Show me the data!

Suppression as a form of liberation?

July 3rd, 2020 | Posted by rmounce in Research Assessment - (Comments Off on Suppression as a form of liberation?)

On Monday 29th June 2020, I learned from Retraction Watch that Clarivate, the for-profit proprietor of Journal Impact Factor ™ has newly “suppressed” 33 journals from their indexing service. The immediate consequence of this “suppression” is that these 33 journals do not get assigned an official Clarivate Journal Impact Factor ™ . Clarivate justify this action on the basis of “anomalous citation patterns” but without much further detail given for each of the journals other than the overall “% Self-cites” of the journal, and the effect of those self-cites on Clarivate’s citation-based ranking of journals (% Distortion of category rank).

Amongst the 33 journals, I spotted not one but two systematics journals that I know very well:

I have read, cited, and analysed (textmining and image analysis) articles from both of these journals extensively. Chapter 6 of my PhD thesis mined over 12,000 Zootaxa articles looking for phylogenetic data. In a more recent work published in Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO Journal), I mined over 5,800 IJSEM articles for phylogenetic tree data. Of relevance, I should also say I was a council member of the Systematics Association for many years.

Given the experiences listed above, I am therefore very well placed to say that what Clarivate has done to these two systematics journals is utter brainless idiocy.

The reason why Zootaxa articles cite quite a high proportion of other Zootaxa articles is obvious (“self-citation” at the journal-level from Clarivate’s point-of-view) to anyone in the discipline. Zootaxa is an important ‘megajournal’ for the zoological systematics community. According to data Zootaxa published over 5,000 items (articles and monographs) between 2018 and 2019. Clarivate’s own records from another one of their proprietary analytics services called ‘Zoological Record‘ indicate that 26.57% of all new zoological taxa are published in Zootaxa. For many decades descriptive taxonomy has been pushed-out of for-profit journals. Zootaxa is a vital refugia for sound science in a poorly funded discipline.

The case for legitimate ‘high’ journal-level self-citation at International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology (IJSEM) is even clearer and easier to explain. The International Code of Nomenclature of Prokaryotes (ICNP) requires that all new bacteria names are published in IJSEM and nowhere else (a very sensible idea which the bacteriology community should be commended for). Hence a lot of the systematic and evolutionary microbiology articles in IJSEM will cite prior IJSEM articles.

Wayne Maddison has commented on Twitter that the hardest hit researchers by this action might be those in developing countries. I agree. The problem here is that many institutions and research funders idiotically use the Journal Impact Factor ™ to assess the quality of an individual’s research output. In some regimes, if a researcher publishes a paper in a journal that has a Journal Impact Factor ™ then it ‘counts’, whereas if a researcher publishes a paper in a journal that has not been given an official Journal Impact Factor ™ by Clarivate then that paper may not ‘count’ towards the assessment of that researcher.

The zoology section of the Chilean Society of Biology has already petitioned Clarivate to unsuppress Zootaxa, to give it back its Journal Impact Factor ™ . I understand why they would do this but I would actually call for something quite different and more far-reaching.

I would encourage all systematists, taxonomists, zoologists, microbiologists, and biologists in general to see the real problem here: Clarivate, a for-profit analytics company, should never be so relied-upon by research evaluation committees to arbitrarily decide the value of a research output. Especially given that the Journal Impact Factor ™ is untransparent, irreproducible, and fundamentally statistically illiterate.

Thus to bring us back to my title. I wonder if Clarivate’s wacky “suppression” might actually be a pathway to liberation from the inappropriate stupidity of using Journal Impact Factor ™ to evaluate individual research outputs. Given we have all now witnessed just how brainless some of Clarivate’s decision making is, I would ask Clarivate to please “suppress” all journals thereby removing the harmful stupidity of Journal Impact Factor ™ from the lives of researchers.

Referring Elsevier/RELX to the Advertising Standards Authority

May 14th, 2018 | Posted by rmounce in Paywall Watch - (Comments Off on Referring Elsevier/RELX to the Advertising Standards Authority)

In late 2016, Martin Eve, Stuart Lawson and Jon Tennant referred Elsevier/RELX to the Competition and Markets Authority. Inspired by this, I thought I would try referring a complaint to the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about some blatant fibbing I saw Elsevier engage-in with their marketing spiel at a recent conference.

