Show me the data!

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’m proud to announce I have a new article over at Palaeontology [Online]

The Palaeontology [Online] logo – by the P [O] team, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Posts at ‘P [O]’ are primarily aimed at public-engagement and since the site was launched back in July 2011, with sponsorship and support from the Palaeontology Association, one post per month has been featured on site. This month [December], I’ve written a rather different type of post for them. Not so much about fossils, creatures, classification and rocks – but instead on how palaeontology and science-as-a-whole is made available with respect to Open Access, Open Data, Open Source (code), and Open Educational Resources (OERs). Incidentally, I think it’s also the first P [O] post with embedded video content too – really making using of the digital medium!

I’ve tied these strands together with an explicit acknowledgement that Creative Commons has legally enabled all this Open content and that it’s a fantastic achievement. Consider it my early birthday present to celebrate that it’s now been nearly 10 years since Creative Commons first launched (#cc10 on Twitter btw for related news & events).

I’m hoping it will raise awareness that citizens & scientists alike can directly read the primary scientific literature themselves (via Open Access journals and articles) and they should be encouraged to – given as taxpayers they’ve paid for most of it to be created! Also more than just mere engagement, I’ve highlighted that uniquely with an Open philosophy there’s nothing stopping ‘amateur’ or citizen science contributions in palaeontology – it’s sad that more of the literature, data, code and educational resources in this area aren’t openly available for re-use – arguably the world would know a lot more about palaeontology if they were.

With specific reference to I try and make it clear what open actually means in this context. There’s been a lot of openwashing this year. Open is clearly a desirable state, and a label which will help sell and ‘add value’ to products, therefore both innocent and malicious temptation abounds to mistakenly label or brand things as ‘open’ when they are de facto not open. Education and awareness-raising clearly has a significant role to play here in preventing this problem.


During the production of the article some interesting points were raised, which in the end didn’t make it to the ‘final’ version of the post, so I’ll blog them here instead.


On Open Access:

For the sake of simplicity I neglected to point out that in actuality the definition of OA is slightly narrower and more specific than just open as per . OA is defined by the BOAI-definition which does not require nor allow(?) the ShareAlike (SA) clause. It does however require the Attribution clause (BY):

the relevant excerpt…

… The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited. …

see Mike Taylor’s excellent posts over at SVPOW for more.


On Open Data:

I wonder if perhaps there is still a perception out there that there are still technical barriers to sharing data openly?

Particularly with regard to very very large datasets & data files. I decided this was too niche a point for inclusion in the main post but in case anyone’s wondering – you can easily share *any* filesize these days.

Journals like GigaScience specialise in publishing ‘big data’ studies and already make available petabytes (=1 million gigabytes) worth of data. Data archives like figshare allow unlimited filesize uploads (only limited to 1GB if you keep it private), I’m sure Dryad would also be willing to archive large files. Want proof? Look no further than this 21GB database of microbial data that’s been downloaded at least 10 times as made available via BioTorrents – I couldn’t find anyone seeding it just now, but if there was greater institutional support for p2p data sharing I’m sure this would take off.


On Open Source (code):

There’s an excellent editorial in PLoS Computational Biology that regrettably I only just became aware of too late to include. It’s by Andreas Prlić & Hilmar Lapp the latter of whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently at NESCent in Durham, North Carolina. Its a short paper and Open Access so I recommend you all read at least the Why Do We Support Open-Source Scientific Software? section – it’s an excellent clear and concise summary of the greater value of open in this area.


On MOOCs: 

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) have some online courses available here, and whilst they’re probably of the very highest quality, they are neither MOOCs nor OERs because they’re not open, nor free. Each course costs $495 plus a $25 one-time registration fee. Grad credit is also available at an additional cost.

Perhaps one day the AMNH might be persuaded to run one of these courses as a MOOC? If not to help advertise and drive interest in the other courses but also to demonstrate their quality. If MIT can do it…

I should also refer interested readers to the excellent set of seminars on phylogenetics over at phyloseminar. I’ve virtually-attended (live, over-the-internet but not there in person) a few of these and have enjoyed recordings of others. It’s not a complete course (so not a MOOC) but depending upon exact licencing details could perhaps be classed as OER-like material.  The next one will be soon: 5pm (UK time) Wednesday 5th December Understanding biodiversity patterns using the Tree of Life given by Hélène Morlon.



All the posts over at P [O] are of very high-quality and are worthy academic contributions. As such I’m going to list my post there on my CV as soon as I update it. It’ll sit nicely in my publications list alongside articles in BMC Research Notes, Nature, and The Systematist. I deliberately intermix peer-reviewed publications and non-peer-reviewed publications to make people reconsider and examine the relative merits of each, rather than just counting volume or (worse) the journal Impact Factor which is of course irrelevant.

