Is Figshare Open? “it is not just about open or closed, it is about control”

[Quote in title is from Mark Hahnel, see below]

I have been meaning to write on this theme for some time, and more generally on the increasing influence of DigitalScience’s growing influence in parts of the academic infrastructure. This post is sparked by a twitter exchange (follow backwards from ) in the last few hours, which addresses the question of whether “Figshare is Open”.

This is not an easy question and I will try to be objective. First let me say – as I have said in public – that I have huge respect and admiration for how Mark Hahnel created Figshare while a PhD student. It’s a great idea and I am delighted – in the abstract – that it gained some much traction so rapidly.

Mark and I have discussed issues of Figshare on more than one occasion and he’s done me the honour of creating a “Peter Murray-Rust” slide ( ) where he addresses some (but not all) of my concerns about Figshare after its “acquisition” by Macmillan Digital Science (I use this term, although there are rumours of a demerger or merger). I use “acquisition” because I have no knowledge of the formal position of Figshare as a legal entity (I assume it *is* one? Figshare FAQs ) and that’s one of the questions to be addressed here.

From the FAQs:

figshare is an independent body that receives support from Digital Science. “Digital Science’s relationship with figshare represents the first of its kind in the company’s history: a community based, open science project that will retain its autonomy whilst receiving support from the division.”

However lists Figshare among “our products” and brands it as if it is a DigitalScience division or company. Figshare appears to have no corporate address other than Macmillan and I assume trades through them.

So this post has been catalysed by a tweet of a report from a DS employee(?) Dan Valen

John Hammersley @DrHammersley tweeted:
Such a key message: “APIs are essential (for #opendata and #openscience)” – Dan Valen of @figshare at #shakingitup15

This generated a twitter exchange about why APIs were/not essential. I shan’t explore that in detail, but my primary point is that:

If the only access to data is through a controlled API, then the data as a a whole cannot be open , regardless of the openness of individual components.

There is no doubt that some traditional publishers see APIs as a way of enforcing control over the user community. Readers will remember that I had a robust discussion with Gemma Hirsh of Elsevier, who stated that I could not legally mine Elsevier’s data without going through their API. She was wrong, categorically wrong, but it was clear that she and Elsevier saw, and probably still see, APIs as a control mechanism. Note that Elsevier’s Mendeley never exposed their whole data – only an API.

An API is the software contract with a webserver offering a defined service. It is often accompanied with a legal contract for the user (with some reciprocity). The definition of that service is completely in the hands of the provider. The control of that service is entirely in the hands of the provider. This leads to the following technical possibilities:

  • control: The provider can decide what to offer , when, to whom, on what basis. They can vary this by date, geography or IP of user, and I have no doubt that many publishers do exactly this. In particular, there is no guarantee that the user is able to see the whole data and no guarantee that it is not modified in some way from the “original”. This is not, per se, reprehensible but it is a strong technical likelihood.
  • monitoring: (“snooping”) The provider can monitor all traffic coming in from IP addresses, dwell times, number of revisits, quite apart from any cached information. I believe that a smart webserver, when coupled to other data about individuals, can deduce who the user is, where they are calling from and, with the sale of information between companies, what they have been doing elsewhere.

By default companies will do both of these. They could lead to increased revenue (e.g. Figshare could sell user data to other organizations) and increased lockin of users. Because Figshare is one of several Digital Science products (DS words, not mine) they could know about a user’s publication record, their altmetric activity, what manuscripts they are writing, what they have submitted to the REF, what they are reading in their browser, etc. I am not asserting this is happening but I have no evidence it is not.

Mark says, in his slides,

“it is not just about open or closed, it is about control”

and I agree. But for me the question is who controls Figshare? and is Figshare controlling us?

Figshare appears to be one of the less transparent organizations I have encountered. I cannot find a corporate structure, and the companies’ address is:

C/o Macmillan Publishers Limited, Brunel Road, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 6XS

I can’t find a board of directors or any advisory or governing board. So in practice Figshare is legally responsible to no-one other than UK corporate law.

You may think I am being unfair to an excellent (and I agree it’s excellent) service. But history inexorably shows that these beginnings become closed, mutating into commercial control and confidentiality. Let’s say Mark moves on? Who runs Figshare then? Or Springer buys Digital Science? What contract has Mark signed with DS? Maybe it binds Figshare to being completely run by the purchaser?

I have additional concerns about the growing influence of DigitalScience products, especially such as ReadCube, which amplify the potential for “snoop and control” – I’ll leave those to another blogpost.

