Show me the data!

Some further questions for SVP about their talk abstract embargo

August 24th, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Conferences | Open Access | Palaeontology - (Comments Off on Some further questions for SVP about their talk abstract embargo)

I just sent this email to Darin Croft (of SVP). I chose to contact him because he recently answered questions about the embargo for EmbargoWatch and it was rather unclear who else I should approach. I did not want to blanket email the whole council.

This is the (entire) email I sent him, from my gmail account:
(I will post his reply as and when I receive it)

Dear Darin,

It’s been noted many times before, by many different researchers – but the SVP meeting abstract embargo just doesn’t make sense to me. I know of no other conference that operates like this, and indeed for most other conferences the abstract booklet (and it’s open, free availability online) is a big promotional aid in getting people interested in the event in the lead-up to it.

I saw you answered some questions on EmbargoWatch recently, so I thought you might be the correct person to contact for my queries on the same subject:

I have blogged my own displeasure with the embargo policy here:

I would like to ask:

1.) What would happen if a researcher (and SVP member) deliberately broke the embargo and blogged/tweeted/published research that was the basis of their own submitted talk abstract (I’m surprised this hasn’t happened already tbh, given how early the abstract deadline is – some e-journals have very quick turnaround times…)

2.) What would happen if a researcher (and SVP member) broke the embargo and blogged or tweeted some or all the of the content of another researcher’s talk abstract

3.) If a blogger or journalist *did* write an article or two on the basis of the meeting abstract booklet – do you seriously think that could harm the chances of VP’ers getting published in one of the glamour mags?

I look forward to hearing from you, and will publish your response in full context with this email on my blog



Ross Mounce
PhD Student & Panton Fellow
Fossils, Phylogeny and Macroevolution Research Group
University of Bath, 4 South Building, Lab 1.07

Sometimes you just have to laugh…

The year is 2012, we have the internet, we have blogs, and a huge variety of other tools to enable free, efficient and rapid communication of information and yet the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting rules still insist that all information within this year’s abstract booklet remain a big secret until the day of the event.

Many others have justly written to complain about this before.

Here’s the 2012 version I just received in my inbox today:

SVP Embargo Policy Regarding Content in the Program and Abstract Book

Unless specified otherwise, coverage of abstracts presented orally at the Annual Meeting is strictly prohibited until the start time of the presentation, and coverage of poster presentations is prohibited until the relevant poster session opens for viewing. As defined here, “œcoverage” includes all types of electronic and print media; this includes blogging, tweeting and other intent to communicate or disseminate results or discussion presented at the SVP Annual Meeting. Content that may be pre-published online in advance of print publication is also subject to the SVP embargo policy.

So I think I can tell you I’m giving a talk there in the ‘Phylogenetic and Comparative Paleobiology — New Approaches to the Study of Vertebrate Macroevolution’ symposium.

But can I tell you what the title of my talk is, or the abstract I submitted (a rather long time ago, which is another bugbear I have with this particular conference)? Well, given the quote above, probably not!

And therein is part of the ridiculousness of the embargo. By submitting a (subsequently accepted) talk & abstract to this conference – I’m banned from communicating about my own research on that subject until I give the talk. Not even a tweet about it.

It also seems to me that they’re preventing their own members from effectively promoting the event with this policy. Wouldn’t it be great if all speakers could blog and tweet: “Hey, I’m giving a talk on new dinosaur XXXX and it’s unusual anatomy (further details of which are in my abstract here) at a meeting in Raleigh, NC. Come along, tickets still available here” Isn’t that 100 times better than “Hey, I’m giving a talk at this conference – I can’t tell you what the title is or the subject, sorry” ?

This policy strikes me as a massive and unjustified own goal. I appreciate some of the science glamour mags don’t take kindly to press reportage of science before it is published in their glossy pages BUT I think we’ve got to remember that science talks & posters are NOT papers, and they should not and are not treated as such. The abstracts for SVP are only minimally peer-reviewed before acceptance and the talk content itself is completely unreviewed. Therefore if a journalist/blogger/tweeter did report on the abstract booklet (and btw, it would take tremendous journalistic spin to make good, interesting copy from most talk abstracts I’ve ever seen – they’re rather short!) they’d be reporting non-peer reviewed discussion, that may or may not be related to unspecified future peer-reviewed publications. So I don’t buy [what I presume is the justification for all this?] the argument that reportage of talk abstracts jeopardises the publication of peer-reviewed papers. The two may be related, but are also very distinct from each other.

I think it’s only a matter of time until this policy changes. SVP have being doing reasonably well with respect to openness recently. They’ve reduced their hybrid Open Access fees, and instituted new editorial policy encouraging data archiving so that data published in their journal is more transparent & re-usable (=better science). But it seems there are still improvements to be made. Will there be an abstract embargo in 2013 I wonder? I for one hope not.

Open Access discussed on the radio

August 20th, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Open Access - (Comments Off on Open Access discussed on the radio)

[I’m cross posting this from the OKFN version so I can embed the audio of the show in the post]

Last Friday (17/08/12), representing the Open Knowledge Foundation, I had the pleasure of discussing the new Research Councils UK (RCUK) plan for all UK publicly-funded research to be published Open Access, on a special half hour Voice of Russia UK broadcast radio discussion.