I encourage everyone else who’s published an article at P [O] to also proudly display it on their CV.



So there’s been a few already:

SpotOn day 1 & SpotOn day 2 being the best I’ve read, from Ian Mulvany

see also: SpotOn London – a global conference by Jon Tennant | #solo12 reflection by A J Cann | SpotOn London 2012 in brief by Charis Cook | Altmetric @ SpotOn London 2012 by Jean Liu, and more

but since SpotOn London 2012 was such an interesting event, and there were so many parallel sessions I thought it would be good to add some more to the post-conference discussion

Data is the new black

photo by Bastian Greshake (@gedankenstuecke), Copyright not mine.

It wasn’t just a popular badge at the conference… data is a hot topic in science right now (as it should be!). Data is an undervalued but absolutely vital output of research. Research funding agencies appear to have over-incentivized the production of research publications (many of which are mere executive summaries of the years of research effort they represent) to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Science isn’t just about the production of papers; data and code are extremely important research outputs too (I’m not going to mention patents – they’re a sticky issue best dealt with in another post). The good news is that funding bodies now seem to have realised that they’re seriously missing out on RoI by focusing solely on papers; just recently NSF Grant Proposal Guidelines changed with amended terminology away from narrow-measurement ‘Publications’ to the newer broader term ‘Products’ that explicitly recognises non-publication outputs as creditworthy first class research objects (incidentally, this was one of the many excellent suggestions made in the Force11 manifesto for ‘Improving Future Research Communication and e-Scholarship’ read it if you haven’t already).

The immense value to be gained, time to be saved, and innovative research enabled by making data available for re-use was up for discussion at the #solo12reuse session. Mark Hahnel (@figshare) was organiser/chair, and Sarah Callaghan (@sorcha_ni) of the British Atmospheric Data Centre and I were the invited panelists for a ~1hr slot. As the conference was extremely well-organized *all* sessions were live-streamed via Google Hangouts & made publicly available via YouTube afterwards. I’ve embedded the stream of the #solo12reuse session below:

A transcript of some of what was discussed:

Intro’s from ~02:00 … then straight into discussion from ~09:00 onwards: Josh Greenberg (@epistemographer) contends that data sharing in chemistry perhaps ‘doesn’t make as much sense’ – I have a feeling PMR & many others would disagree with this!

At 13:20 Sarah Callaghan: NERC sets its data embargo policy so that data can only be withheld for a maximum of 2 years after it was collected after which it must be made publicly available, somewhere, somehow – the ambiguity of which IMO needs to be worked on…

At 14:25 discussion of ‘levels of re-usability’ and definition. Access control as a means of encouraging data sharing (?)

17:30 Sarah Callaghan: “It’s important to have ‘first dibs’ on your own data” but not beyond this without peer-vetted justification/scrutiny IMO

18:30 David Shotton (@dshotton): noted that one shouldn’t expect absolutely every data point/item to be shared – not all data is useful/valuable. It’s about retaining & making available bits that might be of re-use value.

At 20:24 I start to introduce AMI2 & the OpenContentMining project.

37:50 I bring the Panton Principles on screen, I also had the OKFN Science Working Group page displayed (although not discussed) for a good ~10 minutes. Note to self: hijack the display computer at panel sessions more often…

from 40:17 onwards… Mark Hahnel: “In terms of re-use and getting people incentivized, are Data Papers the future?” Sarah Callaghan “NO. Until research achievement is predicated on something other than publishing in ‘high-impact’ journals then we’re stuffed: we’ve got to shoehorn data & code in order for them to ‘count’ [lamentably]” So for now we need data papers, but perhaps in the future we won’t need to constrain these outputs to a ‘paper’ style format.

from 43:00 Martin Fenner (@mfenner) plays Devil’s Advocate and suggests that data citation may not work and that perhaps #altmetrics might be better indicators of usage. Much debate ensues…

from 45:50 I give a plug to Iain H’s paper: ‘Open By Default’ Hrynaszkiewicz, I. and Cockerill, M. 2012. Open by default: a proposed copyright license and waiver agreement for open access research and data in peer-reviewed journals. BMC Research Notes 5:494+ then we discuss legal barriers to re-using data.

This post has taken a while to write and is fairly long now, so I’m going to split my recap of #solo12 into two or more parts now. In part 2 I’ll attempt to discuss some of other *excellent* sessions I saw, in particular the brilliant, well-received outburst on the absurd inefficiency of the publication process by professional typesetter Dr Kaveh Bazargan during the #solo12journals session. I’m surprised someone hasn’t done a whole blogpost about this already – it was my highlight of the conference tbh!
I’ll be posting part two on Monday 19th November (weekends are slow for blogs… I want people to read this!)

Until then…