Archive for October, 2016

So how can we “Share It” exactly ?

October 28, 2016


On a one year trial basis, in late 2014 launched a potentially ‘interesting’ initiative which they called #scishare – Press Release

In December 2014, a 12-month content sharing trial was set up to enable subscribers to 49 journals on to legitimately and conveniently share the full text of articles of interest with colleagues without a subscription via a shareable web link on, enabled by publishing technology company, ReadCube. The trial was also extended to 100 media outlets and blogs around the world that report on the findings of articles published on, allowing them to provide their own readers with a link to a full text, read-only view of the original scientific paper.

Shortly after the launch, a number of people turned to social media/blogs to express their views.

On ReadCube, and Nature‘s give-away – Mike Taylor

Why Nature’s “SciShare” experiment is bad for altmetrics – Impactstory

– John Wilbanks

High-priced research publishers warily open up to the Web

Open access and the direction of travel in scholarly publishing – Stephen Curry

Macmillan may now offer ‘free access’, but is it really open?– Martin Eve

Some were of the view that were making subscription based content Open Access which they were not.

Content sharing is *not* open access and why NPG is committed to both content sharing: action and reaction – Timo Hannay

Clearing Up Misperceptions About Content Sharing

There was a lot of discussion about all of this at the following Reddit thread.

Science AMA Series: I’m Timo Hannay, former director of, Nature Publishing Group recently announced a “free to view” program which has created some excitement and misunderstandings. Ask me anything about it.

The results of the trial were released in December 2015 – Press Release

Some of the ‘key’ findings (emphasis in bold mine):-

• The most popular method of sharing of scientific articles has been via the media and blogger referral programme, which gave readers of articles free, read-only access to the full text of scientific articles in news stories and posts. (77%)
• High-profile media reports of Nature journal articles from a plethora of international media outlets drove the most traffic of the trial. The most popular article of 2015 was, “A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance” published in Nature in January 2015.
• In order, the most popular news outlets were: the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, Science Magazine and the Washington Post.
• Peer to peer sharing, where subscribers send or post shareable links to journal articles on tended to be mostly (67%) between subscribers and non-subscribers, with the remainder mainly accounted for by sharing between those who already had subscription access.
The trial had no adverse implications for subscription-based journals either in terms of institutional business or individual article sales.
• The free read-only links were shared all across the globe but the most active sharing was instigated by subscribers in: the USA, the UK, Japan, Germany, China, Canada, Spain, France, India and the Republic of Korea.

In March 2016, it was announced that Springer Nature were set to extend content sharing to the entire Springer Nature-owned journal portfolio – Press Release


Springer Nature will provide authors with free, shareable links to view-only versions of their peer-reviewed research papers, starting with authors of Nature and the Nature research journals. This initiative will then be extended to authors of all other Springer Nature-owned primary research journals, and ultimately to all authors of Springer Nature published primary research journals. These links can be posted anywhere, including via social channels and on other highly-used sites, institutional repositories and authors’ own websites, as well as scholarly collaborative networks, which many researchers are using to collaborate and to share both publicly and privately. These sharing services are expected to be operational within the next two months for all Springer Nature-owned primary research titles, with sharing services for additional portfolio titles to follow once agreed with their owners in the following months.

The range of media partners enabled to use this sharing facility will also be extended. These media partners already represent over 100 other sites, many aimed at the public, including TheBBC, The Economist, Wired and The New York Times, as well as many leading science bloggers.

The tools that enable the content sharing initiative are provided by ReadCube, whose industry-leading functionality enables sharers to make available final published versions of research papers in the streaming Enhanced PDF format. In addition to the full text of the articles the Enhanced PDF provides hyperlinked in-line citations and figures, annotation capabilities, one-click access to supplemental content and figures and advanced article metrics.

Beyond these measures, Springer Nature plans additional steps to further extend sharing options which address the long-term needs of the research community.

I for one was having various technical issues getting this to work in practice.