Mark has been good enough to answer some of my original concerns, so here are some othe’r to which I think an “open” (“community-based”) organization should be able to provide answers.

  • who owns Figshare?
  • who runs Figshare?
  • Is there any governance process from outside Macmillan/DS? An advisory board?
  • How tightly bound is Figshare into Macmillan/DS? Could Figshare walk away tomorrow?
  • What could and what would happen to Figshare if Mark Hahnel left?
  • What could and what would happen to Figshare if either/both of Macmillan / DS were acquired?
  • Where are the company accounts for the last trading year?
  • how, in practice, is Figshare a “a community based, open science project that will retain its autonomy whilst receiving support from the (DS) division.”?

I very much hope that the answers will allay any concerns I may have had.



How to Get Open Access Mandates on the Fast Track

In my own opinion there have been four main reasons for the exceedingly slow growth of OA (far, far slower than it could have been) ? (1) author inertia and needless copyright worries, (2) publisher resistance via lobbying and OA embargoes, (3) premature and needless fixation on Gold OA publishing and (4) premature and needless fixation on Libre OA (re-use rights, CC-BY).

By far the most urgent and yet fully and immediately reachable objective has always been free online access to refereed journal articles (?Gratis OA?), which could long ago have been provided by authors as Green OA (exactly as computer scientists spontaneously began doing in the 1980s with anonymous ftp archiving, and physicists began doing in the 1990s with XXX (then Arxiv).

Instead, authors in most other fields have proved extremely sluggish ? because of (1), and eventually also (2) — and the public campaign for OA became needlessly and counterproductively focussed on Gold OA and Libre OA, which were neither as urgently needed as Gratis OA, nor could they be as easily provided as Gratis OA.

OA mandates by funders and institutions then began to be recommended and adopted, but these too have been exceedingly slow in coming, and needlessly weak, having gotten needlessly wrapped up in Libre and Gold OA, even though Gratis Green OA is the easiest, most effective and most natural thing to mandate.

And the irony is that this premature and needless fixation on Libre and Gold OA (which still persists) has not only helped slow the progress of Gratis Green OA, but it has also slowed its very own progress.

Because the fastest and surest way to Libre, Fair-Gold OA is to first mandate Gratis Green OA — which, once it is being universally provided, will usher in Libre, Fair-Gold quickly and naturally. This is evident to anyone who simply thinks it through.

Instead, we now continue to be bogged down in (1) – (4), with many weak and wishy-washy OA policies, Fools? Gold (as well as predatory junk Gold OA) (3) from publishers clouding the landscape, and an almost superstitious obsession with a Libre OA (2) that most research and researchers don?t need anywhere near as urgently as they need Gratis OA itself.

Meanwhile, hardly noticed, is the fact that mandates could be incomparably stronger and more effective if they simply focussed on requiring Green Gratis OA, in institutional (not institution-external) repositories, where institutions can monitor and ensure compliance by designating immediate-deposit as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for research evaluation (as Liege and HEFCE have done) and implementing the copy-request Button as the antidote against publisher OA embargoes.

In yet another effort to try to get mandates on the fast track ? requiring Gratis Green OA ? we have now analyzed the few existing OA policies? effectiveness to identify which conditions maximize compliance, in the hope that the research community can at last be persuaded to adopt evidence-based policies instead of ideology-driven ones:

Vincent-Lamarre, Philippe, Boivin, Jade, Gargouri, Yassine, Larivière, Vincent and Harnad, Stevan (2015) Estimating Open Access Mandate Effectiveness: I. The MELIBEA Score.

Swan, Alma; Gargouri, Yassine; Hunt, Megan; & Harnad, Stevan (2015) Open Access Policy: Numbers, Analysis, Effectiveness. Pasteur4OA Workpackage 3 Report.

Here is a quick little history of OA, particularly highlighting Southampton?s contribution:

Carr, L., Swan, A. and Harnad, S. (2011) Creating and Curating the Cognitive Commons: Southampton?s Contribution. In: Curating the European University

How to comply with funders’ open access policies

How to comply with funders’ open access policies

With more and more funding agencies establishing policies and mandates for open access publishing, we know that navigating the various requirements can be difficult and time consuming for authors. Every funding agency seems to have slightly different specifics to their open access policies and each paper has multiple authors with multiple funding agencies supporting their…

Earth Day 2015: Celebrating Our Awe Inspiring World

We share Earth with millions of amazing plants and animals. Whether we’re relaxing in a hot spring like a Japanese macaque, or catching a glimpse of a rare bird, our exposure to Nature’s diversity enriches our lives and makes us … Continue reading »

The post Earth Day 2015: Celebrating Our Awe Inspiring World appeared first on EveryONE.

