File Sharing for Scientists

ResearchGateIn the olden days, scientists used to send out paper reprints of their research papers to colleagues…maybe they still do. I get the occasional request for such an archaic entity for the items I have had published in Science, PNAS, and other journals.

These days, you’re more likely to simply ask for an eprint of a scientific paper, probably a PDF, possibly a doc file, or some other electronic format. But, even that’s really only a front to making contact with the author as it ever was. However, these days journal copyright clauses usually allow individual researchers to republish their individual papers on their personal website, which opens up a whole new way of accessing single research papers for free.

Dr Ijad Madisch CEO of ResearchGate calls this the “green route” to Open Access. ResearchGate has around 140,000 scientist members after just a year online and each member has their own personal web page within the scientific social network…you see where this is leading, I presume?

ResearchGate today launches its Self­Archiving Repository, which could provide members with free access to potentially millions of research papers without the obstacle of library subscriptions or the financial barrier of pay-per-view. It’s almost like ResearchGate is set to do for journal article what Spotify,, and Pandora have done for music – a quick search and you can access the content you want instantly without a fee.

“Our publication index, containing metadata for 35 million publications, will be automatically matched with the SHERPA RoMEO ( data set of journal and publisher’s self­archiving agreements,” explains Madisch, “As a result, authors will know which versions of their articles they can legally upload. Since nine out of ten journals allow self­archiving, this project could give thousands of researchers immediate access to articles that are not yet freely available.”

ResearchGate says that by using this approach its SelfArchiving Repository does not infringe copyright because each profile page within ResearchGATE is legally considered the personal website of the user.

It’s a neat idea, and one that could open the floodgates to other similar systems. I suspect, however, that once it becomes more well known, the journal publishers will start looking more closely at their author copyright agreements and adjust them accordingly to preclude uploading to sites that are considered external to the authors’ own company or institution.

“We don’t know how publishers will respond to this,” Madisch told me, “but we are definitely not looking for confrontation. Our primary goal when developing this tool was to serve the entire scientific community.”

Aside from the fact that the green route to Open Access is bound to be welcomed by authors, it’s not going to be music to the ears of the journal publishing industry.

22 thoughts on “File Sharing for Scientists”

  1. So this means the scientists now a days will not have to go through all the papers, they just have to research Gate right David Bradley.

  2. @Steve Not even close. ScienceDirect is a proprietary database providing access to Elsevier journals for those with appropriate subscriptions. ResearchGate is like a Facebook for scientists and just happens to be offering this interesting approach to getting access to an individual’s research papers that you would otherwise have to pay for.

  3. Is the business model of Research Gate is similar to that of Science Direct? Only a membership is enough for accessing the database?

  4. @Brian You raise some interesting points. I guess ResearchGate has just taken the opportunity to test the water with this idea. However, I suspect that if it takes off, then the publishers will certainly tighten up their author agreements and disallow this kind of file sharing and we’ll end up back at square one but with a lesson learned and a little more pressure exerted on and by the various “stakeholders” I thought it was a clever idea and posted a quick update to stimulate debate, as you probably realised.

    It’s interesting that you mention the user numbers. When I was heavily involved with the original ChemWeb back in 1996 onwards, we eventually reached a point where we had more “members” than the American Chemical Society. Similarly, with whom I was involved slightly later had well over half a million members. For both sites, these were generally users that logged in at least once a month and a fair proportion were visiting much more frequently than that, not least to read the great news and features content that we were producing for the sites’ ezines ;-) I suspect you’re right regarding activity though regarding the second generation of science community sites, as with Twitter and its ilk, there is one of those 80:20 type rules developing, where the “vital” few are producing the most activity.

  5. I see you grabbed my tweet David. I’m all for the open access movement, I just wonder if researchgate is the right platform. Access to articles should not be held by publishers behind a paywall, or behind a start-up’s login screen. This really needs to be headed up by a truly open access venue such as the NCBI (expand PMC for pre-prints?), NSF, or as a decentralized service served by the Universities themselves and then aggregated by a central site.

    It’s great that researchgate is shedding light on the issue of green OA, eprint/preprint, and self-archiving because a lot of researchers are unaware of publisher policies and their rights as content creators.

    My biggest annoyance here is that researchgate throws around numbers like 140k MEMBERS, but how many of those are USERS. I understand that for a community to be viable, you need a community. It’s the catch 22 of social networking, but when you’re disingenuous about USERS, you only piss people off when they come to your site, see that 2 groups have posts in the last month, and that the vast majority of the activity is by the same 10 or so people. What are the other 139,990 people doing there?

    I think researchgate, and the 20 or so other science facebook knockoffs have proven over the last 2 or 3 years that scientists either don’t have time for social networks OR the networks don’t provide good enough services to make them useful. Paper archiving could make a site like researchgate useful. But we have a hard enough time getting scientists to update paper citations on their university web profiles. You think they’re going to sign up for researchgate, upload their paper, and fill in missing metadata for every paper they’ve published or will publish? I don’t see it happening, and this is why such a database should be curated either by a national library, or by the university libraries themselves. There’s a really great university OA movement building steam, I just hope they put their heads together to create a system of databases that can talk to each other and provide TRUE open access to all of their scientific publications. Read more about OA here:

  6. It is definitely possible that publishers (at least some) will try to insert such a clause into their copyright agreements. But in the current environment such an approach may well backfire and provide even more support for the open access movement. There’s also the risk that institutions will find some way around the restriction.

    I think publishers will keep the noise down and instead try to persuade everyone that such open repositories are useless anyway, because no one really uses them and you never find the paper you look for.

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