Archive for category: e-Science

When your users tell you ‘you are not adding value’: Boycott against Elsevier

January 29th, 2012 by

Scott Aaronson uses an analogy to the game industry to describe the predicament academics are in:

I have an ingenious idea for a company. My company will be in the business of selling computer games.

But, unlike other computer game companies, mine will never have to hire a single programmer, game designer, or graphic artist. Instead I’ll simply find people who know how to make games, and ask them to donate their games to me. Naturally, anyone generous enough to donate a game will immediately relinquish all further rights to it. From then on, I alone will be the copyright-holder, distributor, and collector of royalties.

This is not to say, however, that I’ll provide no “value-added.” My company will be the one that packages the games in 25-cent cardboard boxes, then resells the boxes for up to $300 apiece.

But why would developers donate their games to me? Because they’ll need my seal of approval. I’ll convince developers that, if a game isn’t distributed by my company, then the game doesn’t “count”—indeed, barely even exists—and all their labor on it has been in vain.

As crazy as it sounds, this is exactly the situation with academic publishers. The ‘status quo’ is such that young researchers must publish on established journals (to gain the “seal of approval”). For older researchers, switching to open access publishing doesn’t pay off either: it’d show they don’t believe in the value the journals bring, and they are often editors of those (!).

And this is how the current academic publishing industry survives without adding much value. Survival is not the right word, because the leading firms still carry themselves around with arrogance. At the 2010 Semantic Web conference in Shanghai Jay Katzen, a keynote speaker from Elsevier, announced a big project on using the data on papers to create widgets. The API would allow people to do mashups with scientific data, that could be displayed on the publisher’s page. It was sold as “a new paradigm in the way research information is discovered, used, shared and re-used to accelerate science.” The reaction from the audience was instantaneous: “are you telling us that, not happy with monetizing the data and content we freely give you, you want us to build applications using that content for you to sell?”. The answer was honest: “… huh… yes.”

Today, many journal articles are online. In fact, the papers are often on the author’s homepage, and a simple query on google scholar or MS research search will find them. It is hard to imagine what value a publisher adds here.

However, the alternative is not clear. Open access publishing finds it difficult to obtain sustainable sources of financing. PLoS, the Public Library of Science, is financially sustainable, but ArXiv is struggling.

“Now it’s up to the rest of us to supply the anger.” Says Scott. Now more than 800 researchers have declared a boycott against Elsevier, up from 500 yesterday afternoon. Looks like the anger is there.

(An apology for the lack of posting. Dario has moved on to a position as senior researcher at Wikimedia, and I will be working on my startup full-time in a month. Often, I’ve seen blogpost-worthy issues, but I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to follow up).

Bollocks to waiting 10 years for progress

March 23rd, 2011 by
Open Data warrior Mark Hahnel (), the creator of FigShare, explains in this guest post the motivation behind the project and asks researchers why they aren’t publishing their research data.

I read a good quote the other day:

“Bollocks to waiting 10 years for progress. I want people to know about it now, and then do something about it” – Dr Paul Fisher

So why do we wait? Why isn’t there immediate publication, analysis and dissemination of data? Publication of Scientific data as it stands is a broken business model…for the most part. The advent of journals like PLoS and their subsequent success shows that the scientific community is taking note of what steps need to be taken. In my short life as a scientist, there has always been one thing that really annoys me. The inefficiency of scientific publishing and subsequent global sharing of knowledge. In terms of making significant advances available to wide audiences as peer reviewed publications, PLoS has it covered. But what about the rest of your research?

What percentage of the figures that went into your undergrad, masters or doctorate thesis were ever published? The ones that you didnt publish were probably good basic science, or figures that didnt tell a complete story. As a PhD student, I became very aware of the fact that a large amount of my data, although good, would never be published as it did not show significant differences. I then began wondering how many times experiments had been repeated globally unnecessarily. And so FigShare started life as an idea for researchers to publish all of their data that would otherwise never leave their lab books. By categorising and tagging the research, it becomes very searchable and other scientists should not reproduce experiments and waste money when they have been conducted several times by other labs. Following the alpha release, FigShare received a lot of attention and a lot of feedback. This caused the site to develop and it now allows the upload of Figures, Datasets and most recently media (eg. videos).

altmetrics11: Tracking scholarly impact on the Social Web

February 24th, 2011 by


Koblenz (Germany), 14-15 June 2011
An ACM Web Science Conference 2011 Workshop

Keynote: Mike Thelwall, University of Wolverhampton:
“Evaluating online evidence of research impact”

Call for papers

The increasing quantity and velocity of scientific output is presenting scholars with a deluge of data. There is growing concern that scholarly output may be swamping traditional mechanisms for both pre-publication filtering (e.g peer review) and post-publication impact filtering (e.g. the Journal Impact Factor).

Increasing scholarly use of Web2.0 tools like CiteULike, Mendeley, Twitter, and blog-style article commenting presents an opportunity to create new filters. Metrics based on a diverse set of social sources could yield broader, richer, and more timely assessments of current and potential scholarly impact. Realizing this, many authors have begun to call for investigation of these “altmetrics.” (see


Mendeley goes open

August 19th, 2010 by

After a few months of private testing, Mendeley announced the public release of their open API. This will allow developers and researchers to build applications and data analysis on top of a massive database of human-annotated scientific references.

We are excited to see our friends at Mendeley push forward on the open science front by making their database accessible to third parties and I look forward to seeing what developers will build on top of this data goldmine. In the meantime, check out the Mendeley Developer Portal or follow the dedicated for updates.

Science Online London 2010

August 11th, 2010 by

There is only a bunch of tickets left for one of the most exciting annual events in the area of ICT for science. Hosted by Mendeley, Nature and the British Library, the second edition of Science Online London (3-4 September 2010) promises to bring together hackers, academics, publishers and startups in the field of software/services for scientists to discuss “how the Web is changing the way we conduct, communicate, share, and evaluate research”. I will be attending and would love to meet other AcaProd readers there.