At that time, it meant having to manually download a paper then manually uploading it to my library on ReadCube and then trying to find the sharable link which didn’t always work.

An example of when it did.


From a DRM perspective though, here’s what these shortened URLs actually look like in full


Devils Advocate

On the above point, I have to mention the following post by Dr Ross Mounce, March 2015 who has strong views on ReadCube.


How to Block Readcube and Why

On October 17th 2016, following on from the earlier announcement in March above, Springer Nature did indeed roll this out on a much larger scale – Press Release

Springer Nature is delighted to announce that it has rolled out its free content sharing initiative, now named SharedIt, to all of the Springer Nature-owned portfolio and over one thousand additional co-owned and partner-owned journals. This now encompasses over 2,300 journals and enables authors and subscribers to post links to free-to-read versions of primary research articles anywhere, including social media platforms, repositories, websites, scholarly collaborative networks and via emails. It follows a successful trial and roll out of the initiative for research articles in Nature-branded journals which has resulted in over 2.2 million additional article views since its launch in December 2014.

“As the first publisher to trial free sharing of subscription journal articles back in December 2014 via a new service now named SharedIt, we were confident that our initiative would be a useful service to our authors and subscribers, which was why we took the bold step to trial it. Uptake of the service and the positive feedback we have received since then clearly demonstrate that there is a need – and a real appetite – for a simple, quick and legitimate way to share research in the academic community. This led us to the decision to invest in extending SharedIt across the entire portfolio, in combination with our partners at ReadCube,” said Steven Inchcoombe, Chief Publishing Officer at Springer Nature. “We believe that SharedIt is particularly beneficial because, unlike when PDFs or paper versions of research are circulated, the SharedIt links ensure that the most up to date, online version of the article is accessed, as well as providing valuable information to librarians, our authors and the wider community about how content is being utilised.”

After this was confirmed, I thought I would revisit the issue of how easy or not it was to share content since the last time I had tried. Initially, I thought not much had changed as in you still had to manually download papers and upload to ReadCube.

No response to those tweets.

I was pleased? to note however that things have indeed changed….but….

without any announcement as how to do it ????

Personal communication:-

‘Even with the Nature implementation – there was no real education effort once it went live which was a shame. Unless you knew to click the “share” icon – you didn’t know it was there’.

Totally random Springer Nature papers accessed – October 20th 2016.




The point being that sharable links are now there automatically, no longer any need to faff around with downloading and uploading papers to create them.


As matters stand though, it would appear that Springer Nature don’t really want you to know how simple this now is.

On a lighter note to end with…



Since writing the above, Springer Nature have now * put out the following resources which provide the needed clarity !

* After I put in a request for this with folks from Springer Nature in person.






Making Sense of Research Papers

October 21, 2016

This post was prompted by the following tweet on 20th October 2016:-



This got me thinking again about this issue. I don’t think this issue relates solely to open access papers, but to any science/research papers. As such, let’s leave the open access issue aside (where possible) for the purposes of this post.

From a personal point of view, as a non academic, I started reading research papers back in 2001 during my time in the Charitable Sector. For the organization in question, we had three fully qualified Scientific Advisors (at any given time) who were always to hand to assist us Trustees and Members when it came to technical issues where we were out of our depth.

3scientiststaralongtravistaylor-anthonycarboni-m-0527-653x0_q80_crop-smartIMAGE SOURCE

Given the fact that we were producing monthly newsletters which always included information on the latest research in the field in question, their input was invaluable.

As matters progresses, I started to consume more and more information, especially after one of our Advisors made me aware of PubMed ! Several months in, I was requesting dozens of PDFs per month either for personal use or to pass on internally to my colleagues. At times, rather than pestering our Advisors on every occasion, if I couldn’t understand a paper, emailing the author (or calling them) usually did the trick.

I then built up a large database of researchers in various fields (in this case, namely Neuroscience and Glycobiology) and over time, I/we had an extensive field of expertise at our virtual fingertips.  This was all in a time period before social media I should add !

