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Improving Data Access at PLOS

In this guest post, John Chodacki, Director of Product Management at PLOS, shares PLOS’ recent advances in improving data access.

As part of our broader commitment to open access in scholarly communications, PLOS continues its efforts to drive towards openness in data use and re-use. Data access and sharing is paramount to the continued progress of research: replicating, refining, and building off previously established insights. Theo Bloom has shared this vision – the rationale, background, and overarching plan – in a previous piece, “Dealing with Data,” in PLOS Biologue.

PLOS continues its formal partnership with Dryad, an open access repository of data underlying peer-reviewed articles.  We established the integration of PLOS Biology with Dryad last July and are now extending it to PLOS Genetics.  Through this partnership, we can provide the research community seamless access to the underlying data alongside the final research output itself.  Dryad takes data “packages” associated with published articles and makes them freely available with a unique identifier (DOI).  Authors can also upload subsequent versions of their data (clearly indicated), as well as having download statistics for each data package.  To strengthen the review process, editors and reviewers are given confidential access to the data associated with articles under review.  The Dryad integration will launch soon in PLOS Genetics, and we plan to continue with other PLOS journals throughout the year. By providing an open access permanent repository for the data associated with publications, Dryad provides our journals with an important additional route to data sharing.

PLOS journals have always had a system to make it particularly easy for the figures and tables published in our articles to be re-used: we assign and register DOIs in a comprehensive manner for all figures across all PLOS articles. Now, we are pleased to say that all “Supporting Information” files are also included in the DOI registration effort and all such files in all our journals will receive a DOI at the time of publication.  Although the community’s ongoing critiques of data sharing through supplementary files are germane, this material currently remains an important part of the documentation that tells the research “story” to date.  As such, it remains important to ensure that such files have a reliable, persistent link online ensuring access to all parts of the content over time.

We have also established a new partnership with figshare to make the figures published in our articles more accessible and discoverable.  In the initial rollout, we will introduce a figshare widget that will display the contents of Supporting Information files, no matter the file type, directly in the article.  This encompasses dataset, text, documents, animated, video, and presentation files.  Our collaboration with figshare enhances usability by enabling users to manipulate the material in ways not supported before: search through the contents, magnify images for closer inspection, and download files singly or as a package.  “PLOS believes in making data as visible and useful as possible,” said Kristen Ratan, Chief Publishing and Product Officer. “Partnering with figshare is an important step in increasing the accessibility of the data associated with our research articles.”

We have many more plans in progress this year that will further realize our commitment to data access and sharing.  These developments include: continued integration of PLOS journals with Dryad, dedicated search support of figures with the introduction of a figshare portal for all PLOS figures, and expansion of partnerships with other entities that support open data. Watch this space for more from us, and please do let us know what you think of how we’re doing.


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