOL are on Flickr too, and have been marking-up photographs of taxa with ‘machine tags‘.

I will now start to experiment with how I can incorporate taxonomic & geographical machine tags into my workflow when uploading images to Flickr. As an example I have added binomial tags to two figures from an OA Zootaxa paper on ‘Urothrips’:


see bottom right hand corner for the added 'machine tags'

see bottom right hand corner for the added ‘machine tags’













Jeremy Miller from Naturalis is also very interested in OA Zootaxa content from the point of view of spiders. He gave a talk on Data Visualization on behalf of his team from the Leiden hackday. Luckily, with no prior ‘special’ mark-up, by searching ‘Araneae‘ I could show Jeremy the promise of what I’m doing on Flickr. Many phylogenies containing spider taxa came up in the search, many of which he immediately recognized as from his own open access publications! With a little bit of work to further mark-up the attributes he’s interested in, I might be able to provide something of real use – the ability to search figure images/captions across hundreds of open access journals, from many different publishers with just ONE search!

The Bouchout Declaration will be launched today at this meeting. I’m happy to say I facilitated the signing of this declaration by Open Knowledge. Many other organisations have signed this declaration and I hope it makes a splash – we need science to be open to do good science!

Finally, I’ve also potentially got a new research collaboration going (more of which later!).
It’s been well worth the trip!

[Update: the conference itself will be in November, 2014 – this is just the first announcement!]

I’m super excited to announce I’m part of the international organizing committee for OpenCon 2014:

OpenCon 2014





You can read the official first press release about this event here:


here’s an excerpt from it:

“From Nigeria to Norway, the next generation is beginning to take ownership of the system of scholarly communication which they will inherit,” said Nick Shockey, founding Director of the Right to Research Coalition. “OpenCon 2014 will support and accelerate this rapidly growing movement of students and early career researchers advocating for openness in research literature, education, and data.

The first event of its kind, OpenCon 2014 builds on the success of the Berlin 11 Satellite Conference for Students and Early Stage Researchers, which brought together more than 70 participants from 35 countries to engage on Open Access to scientific and scholarly research. The interest, energy, and passion from the student and researcher participants and the Open Access movement leaders who attended made a clear case for expanding the event in size and duration, and to broaden the scope to related areas of the Openness movement.”


Last year, I was also part of the organizing committee for the event that this has grown from – the Berlin 11 Satellite conference:






The Berlin 11 Satellite Conference was really exciting but only a 1-day event before the ‘main’ Berlin 11 event – an assemblage of students and ECR’s from literally all over the world (attending with generous full funding support), including representatives from (in no particular order) China, India, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Tanzania, Tasmania(!), Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Columbia, FYR Macedonia,  Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Poland, Portugal, Canada, the US, the UK… So don’t worry about where you are in the world – as long as you’re a student or ECR you’ll be eligible to apply for OpenCon 2014 (places are limited though!).

As a reminder, at the event last year we had Jack Andraka and Mike Taylor amongst the guest speakers. It was such a comprehensive success that it’s been expanded into a full 3-day event this year, expanding scope too, to includmeandjacke Open Data and OER, not just OA (they’re all obviously inter-related problems; better to tackle the integrated set of problems rather than aspects in isolation!).

Applications for OpenCon 2014 will open in August. For more information about the conference and to sign up for updates, visit

I promise you this – it’s going to be BIG and I’m stoked to be part of an international organizing committee helping to make this happen.

OpenCon 2014 is also looking for additional sponsorship, particularly for Travel Scholarships to ensure global representation at this meeting, so if you have a marketing budget to spend, or are feeling generous please do have a look at the sponsorship opportunities.

I’m proud to announce an interesting public output from my BBSRC-funded postdoc project:
PLUTo: Phyloinformatic Literature Unlocking Tools. Software for making published phyloinformatic data discoverable, open, and reusable


Screenshot of some of the PLOS ONE phylogeny figure collection on Flickr















I’ve made openly available my first-pass filter of PLOS ONE phylogeny figures (I’m not in any way claiming this is *all* of them).

This curated & tagged image collection is on Flickr for easy browsing:

As well as on Github for version control, open archiving, and collaboration (I have remote collaborators):

(Github doesn’t like repositories over 1GB so I’ve had to split-up the content between 4 separate repositories)



The aim of the PLUTo project is to re-extract & liberate phylogenetic data & associated metadata from the research literature. Sadly, only ~4% of modern published phylogenetic analysis studies make their underlying data available. Another study finds that if you ask the authors for this data, only 16% will be kind enough to reply with the requested data!