I have written about this policy before and am very supportive of it, just as I am with Open Access in academia in general. I personally believe it will aid transparency and equality in research – so that no researcher has an unfair advantage over another through greater/easier access to vital research literature (just one of many worthy benefits arising from Open Access). But there are certainly also vocal opponents to this plan – mostly those with vested interests in keeping the obscene profits of the traditional subscription access publishing system alive (which commonly generate >30% profit margins largely derived from the taxpayer-spending of the world’s research libraries on journal subscriptions). Whilst others express vague and often unspecified “concerns” about Open Access and further still many academics are notably apathetic towards it, or are even proudly agnostic on the issue.

Thus a publicly-broadcast discussion of this new open policy is well warranted.

No secret science
[wpaudio url=”″ text=”Voice of Russia UK radio Open Access discussion hosted by Daniel Cinna” ]
I won’t say anything about the discussion itself, only that you should listen to it (embedded above; alt link here) if you are at all interested in the future of science, and the benefits of the new RCUK Open Access policy.

The members of the discussion panel included Rita Gardner, the Director of the Royal Geographical Society, noted for her concerns about the potential effects of Open Access on UK Learned Society income and revenue [paywalled link]; Ross Mounce, Panton Fellow promoting open data in science (myself) from the Open Knowledge Foundation; Bjorn Brembs, Professor at the Department of Genetics at the University of Leipzig, noted critic of for-profit publishers and their lack of ‘value-add’ amongst other issues; and Timothy Gowers, the Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, instigator of the popular academic-led boycott of the academic for-profit publisher Elsevier.

The ensuing discussion was ably guided by VoiceofRussia radio presenter Daniel Cinna, and recorded by a backroom team with an impressively professional studio setup (Timothy & Bjorn were joining the debate via phone from abroad almost seemlessly, whilst Rita and I were in the London studio). As noted by Rita off-air, it would have been nice to have had a publisher representative in the discussion to add their unique viewpoint but apparently the VoR production team had asked, but no for-profit publisher they had asked was willing to take part. So one cannot attribute any blame to the VoR team if the discussion panel lacked representational balance.

About Voice of Russia (adapted from their own website):

The Voice of Russia is the world’s oldest international broadcaster and is among the world’s top five radio broadcasters today which include the BBC, the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Radio France International. The London-based team produces programs for VoR that bring our listeners a Russian perspective on our two countries and the world. VoR broadcasts to 160 countries in 38 languages using short and medium waves, FM, satellite and the global communications network. In London we are now also available online and via DAB radio. We aim to welcome a new British audience to our 109 million listeners worldwide.

Panton Fellowship updates: July (month 4)

August 4th, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Content Mining | Panton Fellowship updates - (Comments Off on Panton Fellowship updates: July (month 4))

It’s the Olympics now so this work update is a) late and b) short


As ever progress has been exciting – look what we can extract from some PDFs:

(click to enlarge each) Attribution: The left panel is from Cánovas et al. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011 11:371 doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-371

On the left is the original figure, and on the right we have an SVG representation of the data we can extract automatically from this figure. We have the topology, the taxon labels AND the support values 100% correctly interpreted! Obviously we can’t reclaim phylogenetic data with this much precision and recall from all papers. But it’s a promising example, automatically generated – no manual guidance or tweaking needed – just feed it the PDF. [My WordPress server won’t let me upload the original SVG copy of this for “security reasons” so the image on the right is a .jpg copy of the original .svg]


I should also note this was achieved completely independently of previous image-based tree-extraction softwares like TreeSnatcher Plus, TreeRipper & TreeThief. This is a great example of why it’s very important for editors and publishers to strictly stipulate that diagrams in figures containing data such as this be uploaded and produced in the final PDF version as lossless vector graphics rather than lossy bitmaps such as .png .jpg or .bmp – only vectors keep the fidelity of the underlying data. We note that there are many publishers out there who regularly seem to produce figures in their PDFs that are NOT on the whole very good quality wrt this. Difficult to know whether the authors or the publishers are to blame in each case but either way standards need to be improved.


By mining PDFs we can re-extract and re-release far more than just phylogenetic data from the literature – we’re fairly sure we can reliably identify the rough type of figure depicted in PDFs by machine methods using certain diagnostic features such as number & proportion of horizontal and vertical lines.



Peter Murray-Rust & I now are looking for a collaborator to help us implement machine learning methods to classify scientific figures into discrete categories e.g. bar charts, scatter plots, network diagrams (including phylogenies), pie charts, box & whisker plots etc… in an automated way.

If you’re interested please contact myself or Peter.

That’s all for now.

PS If you’re watching the London 2012 Olympics Volleyball tomorrow morning you may well just see me in the crowd. Managed to snaffle some returned tickets by setting up an alert for new tickets using a combination of (to alert me to page changes on the ticket website) and to email me as soon as the RSS feed gets a new item (updated ticket information). Without this nifty trick I very much doubt I’d have got any tickets.