EPT Awards | Electronic Publishing Trust for Development

“The primary objective of the Electronic Publishing Trust for Development is the advancement of access to research publications for researchers in the developing world. The establishment of Open Access to previously inaccessible scholarly publications has opened the door to a more equitable system for sharing research information and the advancement of science.

The EPT Award scheme was established in 2011, in order to recognise and acknowledge the great effort being made by individuals to further this development. During our work in support of this objective, we became very aware that there are many ‘unsung heroes’ working hard to inform, train and support their research colleagues and their organisations making the move to provide open access to the literature. These people were working over and above their normal work responsibilities to hold meetings, provide information or organise training courses, and implement OA initiatives….”

Dutch Interface of RoMEO Released

SHERPA is pleased to announce that a new Dutch language version of its RoMEO database is now available at:

The RoMEO interface has already been translated into Dutch, and our Dutch partners at Saxion, Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen and Hogeschool Utrecht are in the process of translating the publishers?? policy data.

We are grateful to our colleagues from the Netherlands for translating the original English into Dutch.

Portuguese, Spanish and Hungarian versions of RoMEO were released in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively, and SHERPA is working on further language versions for release in the future. Please contact us if you are interested in any specific languages and would like to help with translations.

About RoMEO

RoMEO is the key database of publisher’s open access policies, used worldwide by repository administrators and academics to check their rights to self-archive their publications. RoMEO is currently funded by Jisc. In addition to our own journals database, journal information is kindly provided by: the British Library’s Zetoc service hosted by MIMAS; DOAJ, and Entrez hosted by NCBI.

About Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN)

The HAN University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen in Dutch), often abbreviated as HAN, is a vocational university of applied sciences with campuses in Arnhem and Nijmegen in the Netherlands. It offers Bachelor and Master degrees in a wide range of subjects. Arnhem Business School is the international department of HAN University.

About Saxion

Saxion University of Applied Sciences is a Dutch vocational university with four campuses in the eastern Netherlands. It provides more than 100 courses in a wide variety of study fields, such as finance, law, engineering, hospitality, and art. With over 26,000 students, it is one of the largest institutions of higher education in the Netherlands.

About Hogeschool Utrecht

The HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht is a vocational university in the city of Utrecht and one of the largest educational institutions in the Netherlands. It shares its main campus, the Uithof, with Utrecht University. It also has buildings in Amersfoort, 25 km from Utrecht. It has over 38,000 students with more than one hundred different nationalities.


CRC, University of Nottingham

Sarah Coombs, Saxion

Maarten Hekman, Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen

Dick Vestdijk, Hogeschool Utrecht

May OpenCon Webcast: The facts behind OER

Open Educational Resources have always held the promise of saving students millions – if not billions – of dollars each year. But is cost savings the only advantage of OER?  A growing body of evidence suggests that OER produce learning outcomes that are as good or, in many cases, better than those of proprietary learning materials.

Our next OpenCon Community Webcast will delve into current research on the efficacy of Open Educational Resources and how they compare with traditional textbooks. John Hilton III, an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University and leading expert on OER efficacy, will be joining us to address this issue. In his presentation, John will answer critical questions including if students using OER get better grades, how students and teachers perceive Open Educational Resources and what it takes for a professor to adopt an Open Textbook.

The webcast will be held on Tuesday, May 5th, at 1pm EDT / 6pm BST / 7pm CEST and last approximately 45 minutes. You can view the webcast at or by bookmarking the embedded YouTube link below. You can join the discussion and ask questions on Twitter with the hashtag #opencon. A recording of the presentation will be available online immediately following the webcast at the same URL.

This was originally posted at 

ArXiv | Technology

“The arXiv (pronounced “archive”, as if the “X” were the Greek letter Chi, χ) is a repository of electronic preprints, known as e-prints, of scientific papers in the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy, computer science, quantitative biology, statistics, and quantitative finance, which can be accessed online. In many fields of mathematics and physics, almost all scientific papers are self-archived on the arXiv. Begun on August 14, 1991, passed the half-million article milestone on October 3, 2008, and hit a million by the end of 2014. By 2014 the submission rate had grown to more than 8,000 per month….”

