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Richard Smith-Unna
Works at Millennium Seed Bank, Kew
Attends University of Cambridge
Lives in Cambridge, UK
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Richard Smith-Unna

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Google Scholar metrics of scientific journals

Includes, interestingly enough, also "journals" like, which ranks rather high.

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Spot on
Elsevier's 50-day tease.

From +Elsevier: "The new Share Link service...allows authors and their network to access their final published articles on ScienceDirect for free for a 50-day period."

Comment. OA is better. It's not limited to 50 days. You can get OA by publishing your work in an OA journal ("gold OA") or by publishing in a non-OA journal, including an Elsevier journal, and depositing a copy of your peer-reviewed manuscript in an OA repository ("green OA"). If you haven't done this before, here's how. 

Here's one of Elsevier's arguments for the new offer: "Researchers who publish in academic journals understand the necessity to expose their papers to the widest audience possible." That's true. But it's an argument for real OA, not a 50-day tease. A more precise formulation makes Elsevier's true statement false: "Researchers who publish in academic journals understand the necessity to expose their papers to the widest audience possible for 50 days, and then keep them locked behind a paywall." 

Here's another Elsevier argument for the new offer: "The new Share Link service makes it easy for authors to share their articles so they can get more exposure and more citations." That's also true. But it's also an argument for real OA, not a 50-day tease. If you really want more exposure and citations, do you want to stop with a 50-day window onto a global audience, or do you want an ongoing global audience?

Elsevier is right that 50 days of free online access is better than no free online access. But watch it try to make that case without making the case for full-bore OA. 

#oa #openaccess #elsevier
The customized link gives 50 days of free access to the author’s article on ScienceDirect after final publication
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Richard Smith-Unna

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The good 'ol Fermi Paradox. I read about this a few years ago - still a trip to think about!
Scientists estimate that there are over 100,000 intelligent alien civilizations in our galaxy alone—but we've never heard anything from any of them. Here are 13 possible explanations for why.
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The Seriousness of the Kessler Syndrome

The Kessler Syndrome recently stared in the hit movie "Gravity," but what is it? Well, it all starts with our trash. The problem with space debris isn't that it's just a problem of having all this trash floating around, or that it will have an environmental impact (since anything that re-enters the atmosphere typically disintegrates). The real problem with space debris is the speed of that debris, and the possibility that said debris will impact other (more valuable) objects in orbit. And we're not talking about a fender-bender here; we're talking about two rather fragile thousand-pound objects colliding at speeds of tens of thousands of miles an hour.

In the event that two objects impact one-another, the collision creates a massive debris cloud which is also traveling at thousands of miles an hour. Anything from stray solar panels to a screw could obliterate another spacecraft (imagine a screw traveling 20,000 miles an hour). That debris would then hit other objects in orbit, which creates more debris and hits more objects get the picture.

To read the full article, see:
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Definitely how it happened!

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Seems legit.
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+Mike Bostock, one of two people I can think of who have reached total data enlightenment, takes us all on a beautiful journey through algorithms using stunning visualisations.
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Don't buy the IEEE edition of my book.

In January 2013 the IEEE Xplore digital library began hosting digital copies of 400+ books published by MIT Press <>. The IEEE copies are not OA. They're digital copies sold by the chapter. I'm sure that's convenient for some users, and it may also be economical for some chapters of some books. So I'm not criticizing the program as a whole.

My latest book (Open Access, MIT Press, 2012) <> is one of those available in an IEEE edition <>. The problem is that IEEE charges $15 per chapter (PDF-only). By contrast, at Amazon today you can buy the whole paperback edition for $11.72 <> or the whole Kindle edition for $9.99 <>. Moreover, the whole book is open access in eight different file formats <>.

There are other problems here too. My chapters use endnotes, which are all collected in the back of the book and sold by IEEE as a separate chapter. Hence, you could pay $15 for a given chapter and not get any of its notes unless you paid another $15 for them. Moreover, the IEEE flat fee of $15 per chapter applies even to very short sections of the book, like my two-page glossary. The PDF from IEEE is packaged in 15 separate files and will cost you $225.

If you want to buy the whole book, to support the cause, buy the paperback or Kindle edition from MIT Press. If you want to read the book in PDF format, read the open-access PDF from MIT Press <>. It's not only free, it's packaged in one file for continuous reading. 

I can't think of a single reason to buy a single chapter of my book from IEEE.