The content of my submission is below:

Name: Ross Mounce

Ad type: Leaflets, flyers and circulars

Brand/product: Elsevier

Date: 26th February 2018

Your complaint:
Elsevier, a large academic publishing company, have flyers and a large poster, both containing the same information at the Researcher to Reader Conference (British Medical Association House, London). They claim on both the flyers and the poster that “Fact #2: Our APC prices are value for money Our APC prices range from $150 – $5000 US dollars…” [APC means Article Processing Charge, a publishing service for academic customers] I believe this is false advertising as some of their journals clearly charge $5200 US dollars as an APC. $5200 is greater than the maximum of $5000 advertised. They also report these prices without VAT added-on, this is also misleading as this meeting is in the UK. UK customers choosing this service would have to pay the APC plus VAT tax and so the prices should be displayed inclusive of taxes in adverts like this. There is no mention of the need to pay VAT on either the flyers or the poster. I went to their website the same day and found thirteen journals published at Elsevier, that by Elsevier’s own price list charge $5200 US dollars, not including VAT. Those journals are: Cancer Cell, Cell, Cell Chemical Biology, Cell Host & Microbe, Cell Metabolism, Cell Stem Cell, Cell Systems, Current Biology, Developmental Cell, Immunity, Molecular Cell, Neuron, and Structure. For reference I have attached a PDF of Elsevier’s online price list which I downloaded from Elsevier’s official website here: which takes one to this PDF URL:

I attached images of the offending poster and flyers. Below is a photo I took of the misleading flyer:

Misleading Elsevier Flyer

I am pleased to announce that the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld my complaint.

Here is their reply:

ASA Enquiry Ref: A18-443580 – RELX (UK) Ltd t/a Elsevier

Dear Dr Mounce,

Thank you for contacting the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Your Complaint: RELX (UK) Ltd t/a Elsevier

I understand from your complaint that you felt that Elsevier’s advertising was misleading because it did not accurately reflect the price range of their products and they do not quote prices with VAT.  Please note that we have only reviewed the leaflet which you forwarded to us, because we considered that the sign constituted point of sale material, which is not covered by our Codes.

We have concluded that the leaflet was likely to have breached the Advertising Rules that we apply and I am writing to let you know that we have taken steps to address this.

We have explained your concerns to the advertiser and provided guidance to them on the areas that require attention, together with advice on how to ensure that their advertising complies with the Codes.

Comments such as yours help us to understand the issues that matter to consumers and we will keep a record of your complaint on file for use in future monitoring. If you would like more information about our complaint handling principles, please visit our website here.

Thank you once again for contacting us with your concerns.

Yours sincerely,


Damson Warner-Allen

Complaints Executive

Direct line 020 7492 2173

Advertising Standards Authority

Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn

London WC1V 6QT

Telephone 020 7492 2222

I am thrilled that the Advertising Standards Authority has officially upheld my complaint, and I encourage others who notice similar problems with Elsevier’s business practices, and that of other academic publishers to come forward with further complaints. These companies are not immune to regulation – they must abide by the law at all times. The punishment for now is just a slap-on-the-wrist but if they are consistently caught misadvertising, stronger punishments can and would be meted out. Perhaps now is the time for more regulators to start seriously investigating complaints about these richly profitable publishing companies with dubious business practices? Watch this space…

Open in order to unleash the power of text mining

October 23rd, 2017 | Posted by rmounce in Generation Open | Open Access - (Comments Off on Open in order to unleash the power of text mining)

In 2017, we have a vast toolbox of informative methods to help us analyse large volumes of text. Sentiment analysis, topic modelling, and named entity recognition are to name but a few of these exciting approaches. Computational power and storage capacity are not the limiting factors on what we could do with the 100 million or so journal articles that comprise the ever-growing research literature so far. But the continued observance of 17th century limitations on how we can use research are simply jarring. Thanks to computers and the internet, we have the ability to do wonderful things, but the licensing and access-restrictions placed on most of the research literature explicitly and artificially prevent most of us from trying. As a result, few researchers bother thinking about using text mining techniques – it is often simpler and easier to just farm-out repetitive large-scale literature analysis tasks to an array of student minions and volunteers to do by-hand – even though computers could and perhaps should be doing these analyses for us.