Moving on several years.


On the internet there is a lot of information. Good, bad and ugly. In terms of the topic of this post, there are LOADS of Patient Forums online. Personally, I am only antiquated to a handful. Cue an earlier post, The International Gang of Four (IGF).

I recall I phrase I used from someone else in a comment I left on a PLOS paper which read:-

Articles in Science Journals do demand some effort from the reader; it’s not like reading the newspaper!

When I thought about that comment again, it sort of made me think of a partially related topic.

Patients would be confused if they were to have free access to the peer-reviewed medical literature on the web

Without being pejorative or elitist, I think that is an issue that we should think about very, very carefully, because there are very few members of the public, and very few people in this room, who would want to read some of this scientific information, and in fact draw wrong conclusions from it […] Speak to people in the medical profession, and they will say the last thing they want are people who may have illnesses reading this information, marching into surgeries and asking things. We need to be careful with this very, very high-level information.

Oral evidence to inquiry, March 1st 2004, John Jarvis (Managing Director, Wiley Europe)


This position is extremely elitist. It also defies logic. There is already a vast amount of material on medical topics available on the Internet, much of which is junk. Can it really be beneficial for society as a whole that patients should have access to all the dubious medical information on the web, but should be denied access to the scientifically sound, peer-reviewed research articles?

In some cases, to be sure, comprehending a medical research study can be a demanding task, requiring additional background reading. But patients suffering from diseases are understandably motivated to put in the effort to learn more about their conditions, as the success of patient advocacy groups in the USA has shown. Patients absolutely should have the right to see the results of the medical research that their taxes have paid for.


In 2011 after giving an invited talk at the conclusion of a JISC funded project entitled Patients Participate!, I found out about the excellent Sense About Science.

I then put out the following tweets this morning:-

Responses thus far…

Going back to the opening tweet:-

Lay summaries, supplements, primers: Scientists (and journals) strive to make science accessible to public (and each other)


Petition calls for lay summaries in ecology journals

Simplified synopses of research papers could help to bridge the gap between scientists and the public.

PLOS Medicine This Journal provides an Author Summary for all if not most papers.

Some other resources I found last night after a quick search:-

STM Digest will feature lay summaries of science papers with societal impact

Opinion: Lay summaries needed to enhance science communication

That last link takes you to the Access to Understanding homepage.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Access to Understanding is a collaboration uniting organisations that want to improve public understanding of the latest biomedical and health research findings.

Our mission is to bridge the gap between public access to biomedical research articles online, and the wider understanding of the findings described in those articles.

Although online, open access to current research is increasing, much of this information is only accessible to a niche audience, usually just other scientists, due to the use of highly technical language. Access to Understanding aims to make scientific knowledge truly accessible by championing clear, concise and balanced summaries of research findings making them understandable to non-specialists. We are doing this by:

  • Providing guidance for anyone who is planning to write about biomedical research for a non-specialist audience.
  • Promoting online resources that support the use of plain-English writing in biomedical and health research.
  • Encouraging early-career scientists to write about research in an accessible way through our Access to Understanding science writing competition and giving anyone the opportunity to vote in our People’s Choice Award.
  • Working with like-minded organisations and individuals who want to help us bridge the gap between access and understanding – find out more here.

If you would like to help us achieve these goals, please contact us and tell us how you can help.

Access to Understanding ran an annual Competition from 2013 – 2015.

Here you can find the winners and commended entries from each year of the Access to Understanding science writing competition.

It was an honour to have been asked to act as one of the judges over 2013 – 2014 competition. Here is a video summary this of at the British Library (BL) which I think summarizes all of the above in context.

A Review of MegaJournals

October 17, 2016



One issue that I’ve been following for a number of years is so called MegaJournals.

Mega journal as defined on Wikipedia.

Cue ‘Open Access and The Dramatic Growth of PLoS ONE‘ which I wrote for the figshare blog back in 2012. (As you will see, PLOS ONE started publishing papers in 2006).

