Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Thoughts on ReCon 15: DOIs, GitHub, ORCID, altmetric, and transitive credit

Man03gTw 400x400I spent last Friday and Saturday at (Research in the 21st Century: Data, Analytics and Impact, hashtag #ReCon_15) in Edinburgh. Friday 19th was conference day, followed by a hackday at CodeBase. There's a Storify archive of the tweets so you can get a sense of the meeting.

Sitting in the audience a few things struck me.

  1. No identifier wars, DOIs have won and are everywhere.
  2. GitHub is influencing the way we do science, but we've much still to learn.
  3. ORCIDs are gaining traction.
  4. Nobody really understands "impact".


GitHub is becoming more and more important, not only as a repository of scientific code and data, but as a useful model of sorts of things we need to be doing. Arron Smith gave a fascinating talk on GitHub. Apart from the obvious things such as version control, Arfon discussed the tools and mindset of open source programmers, and who that could be applied to scientific data. For example, software on GitHub is often automatically tested for bugs (and GitHub displays a badge saying whether things are OK). Imagine doing this for a data set, having it automatically checked for errors and/or internal consistency. Reproducibility is a big topic in science, but open source software has to be reproducible by default in the sense that it has to be able to be downloaded and compiled on a user's computer. This is just a couple of the things Arfon covered, see his slides for more.

Transitive Credit

One idea which particularly struck me was that of "transitive credit":

Katz, D. S. (2014, February 10). Transitive Credit as a Means to Address Social and Technological Concerns Stemming from Citation and Attribution of Digital Products. JORS. Ubiquity Press, Ltd.

From the above paper:

The idea of transitive credit is as follows: The credit map for product A, which is used by product B, feeds into the credit map for product B. For example, product A is a software package equally written by two authors and its credit map is that 50 percent of the credit for this should go the lead developer, 20 percent to the second developer, and 10 percent to the third developer. In addition, 5 percent should go to each of the four libraries that are needed to run the code. When this product is created and registered, this credit map is registered along with it. Product B is a paper that obtains new science results, and it depended on Product A. The person who registers the publication also registers its credit map, in this case 75 percent to her/himself, and 25 percent to the software code previous mentioned. Credit is now transitive, in that the lead software developer of the code can be given credit for 12.5 percent of the paper. If another paper is later written that extends the product B paper and gives 10% credit to that paper, the lead software package developer will also have 1.25% credit for the new paper.
The idea of being able to track credit across derived products is interesting, and is especially relevant to projects such as GBIF, where users can download large datasets that are themselves aggregations of data from numerous different providers (making it was to calculate the relative contributions of each provider). If we then track citations of that data (and citations of those citations) we could give data providers a better estimate of the actual impact of their data.


Euan Adie of altimetric talked about "impact", and remarked on an example of a paper being cited in a policy document and this being picked up by altimetric and seen by the authors of the paper, who had no idea that their work had influenced a policy document. This raises some intriguing possibilities, related to the idea of "transitive credit" above.

In building BioNames I've added the ability to show altimetric "donuts" and I'm struck by examples like this one (see also reference in BioNames):

JENKINS, P. D., & ROBINSON, M. F. (2002, June). Another variation on the gymnure theme: description of a new species of Hylomys (Lipotyphla, Erinaceidae, Galericinae). Bulletin of The Natural History Museum. Zoology Series. Cambridge University Press (CUP) doi:10.1017/S0968047002000018

This paper has no recent "buzz" (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Mendeley) but is cited on three Wikipedia pages. So, this paper has impact, albeit in social media. Many papers like this will slip below the social media radar but will be used by various databases and may contribute to subsequent work. Perhaps we could expand alt metrics sources of information to include some of those databases. For example, if a paper has been aggregated/cited by a major databases (such as GBIF) then it would be nice to see that on the altimetric donut. For authors this gives them another example of the impact of their work, but for the databases it's also an opportunity to increase engagement (if people have relevant work that doesn't appear in the donut they can take steps to have that work included in the aggregation). Obviously there are issues about what databases to count as providing signal for alt metrics, but there's scope here to broaden and quantify our notion of impact.


The ReCon hackney was an pretty informal event held at CodeBase just down from Edinburgh Castle, and apparently the largest start-up incubator in the European tech scene. It was a pretty amazing place, and a great venue for a hackney. I spent the day looking at the ORCID API and seeing if I could create some mashups with Journal Map and my own BioNames. One goal was to see if we could generate a map of researcher's study sites starting with their ORCID, using ORCID's API to retrieve a list of their publications, then talking to the Journal Map API to get point localities for those papers. The code worked, but the results were a little disappointing because Jim Caryl and I were focussing on University of Glasgow researchers, and they had few papesri n Journal Map. The code, such as it is, is in GitHub.

My original idea was to focus on BioNames, and see how many authors of taxonomic papers had ORCIDs. Initial experiments seemed promising (see GitHub for code and data). Time was limited, so I got as far has building lists of DOIs from BioNames and discovering the associated ORCIDs. The next steps would be (a) providing ORCID login to BioNames, and using ORCID to help cluster author name strings in BioNames. Still much to do.

I've not been to many hackdays/hackathons, but I find them much more rewarding than simply sitting in a lecture theatre and listening to people talk. Combining both types of meeting is great, and I look forward to similar event sin the future.