Scientific publishing policy should be based on facts, not politics | TheHill

“Congress…should be sure to avoid doing harm to America’s historic partnership between scholarly researchers and publishers of scientific and technical journals to serve the public at large….Two recently introduced bills, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) and the Public Access to Public Science Act (PAPS) would do just that, undermining this country’s global leadership in scientific publishing….The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents more than 100 professional and scholarly publishers….”

Publishers arguing badly for longer embargoes, again.

“The Association of American Publishers (AAP) is arguing that an AAP-funded study supports the AAP position that federal open-access policies should allow longer embargoes.
The AAP argument is deceptive. Among other things, it doesn’t mention that the study on which it relies was AAP-funded. While I have no quarrel with the study itself, the argument from the study to the AAP’s pet conclusion is utterly invalid. See my analysis at the time the study appeared, anticipating the current AAP position, “What doesn’t justify longer embargoes on publicly-funded research.” “

The power of Digital Theses to change the world

I am speaking tomorrow at Lille to a group of Digita Humanists:

Séminaire DRTD-SHS

« Les données de la recherche dans les humanités numériques » 

Journée du 21 avril 2015 : « Maîtriser les technologies pour valoriser les données »

Lieu : MESHS (salle 2), 2 rue des Canonniers, 59000 Lille


I always wait to meet the audience before deciding what to say precisely but here are some themes:

  • Most research and scholarship is badly published, not reaching the people who need it and not creating a dialogue or community of practice. This is a moral crime and leads to impoverishment of the human spirit and the health of the citizens of the world.
  • The paradox of this century is that we have the potential for a new Digital Enlightenment, but in the Universities we are collaborating with those who, for their own personal gain, wish to restrict the distribution of knowledge. The large publishing corporations, taking support from media corporations are building an infrastructure which they monitor and control.
  • We have the technical means to break out of this. In our we can scrape the whole of the literature published every day; create a semantic index for searching and extract facts in far greater number than humans can ever do.
  • We are held back by the lack of vision, and our solution lies not in science, but in humanities. We lack a communal goal, communal values.

How can we harness the vision of Diderot and the Enlightenment and the radicalism of Mai 1968? How can we create the true culture of the digital century?

I shall show some of the tools we have developed in which can scrape and “understand”  the whole of scholarly publication. In the UK , after an intense battle against the mainstream publishing community, we have won the right for machines to read and analyze electronic documents without fear of copyright. I express this as:
We need this in the rest of Europe – Julia Reda MEP has recently proposed this  (and much more). There is again intense backlash – so we need philosophers, political scientists, historians, literary studies, economists to show why this freedom has to triumph.
All our tools are Open (Apache2, CC BY, CC0) and we have shown that “anyone” can learn to use them within a morning. They are part of the technical weaponry of digital liberation.
Theses are the major resource over which publishers have no control. Much of our scholarship is published in theses as well as in journals; and much is only published in theses. My single laptop can process 5000 theses per day – or 1 million per year – which should suffice.
The solution will come through human-machine symbionts – communities of practice who understand what machines can and cannot do.

Harvard Islamic Legal Studies Program launches SHARIASource digital platform | Harvard Magazine May-Jun 2015

“A simple Google search for the word “sharia” illustrates the magnitude of the gap Harvard Law School (HLS) professor Intisar A. Rabb wants to fill. Up top, there’s a 2,000-word overview from the Council on Foreign Relations, along with the usual Wikipedia link. But even on that first page of results, there’s also a far less neutral take from a Christian missionary website, and an alarmist article on sharia law in Dearborn, Michigan, that on further investigation turns out to come from the satirical news site National Report….As co-director of the Law School’s Islamic Legal Studies Program (ILSP), Rabb has set out to change that. Her answer is SHARIASource, a website that aims to serve as the go-to resource on Islamic legal issues by gathering basic information, primary and secondary sources, and scholarly debates on topics spanning dozens of countries and more than 1,400 years of history. Though explicitly designed for easy public consumption, the site’s foundation will be in academic discussions, with a strong emphasis on connecting scholars from different disciplines to new sources and to each other. As a result, SHARIASource is part of a twenty-first-century digitization revolution that will change not only how knowledge is collected, but also how it is created….”

Harvard Ed Portal

“A collaborative partnership involving Harvard, the Allston-Brighton community, and the City of Boston, the Ed Portal is the Allston-Brighton community’s front door to Harvard’s educational, arts, wellness, and workforce and economic development programs.”