Inadequate computational access to research has already caused us great harm. Just ask the Ministry of Health in Liberia: they were not pleased to discover, after a lethal Ebola virus outbreak, that vital knowledge locked-away in “forgotten papers” published in the 1980’s, clearly warned that the Ebola virus might be present in Liberia. This information wasn’t in the title, keywords, metadata, or abstract; it was completely hidden behind a paywall. Full text mining approaches would have easily found this buried knowledge and would have provided vital early warning that Ebola could come to Liberia, which might have prevented some deaths during the West African Ebola virus epidemic (2013–2016)

Some subscription-based publishers have been known to use ‘defence’ mechanisms such as ‘trap URLs’ that hinder text miners – making it even harder to do basic research. Whilst other subscription publishers like Royal Society Publishing are helpfully supportive to text miners, as are open access publishers. Hindawi for instance, allows anyone to download every single article they’ve ever published with a single mouse-click. Thanks to open licensing, aggregators like Europe PubMedCentral can bring together the outputs of many different OA publishers, making millions of articles available with a minimum of fuss. It is “no bullshit” access. You want it? You can have it all. No need to beg permission, to spend months negotiating and signing additional contracts, nor to use complicated publisher-controlled access APIs, and their associated restrictions. Furthermore, OA publishers typically provide highly structured full-text XML files which make it even easier for text miners. But only a small fraction of the research literature is openly-licensed open access. It’s for these reasons and more that many of the best text-mining researchers operate-on and enrich our understanding of open access papers-only e.g. Florez-Vargas et al 2016.

So if I had but one wish this Christmas, it would be for the artificial, legally-imposed restrictions on the bulk download and analysis of research texts, to be unambiguously removed for everyone, worldwide – so that no researcher need fear imprisonment or other punitive action, simply for doing justified and ethical academic research. Unchain the literature, and we might be able to properly unleash and apply the collected knowledge of humanity.  


This is my short contribution for Open Access Week 2017, and the #OpenInOrderTo website created by SPARC, to move beyond talking about openness in itself and focus on what openness enables.


New Career, Same Me

April 17th, 2017 | Posted by rmounce in Open Access - (3 Comments)

This is a quick post to announce what I’ll be doing next after my postdoc at the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. From June 2017 onwards, I’m delighted to say I’ll be the new Open Access Grants Manager for Arcadia Fund.

About Arcadia Fund

If you haven’t heard of it before here’s what you need to know: Arcadia is a charitable fund, set up by Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing in 2002. So far, it has awarded more than $440 million to cultural, environmental and open access projects. Within the open access funding programme Arcadia have awarded grants to organisations including Creative Commons, Wikimedia Foundation, Authors Alliance, Public.Resource.Org, Internet Archive, Digital Public Library of America and more…

New Career, Same Me

When the job ad came-up I could scarcely believe how good the organisational fit was for me: Arcadia funds brilliant projects in this space. I am genuinely looking forward to developing and advising on Arcadia’s open access policy, to continue engaging with the wider open access community, to manage Arcadia’s existing grants portfolio, and to identify new opportunities for high impact initiatives where funding from Arcadia will make a difference.

I feel extremely grateful to have been chosen for this position against many other talented and experienced applicants (and friends!) and although it’ll take me many months to ‘learn the ropes’ I see this as my new career now, no going back. I’m now part of the 88% majority of UK postdocs who never secure a tenured position in academia; but don’t feel sorry for me – I’m delighted with this new direction. New career, same me.

A lot of passionate, intelligent young people with an academic background have jobs where they can really make a difference (i.e. not in academia). In this regard, I’m inspired by the likes of TJ Bliss at Hewlett Foundation, Carly Strasser at Moore Foundation, Nick Shockey at SPARC, Heather Piwowar and Jason Priem at Impactstory, Joe McArthur at The Right to Research Coalition, and Jonathon Gray at Open Knowledge. Now I’ve turned 30, I’m married, and I have a beautiful baby daughter. Some things have changed, but my passion for open knowledge hasn’t. Doing ‘open’ on the side of research wasn’t enough. Soon it’ll be my full time endeavour!