figshare_thoughtbubble

[Disclosure: I am a figshare advisor.]

Last year, I had one of those ‘aha!’ moments. I, like many scientists, have too many valuable research outputs gathering digital dust on my computer. Figures, posters, manuscripts that have yet to find homes – they may not all be journal worthy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. I made it my goal to put all that research somewhere others could access it, discuss it, and hopefully even build on it. For a variety of reasons, some of which I’ve outlined previously, I chose figshare. In October of 2012, I created my profile and started uploading my work. And so far, my experiences have only been positive.

I began by posting author versions of my published articles. Two of my articles were published in subscription journals, so posting them on figshare was a great way to ‘go green’ and make sure everyone could freely access my work. My first pleasant surprise was how quickly information traveled. I had just made my first posting when I refreshed the page a few minutes later and saw that it already had views. “That can’t be right”, I thought. Then I realized my post had been immediately shared by the figshare team via Facebook and Twitter. People were already reading my work.

Over the next few months, I posted a variety of other research outputs and I was interested to see the type of information people seemed to find useful. In academia, the most weight is put on articles. I assumed that author versions of my manuscripts would be the most viewed and most shared of my outputs. In fact, of the five items I have posted, the one with the highest number of shares and the third highest views is a fileset including a poster, bibliography file and figures from my work on modeling the effects of vaccination on mitigating influenza outbreaks. It could be that the topic interests a wider audience than my neuroscience work. But I suspect it’s more than that. The fileset includes a template for creating posters in LaTeX. It’s not perfect, but it’s something others can use, and I imagine this is the reason people are sharing it. It goes to show that sometimes the work other people find most useful isn’t necessarily what ends up as part of a polished article.

The item with the second highest views doesn’t even derive from any of my regular research projects. In response to a frustration about the lack of openness in the field of neuroscience, I compiled a list of open access (and hybrid) journals that publish neuroscience research, including their licenses, fees and whether they provide waivers. I originally posted the list here on the blog, but later decided that figshare was a more permanent place to deposit the list where I could hopefully reach more people. And the DOI makes it a citable resource.

I’ve also started posting preprints of my manuscripts. (To read more about why you should post your preprints, see this great article, which incidentally was posted as a preprint itself on figshare almost two months before it was published in PLOS Biology.) Before doing so, I contacted publishers of journals to which I was interested in submitting. Many journals do allow manuscripts to be posted to preprint servers such as arXiv, but most do not yet specify that figshare is permissable and I was particularly concerned about whether the assignment of a DOI would affect the determination of prior publication. I contacted PeerJ, PLOS, and BMC. Both PeerJ and PLOS responded saying that not only was posting preprints (including to figshare) allowed, it was encouraged. The last message I received from BMC in December of 2012 said the specific case of figshare was being discussed and they would get back to me. I have yet to receive a definitive response. For the manuscript I was working on at the time, I eventually decided to go with PeerJ. I posted the preprint to figshare and submitted to PeerJ on the same day, allowing people to read the manuscript over three months before it got published in a journal. And I had some great discussions with people on Twitter who sent me questions after reading the preprint.

The sharing hasn’t been one-sided. Researchers have sent me links to their posted work on figshare. For example, just a few days ago Bala Iyengar (@balapagos) sent me a link to a description of a device he and his colleagues have designed for use with Drosophila larvae. It was originally made to stabilize preparations during imaging, but it could also be used by people like me who do electrophysiology and are always looking for ways to stabilize preps during recordings. This is just on example of how researchers are sharing knowledge that others can use and build upon outside of the classical journal venue.

The only thing I have found disappointing so far has nothing to do with figshare itself, but rather the lack of receptiveness by some academics. On Twitter, I am often preaching to the choir; many people I interact with are open science advocates and have no problem seeing the advantages of figshare and other open access repositories. However, I have had minimal success so far taking that message outside social media. I have offered to give talks to several academic groups about figshare and to help them set up departmental or personal profiles. The response is usually positive, but lacking in commitment: “Sure, maybe next month.”  Let me clarify that it is not their apathy about figshare per say that disappoints me. I don’t want to force academics to use any particular open platform. I just want them to use something to share their work.

And I know how well figshare has worked for me so far. It has helped me to be a more open scientist.

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