This particular data type is a cornerstone of modern evolutionary biology. You’ll find phylogenetic analyses across a whole host of journal subjects – medical, ecological, natural history, palaeontology… There are also many different ways in which this data can be re-used e.g. supertrees  & comparative cladistics. Not to mention, simple validation studies &/or analyses which extend-upon or map new data on to a phylogeny. It’s really useful data and we should be archiving it for future re-use and re-analysis. To my great delight, this is what I’m being paid to attempt to do for my first postdoc; on a grant I co-wrote – finding & liberating phylogenetic data for everyone!




  •  It’s a BOAI-compliant open access journal that publishes most articles under CC BY, with a few under CC0.
    • This means I can openly re-publish figures online (provided sufficient attribution is given) — no need to worry about DMCA takedown notices or ‘getting sued’! This makes the process of research much easier. Private, non-public, access-restricted repositories for collaboration are a hassle I’d rather do without.
  • It’s a high-volume ‘megajournal’ publishing ~200 articles per day, many of which include phylogenetic analyses.
    • Thus its worthwhile establishing a regular daily or weekly method for parsing-out phylogenetic tree figures from this journal
  • Killer feature: as far as I know, PLOS are the only publisher to embed rich metadata inside their figure image files.
    • This makes satisfying the CC BY licence trivially easy — sufficient attribution metadata is already embedded in the file. Just ensure that wherever you’re uploading the file to doesn’t wipe this embedded data, hence why I chose Flickr as my initial upload platform.


What does this enable or make easier?


On it’s own, this collection doesn’t do much, this is still an early stage – but it gives us an important insight into the prevalence of certain types of visual display-style that researchers are using:

‘radial’ phylogenies

Source: Zerillo et al 2013 PLOS ONE. Carbohydrate-Active Enzymes in Pythium and Their Role in Plant Cell Wall and Storage Polysaccharide Degradation

Source: Zerillo et al 2013 PLOS ONE. Carbohydrate-Active Enzymes in Pythium and Their Role in Plant Cell Wall and Storage Polysaccharide Degradation














‘geophylogeny’ (phylogeny displayed relative to a map of some sort, 2D or 3D)

Source: Guo et al 2012 PLOS ONE. Evolution and Biogeography of the Slipper Orchids: Eocene Vicariance of the Conduplicate Genera in the Old and New World Tropics

Source: Guo et al 2012 PLOS ONE. Evolution and Biogeography of the Slipper Orchids: Eocene Vicariance of the Conduplicate Genera in the Old and New World Tropics











‘timescaled’ (phylogenies where the branch lengths are proportional to units of time or geological periods)

Source: Pol et al 2014 PLOS ONE. A New Notosuchian from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil and the Phylogeny of Advanced Notosuchians

Source: Pol et al 2014 PLOS ONE. A New Notosuchian from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil and the Phylogeny of Advanced Notosuchians











Source: McDowell et al 2013 PLOS ONE. The Opportunistic Pathogen Propionibacterium acnes: Insights into Typing, Human Disease, Clonal Diversification and CAMP Factor Evolution

Source: McDowell et al 2013 PLOS ONE. The Opportunistic Pathogen Propionibacterium acnes: Insights into Typing, Human Disease, Clonal Diversification and CAMP Factor Evolution












Arguably it also facilitates complex searches for specific types of phylogeny

e.g. analyses using cytochrome b
(you could use PLOS’s API to do this, particularly their figure/table caption search field — but you’d get a lot of false positives — this is an expert-curated collection that has filtered-out non-phylo figures)

In my initial roadmap, the plan is to do PLOS ONE, the other PLOS journals, then BMC journals, then possibly Zootaxa & Phytotaxa (Magnolia Press). There will be a Github-based website for the project soon, lots still to do…!


Want to know more / collaborate / critique ?


I’ve got an accepted lightning talk at iEvoBio in Raleigh, NC later this year about the PLUTo project.

As well as an accepted lightning talk at the Bioinformatics Open Source Conference (BOSC) in Boston, MA.

Elsewise, contact me via twitter @rmounce , the comment section on this blog post, or email ross dot mounce <at> gmail dot com