In fairness, IEEE made its edition available five months before my book became OA. At that time, you couldn't save $225 by choosing an OA edition. You could only save $213 by buying the MIT paperback or save $215 by buying the MIT Kindle edition.

#oa #openaccess +The MIT Press
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Richard Smith-Unna

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Interesting project for archiving reproducible computational experiments. Now there's no excuse not to :)
Sharing Research Artifacts

My research group is building a facility, Apt (, with the aim of making it easier to share research artifacts (code, datasets, etc.).

The basic idea is that (1) we give you virtual and/or physical machines (completely yours, with root) (2) you get your work environment set up: install your software, get all the dependencies set up, copy in your datasets, etc. (3) you take a snapshot of your setup, called a "profile" (4) we give you a URL - anyone with this URL can get an instance of this "profile" on our hardware, giving them an exact copy of your environment to work in. You can share this URL with your collaborators, publish it in your paper, etc.

I think a good way to illustrate this is to walk through a working example:


In a paper we have appearing at NSDI next month, we included this URL: . Go ahead, try it out, it works.

With a minimal amount of account setup (Apt just verifies your email address) you can create an instance of this profile; in this case, it's a Linux VM containing a MySQL database pre-loaded with the data we used in our paper, plus all of the code used to analyze that data. Once you've verified your email address, Apt starts booting the VM in its cluster.

Once the VM finishes booting, you can log into it - you can either use SSH or a (surprisingly functional) terminal built right into Apt's website. You get a message on login (we just replaced the MOTD) that explains where to find the scripts, which ones to run to produce the numbers in our paper, and a URL (simple webserver hosted in the VM) where you can go to download the graphs once they are generated.

Of course, simply producing the same graphs is not the real end goal here, so there is also a pointer to a README that describes the database schema and basics of the scripts.


Apt is built on Emulab, so (to a first approximation), anything you can run on Emulab can be shared this way. We are also hoping that the streamlined interface makes it more appealing to research communities outside Emulab's traditional userbase of networking and distributed systems.

Having successfully put together a profile ourselves, I think we're about ready to help a few other early adopters try building their own. Let me know if you're interested.
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Today I started thinking about how to set the world's knowledge free, and make science open to everyone. Here's the plan:
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This is a fantastic project calling all designers and developers: come and help
Hello - I've a request for help from this community. I'm a scientist involved in the Open Source Malaria project ( We're trying to find new medicines for malaria by using a model that abandons patents. We use a number of websites for the project (if you want you can read a little about the structure in this open access paper: BUT we're not sure that we're doing this right. Are we using the right tools? Are there obvious things we're doing wrong? For example we're using Github as a means to maintain a public to-do list ( Is this a good idea?

We're holding an open online meeting next week to talk about design. It would be very valuable if people here with an interest in how best to collaborate in science online were able to come along and criticise what we're doing. This is a design meeting, not a science meeting. Details are:

Sydney Tue Feb 18th 7 a.m.
London Mon Feb 17th 8 p.m.
San Francisco Mon Feb 17th 12 noon

and the outline of what we'll be talking about is here:

Happy to answer questions here, too, obviously.
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Richard Smith-Unna

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This street performer would win every halloween contest ever
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Look great! that then.
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In his circles
852 people
Have him in circles
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Plant scientist
  • Millennium Seed Bank, Kew
    Associate Researcher, 2010 - present
  • Myself
    Freelance iOS Developer, 2011 - 2012
  • Highways Agency Environment Team
    Conservation Biologist, 2009 - 2010
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Cambridge, UK
London - Bristol - Guildford
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Plant scientist, geek
I'm a plant scientist who loves science, data, tech and Japanese. You can expect me to post mostly about plant science, and sometimes about general science and technology.

During and since my undergrad degree I worked at the Millennium Seed Bank as a researcher and data analyst, so I might write about seeds a lot. They're honestly much more interesting than you might think.

I'm currently a PhD student in the Hibberd lab at Cambridge, where I'm attempting to decipher the molecular basis of C4 photosynthesis using various tools, but especially comparative transcriptomics. I have grandiose (but totally achievable) ambitions of being able to solve the world food crisis using plants (following my supervisor's sterling example).

I'm also a programmer, and under that guise I write scientific data analysis tools and do some freelance iOS developing. My major project this year has been writing AnkiMobile 2 for iOS (released Oct 2012).

Blahah on fora, @blahah404 on Twitter, and this is
  • University of Cambridge
    PhD Plant Sciences, 2012 - present
  • University of the West of England
    Conservation biology, plant science, 2008 - 2012
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