The concept of OA “Megajournals” appears to have started around June 2011 as per this post by Mark Patterson (at that time with PLOS, now with eLife):

“Remarkably, PLoS ONE became the largest peer-reviewed journal in existence inside four years (and will publish as much as 1.5% of the articles indexed in PubMed in 2011), and over the past 12 months has been emulated by many other established publishers in various disciplines”.



A large part of the reason for the spike in the dramatic rise since Q1 & Q2 2011 is the fact that that was the time that PLoS ONE, received its first Impact Factor .That opened the floodgates in a big way (e.g. China) and it can clearly be seen from above that this fact has led to a significant effect.

Around the same time, Frank Norman posted a more broader and detailed post Megajournals which indeed was the conduit to my own post.

The trend towards Open Access has catalysed the creation of many new journals and new publishers. BioMedCentral, established in 2000, was a pioneer of open access publishing, launching a large number of journals. Public Library of Science (PLoS) initially established a small number of high-level journals, then in 2006 it launched PLoS ONE. This was the first of a new kind of journal, later dubbed mega-journal. PLoS ONE aimed to publish any article that met the test of scientific rigour, and eschewed any measure of importance or impact in its editorial and peer review process. In 2010, PLoS ONE published 6,749 articles, making it the largest journal in the world (by volume). Its success helped to persuade the mainstream publishing industry that fee-paid open access was a viable business model.

Recently I invited representatives from a number of open access publishers to discuss megajournals. Five of them gave presentations to an audience of scientists here, and one visited me subsequently to inform me about their operations.

I then revisited the output of PLOS ONE around a year later.


I was not alone in thinking that the exponential growth seemed unstoppable. With hindsight, such growth can equally be followed by exponential decay.

In May 2015, Mike Taylor posted Have we reached Peak Megajournal?

Bo-Christer Björk’s (2015) new paper in PeerJ asks the question “Have the “mega-journals” reached the limits to growth?”, and suggests that the answer may be yes. (Although, frustratingly, you can’t tell from the abstract that this is the conclusion.)

I was a bit disappointed that the paper didn’t include a graph showing its conclusion, and asked about this (thanks to PeerJ’s lightweight commenting system). Björk’s response acknowledged that a graph would have been helpful, and invited me to go ahead and make one, since the underlying data is freely available. So using OpenOffice’s cumbersome but adequate graphing facilities, I plotted the numbers from Björk’s table 3.


As we can see, the result for total megajournal publications upholds the conclusion that megajournals have peaked and started to decline. But PLOS ONE (the dark blue line) enormously dominates all the other megajournals, with Nature’s Scientific Reports the only other publication to even be meaningfully visible on the graph. Since Scientific Reports seems to be still in the exponential phase of its growth and everything else is too low-volume to register, what we’re really seeing here is just a decline in PLOS ONE volume.

It’s interesting to think about what the fall-off in PLOS ONE volume means, but it’s certainly not the same thing as megajournals having topped out.

What do we see when we expand the lower part of the graph by taking out PLOS ONE and Scientific Reports?


So the establishment of new megajournals is very much a good thing, and their growth is to be encouraged. Many of the newer megajournals may well find (and I hate to admit this) that their submission rates increase when they’re handed their first impact factor, as happened with PLOS ONE.


Touched upon in the posts by Norman and Taylor is Scientific Reports (SR). SR was launched in 2011 (with little fanfare) by Nature Publishing Group (now Springer Nature) and over the last couple of years has seen significant growth. Interestingly a few weeks after its launch, PLOS ran with the following post on their Official Blog:-

Welcome, Nature. Seriously.


We shall come back to SR shortly.

Whilst PLOS ONE has many supporters, it also has its critics, most notably, some of the individuals who blog for The Scholarly Kitchen:-

Is PLoS ONE Slowing Down?

