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Figshare: a new way to publish scientific research data

18 Jan, 2012

Figshare logoMark Hahnel introduces a new free service aiming to push forward open access.

Disclaimer: Figshare is not affiliated with the Wellcome Trust. Views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

The Wellcome Trust has a strong view on open access and scientific data, expecting authors of research to “maximise the opportunities to make their results available for free”. Other funders have statements along similar lines and the UK’s science minister, David Willetts recently declared a “commitment by the coalition [government] to transparency and open access to publicly funded data”. Yet scientists are notoriously secretive, due in no small part to the current model of scientific publishing.

Scientists carry out research to push the boundaries of knowledge. In the current model of dissemination, a small fraction of this knowledge is handed over to journals in the form of scientific articles, or ‘papers’, for them to sell at a profit (with profit margins increasing).

Journal subscriptions

Journal subscriptions and profits 1986-2008. Source: Association of Research Libraries. 2008.

Is this how science should be disseminated? The current process is based on a 17th century model, which was undoubtedly the best way to share this knowledge at the time. But today, the internet offers new ways to publish scientific data that many argue to be better.

Over the last decade, open access publishing has flourished, perhaps even begun to dominate, scientific publishing – it was recently claimed that PLoS ONE may be the largest journal in the world in terms of article numbers.

Yet one problem that remains is the amount of data that remains unpublished, unshared and essentially wasted. But why is this? As Professor Colin Blakemore suggested in a Radio 4 interview recently, “Memory is getting cheaper, access to information is getting much, much easier. So why shouldn’t we just simply put the raw data for everything that scientists do up on the web, accessible to every other scientists, so that they can scrutinise it, use it, data-mine it, combine it with other information and gain more useful evidence?”

This is where our venture comes in. Figshare is a free service allowing researchers to publish all of their research outputs to the web in seconds in an easily citable, sharable and discoverable manner. We aim to show researchers that they can get the credit for all of their research, whilst at the same time moving research forward in a more efficient manner.

Researchers can publish figures, datasets, tables, videos, anything. All file formats can be published, including videos and datasets that are often demoted to the supplemental materials section in current journals. Up to 1GB of data can be stored privately for free, and users have unlimited space for publicly available research.

Using this, researchers could easily publish null results, avoiding the file drawer effect and helping to make scientific research more efficient by opening up the peer review process.

We also use Creative Commons licensing to allow frictionless sharing of research data, while allowing researchers to choose when and if they make data publicly available. Scientists are notoriously secretive – as Professor Peter Murray-Rust of Cambridge points out, “the primary purpose of publication for most academics is self-advancement”. Yet the idea that secrecy in research will ultimately lead to individual success means that scientific research as a whole is suffering.

We focus on giving users credit for all of their research. There’s increasing evidence for open access increasing impact. By using both traditional measures of impact (i.e. the number of citations) alongside new ones such as altmetrics, Figshare gives researchers a greater level of information, and realtime measurements, of the true reach of their research, without having to wait for other researchers to cite it in another research paper.

Research statistics

New and established methods of tracking impact are recorded on figshare.

For the first time in over 300 years of academic publishing, we could access the sum of all scientific knowledge. By providing a way to store all research data in the cloud, and share it in a quick and simple manner, we hope to help make this possible.

Mark Hahnel

Dr Mark Hahnel is Product Manager of Figshare.

Figshare is supported by Digital Science, a sister company of Nature.

Disclaimer: Figshare is not affiliated with the Wellcome Trust. Views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 19 Jan, 2012 8:05 am

    And, how are we going to know an specific figure is in Figshare? Are the authors citing this is Material & Methods section of their paper?

  2. 19 Jan, 2012 3:55 pm

    Hi Alfonso, figures, datasets, media and all other file formats can be treated in much the same way as normal citations, they can be exported into your reference manager and added to your traditional papers in the references section. If you would like to also put this in the materials and methods, you can do this too!

  3. 20 Jan, 2012 10:32 am

    As a young researcher I think this is a great idea and it is definitely an idea that is being promoted to younger researchers by those more experienced in our fields. However everytime this issue comes up I think this is great in theory but I have no idea where to start…where do I write about all this null / random data or the methods I’ve used that just haven’t worked? So far no one has been able to come up with a decent answer. Some academics have suggested writing a research blog/website, but having started a blog, it just doesn’t seem the right place to do that! I think what I have been waiting/looking for is somewhere “official” where I can write up this data and upload it and connect with other researchers. So I reckon figshare could be the answer I have been looking for – I just hope the wider research community takes it up and that it becomes the success it should be. I don’t have much data yet…I’m only half-way through my PhD, but I will be visiting your website when I’m writing up next year. Thanks, Hannah

  4. Flipa Vance permalink
    23 Jan, 2012 3:29 pm

    but how can we be sure that we don’t end up with a truck load of poor quality data in places like figshare? In my mind, this is the only draw back I can see; otherwise it is fab!

  5. 23 Jan, 2012 3:51 pm

    @Hannah, that sounds great. You don’t need to wait until you are writing up. The 1GB of private space is also great for managing your data so that when you do go to write up, the figure legends and everything else can be easily found.

    @Flipa The research community is very good at finding and commenting on the quality of data. The research has to be uploaded by someone who is putting their name to it. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, ‘would you upload poor quality data?’. Thanks for the feedback!

  6. J.D. Santillana-Ortiz permalink
    24 Jan, 2012 8:08 pm

    Great! Now, two suggestions for further development: 1) Try to integrate a layer of something like Needlebase (, free… but changing) so real data-mining can occur instead of just browsing, and 2) Implement an app for ResearchGate (, “The Facebook for scientists”) so it becomes a thriving ecosystem. Keep the nice work!

  7. 25 Jan, 2012 4:50 pm

    Hi JD, thanks a lot for your suggestions, we are working on an API as we speak to encourage data mining, linking etc. With regards to researchgate, it is definitely something we will look into. Thanks again.

  8. J.D. Santillana-Ortiz permalink
    25 Jan, 2012 11:29 pm


  9. J.D. Santillana-Ortiz permalink
    5 Feb, 2012 10:02 pm

    Hey Mark, did you read about the F1000 Research initiative?

  10. 18 Mar, 2013 10:39 am

    What about peer review? Why would I cite something someone uploaded without a quality control check?


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