19 June 2013

Open access publishing and figshare

Time for something more science and work related on the blog today. I want to share something with you that, as both a publishing professional and an ex-researcher, I highly recommend you familiarise yourself with. First, some background.

There is an important issue related to research publication in the UK at the moment; open access (OA). Open access means the material is available to any reader free of charge and there are two (or three) types of OA publishing:

Gold OA

The author pays for their paper to be published as an open access article in an open access journal. The article is immediately available on the publisher's website.

Green OA

Delayed open access. The paper is initially published under a subscription model, i.e. the reader pays for access to it. After a delay, or embargo period, the article is made open access and the author may deposit a copy of their final peer-reviewed paper in an open access institutional or subject repository.

Hybrid OA

The author pays to have their paper published as an open access article within a subscription journal.

Thus, as the publishing world moves toward open access, it shifts from a reader-pays model to an author-pays model and this will have an affect on researchers, funding bodies, academic institutions and libraries, and publishers. For open access articles, publishers will lose subscription revenue and so will need to generate their profit from the open access author charges. When applying for grants and funding, researchers will need to budget for publication and then, carefully consider which journal they should choose to spend this budget on. In addition to this, some funding bodies and organisations now stipulate researchers must make their research data available and accessible in order to receive the full funding they have been allocated.

There are many positives with open access publishing; making research more collaborative, progressive and dynamic, advancement of research, allowing the public access to your work, taxpayers can see the outcome of research investment, greater exposure for the work of a researcher/research group, greater access for researchers in the developing world, increased citation, and much more.

As you can imagine, OA is a very important issue for my company; a scientific publisher, and they  speak about it on an increasingly regular basis. As part of that, I recently attended a colloquium with Mark Hahnel and Aldo de Pape from figshare; a repository where users can make all of their research outputs available in a citable, sharable and discoverable manner.

It is an elegant solution to the problems of what to do with the plethora of data that isn't published in peer-reviewed journals (often because it is never submitted, e.g. negative data) and still receiving credit for it. Not only was I sat there thinking why hasn't anybody already done this but also how many researchers would think it's quite a good idea. It is also a method for long-term preservation of research output — all content is backed-up and stored at 12 major research libraries around the world — in a digital format using digital object identifiers or DOIs. How inferior I felt to his ability and success was significantly outweighed by how impressed I was. I do wonder which sort of communities would be likely to use it. Physicists, chemists, biologists, theoreticians, experimentalists, modellers, and so on. If you're a researcher, would you use it?

How does it work?

The website is largely aimed at the individual researcher, allowing you to store all of your content (privately and/or publicly) all in one place and in the cloud. You can also link it with ORCID. They also work with publishers to directly host content.

The user is able to upload any file format and these are all visualisable that's a mouthful of a word in the browser; figures, datasets, media, papers, posters, presentations and filesets. This is actually much more of a big deal than it sounds and the files can be disseminated in a way that the current scholarly publishing model does not allow. On a lot of publisher websites, the reader is often required to download the material for personal viewing. With it being rendered in the browser, the reader can immediately digest the material.

Also included, and a big win, are the metrics provided for each object; views, shares and cites, where  the cumulative metrics of a researcher’s uploads appears on their profile. Thus, users can see and quantify the true impact and reach of their work.

Want to know more?

Sign up to figshare!

Let me know how you find it and whether you think you would use it. So far, I have created an account but am yet to upload anything.

You can also read an interview with the founder Mark Hahnel on Gobbledygook (a PLOS ONE staff blog by Martin Fenner) and a Google search will direct you to a number of different interviews and articles.


Image credit: biblioteekjeCC BY-NC-SA 2.0


  1. OOOh this is interesting, especially about all the negative data that's not published!

    1. I know. It's good to disseminate stuff that *doesn't* work as much as stuff that does. It can help progress science I think.