The Rise and Fall of PLOS ONE’s Impact Factor (2012 = 3.730)

PLOS ONE Output Falls Following Impact Factor Decline

PLOS ONE Output Falls 25 Percent

PLOS ONE Shrinks by 11 Percent

As PLOS ONE Shrinks, 2015 Impact Factor Expected to Rise

What is clear however was that in terms of output, this seemed to have peaked around 2013/2014 and has subsequently been in decline ever since.

In August 2016, Scholarly Kitchen ran with a post:-

Scientific Reports On Track To Become Largest Journal In The World


An unpredictable publication flow and revenue stream through APCs will have very different effects on the two publishers. Springer Nature has an enormous, diversified stable of journals and revenue streams, which allows them to play a long-term strategy game with Scientific Reports. Annual revenue fluctuations with one journal are not going to put Springer Nature in financial trouble. In contrast, PLOS’ income is almost exclusively based on APC revenue, with 97% of their 2014 revenue coming from publication fees. More importantly, 91% of all 2015 papers published in PLOS journals were published in PLOS ONE, the remaining 9% split among six other journals. As revenue from PLOS ONE functions to subsidize the publication costs of these six other titles, downward pressure on PLOS ONE puts the entire organization at risk.

Over last weekend, I noted a very recent post on Times Higher Education:-

Mega-journals: the future, a stepping stone to it or a leap into the abyss?

Nature’s new kid on the block is now the biggest journal in the world. But while such giants are currently overturning the world of scholarly publishing, their long-term future is unclear, says Stephen Pinfield.

In September, Plos One was overtaken. Nature’s Scientific Reports published 1,940 research articles in that month, compared with Plos One’s 1,756. The figures for August were 1,691 and 1,735, respectively. Scientific Reports has grown rapidly since its launch in 2011, a rise that has coincided with (some have suggested, partly contributed to) a decline in Plos One. Like Plos One, Scientific Reports publishes across STEM, although in reality, the former has more papers in health and life sciences and the latter in physical sciences.


Pinfield’s projected figures for SR in 2016 are based on data from August and September 2016 alone. I them made the following graph based on data from here on SR.


After I tweeted details of Pinfield’s post and my own graph, things got rather interesting on Twitter. Here’s some of what I saw.




Based upon available data, SR certainly appears to be on track to become the largest Journal in the world overtaking PLOS ONE but possibly not until early next year.

On the other hand however, whether megajournals are growing or shrinking might be seen as irrelevant. Put another way, a key question worth thinking about is whether there is a growing proportion of papers published (including as preprints, an increasingly popular way of dissemination information rapidly and freely) without being judged on ‘relevance’ or ‘expected citation potential’ or ‘perceived scientific quality’, but just on the basis of some basic objective criteria, e.g. the detail of the description of materials and methods, statistical robustness and logic of the conclusion in view of the data, etc.

Such objective criteria can, of course, also be applied by journals not known as Mega Journals. See Science (which needs communication) first, careers (which need selectivity) later, Velterop et al (2015).

I will conclude with the closing paragraph’s from Pinfield’s post:-

What remains to be seen is whether mega-journals, as currently constituted, will prove to be a major innovation that contribute to the reshaping of research publishing in an increasingly open access world, or whether their real importance will lie in being a stepping stone to even more radical forms of scholarly communication. This will partly depend on the extent to which the open access “wild animal” will be domesticated. Signs of that already abound, meaning that any change is more likely to be incremental rather than disruptive.

It is, of course, possible that mega-journals will sink without trace: that probably applies to some of the current smaller hopefuls. But there does now seem to be momentum behind some of larger titles, which means they, at least, are likely to continue to prosper. In the short term, though, what is clear is that the battle to publish the largest journal in the world seems to be swinging towards a new form of a very old journal, Nature.

Stephen Pinfield is professor of information services management at the University of Sheffield. He is currently principal investigator on an AHRC-funded project investigating mega-journals and the future of scholarly communication.

Steel, Graham (2016): A Review of MegaJournals. figshare.

Retrieved: 12 55, Oct 17, 2016 (GMT)