Monday, November 26, 2012

Academic liberation - also known as Figshare

focaccia Saturday night. The focaccia is in the oven but it needs another 10 minutes. I decide that the best way to grok Figshare is to publish some data there.

But what? I spent half an hour on Friday looking at some data in R - drawing graphs, quick statistical analysis - but I'm not quite sure where I'm going with that yet.

Click open iPhoto. Some old photographs. Pull out a few. Upload to Figshare, add metadata (category, tags, a few sentences of description). Click publish. Done. 10 minutes later I'm eating dinner.

Alan J. Cann. Larval development in Mantella aurantiaca. figshare.

This is how it should be. Academic publishing meets blogging. I'm not claiming this data will change the course of Western history, but it's doing more good on Figshare with its CC-BY licence than sitting in iPhoto on my hard disk. It feels liberating. It feels right, sharing knowledge rather than spending months arguing with journals, waiting for some lazy referee to get their arse in gear. How will I really judge success? I guess if the data gets cited that's a definite win. The Google Scholar integration will help me monitor that. (How long does it take Figshare content to get indexed by Google Scholar?) Having said that, I have in my head the quote that most conventionally published papers never get cited (reference needed). I haven't been able to track this data down. As a result of this discussion, the closest I have come is this (can you help?).

The downside? No peer review. Well, unless you choose to go to Figshare and leave comments (or do so via some other channel). Adding a post-publication peer review layer and Figshare would be the model for academic publishing in the 21st Century. The download data is useful but it's a shame there's no PLOS/Nature style breakdown of traffic sources (yet ;-) Also the CC-BY licence needs to be made explicit on the article page itself rather than burying it. Do CC-BY images on Figshare show up appropriately under Google Image Search? They don't seem to, which is a shame. I've made these feature requests on Figshare.

Am I going to add this publication to my CV? No, not because I am ashamed of it - quite the opposite - but it detracts from the narrative arc that I would like to describe there. Several people asked me online about what amphibian species I was working with. I have been a keen amateur herpetologist for many years but have never done any formal scientific work in this area (I was warned off a project in amphibian biology several years ago). I have accumulated a lot of data in a Citizen Science-y sort of way and I am delighted that Figshare allows me to make that useful for more formal scientific researchers.
The focaccia was good too. Another rock n' roll Saturday night.



  1. A few questions/comments:

    1. Are you sure figshare posts are findable in Google Scholar? I posted some proposals months ago and can't find them in Google Scholar

    2. Post-publication peer review. How do you envision this, if different from leaving comments?

    3. Good point about CC-BY no being visible!

  2. Thanks for the comment. Most of the Figshare papers I have looked at show up in Google Scholar, although I'm not sure about other data types.

    I understand the visibility of the CC-BY licence will be improved soon.

    The peer review layer is a big question and needs careful consideration. The good news is that figshare is open to discussions about this - please leave them feedback on their site.

  3. There is a peer review option if you are in life sciences - submit the data as a data article into F1000Research (; the data still sits on FigShare as we have a close collaboration with FigShare for our data, but you also get an additional article citation and the data and article is fully peer reviewed and indexed (PubMed, Scopus, Embase etc). Peer review is formal but completely open (names and comments) and all post-publication. (I should declare that I am the Publisher of F1000Research).

  4. Rebecca, there are lots of options in the Life Sciences - PeerJ, PLOS ONE, etc. I don't publish in that area currently.