Democratizing Research Funding Data

New product from Digital Science, a major corporate player, will make information about scholarly research life cycle available free to individual scientists.

January 15, 2018

Recent months have brought much agitation among academic researchers over the role of for-profit companies in the scholarly workflow. There is growing mistrust of how scholarly networking sites and ResearchGate are handling researchers’ data.

And major companies such as Elsevier have expanded their footprint into all stages of the research process, raising questions over whether it is wise for researchers and institutions to become reliant on one company’s services amid fears of future fee hikes.

Today, another major for-profit player in the research management space, Digital Science, is relaunching its research-tracking tool Dimensions in a way that will make reams of data about research funding, publications and citations available to individual researchers at no cost. An enhanced version of the tool will also be offered to institutions at a much more affordable rate than what many are currently paying to review publication data they use to assess their research impact.

Originally designed for science funders to track funding trends, the Dimensions tool has been expanded to include a large abstract and citation database -- making freely available data many companies charge for access to. Dimensions also includes information linking grants and associated publications to patents, clinical trials and policy documents.

The tool does not offer a search option for open funding opportunities for researchers looking for grants to apply to. ​But by linking grant data with publication data, as well as incorporating impact metrics from Altmetric, one of Digital Science's portfolio companies, Dimensions will enable users to follow research through its whole life cycle -- from successful grant allocation to publication, citations and beyond, Digital Science officials say.

Sara Rouhi, director of engagement and advocacy for Dimensions and Altmetric, said Digital Science is offering so much data for free because it wants to “democratize” this information. “Smaller institutions are majorly disadvantaged by siloed data sets with expensive paywalls, so we don’t make that data paid,” said Rouhi. She said the company is able to offer the data at no cost to individuals because “our value-add is on top of the publications and citations data.”

The decision to offer a free abstract and indexing database was made because the company wants to "spur innovation in the space by making that data a commodity," said Rouhi. Digital Science wants to "transform the ecosystem" by encouraging institutions, solutions providers, researchers, competitors and others to innovate and create their own research management tools with the data -- "something we would all benefit from."

But there are other strategic reasons for making the data free.

Digital Science is eager to position itself as a "good guy," in a space where there is much wariness of research technology companies. By offering its publication and citation data for free, the company is able to "showcase our commitment to free and sustainably priced solutions" that are "the best in the market," said Rouhi.

It's not entirely charitable, of course. Introducing researchers to free Digital Science tools that help "facilitate a more efficient researcher workflow experience" will "hopefully keep them using Digital Science products," said Rouhi.

Added Stephen Leicht, chief operating officer of Digital Science's discovery and analytics group, "We do believe that by doing that, this should enhance all of our different business assets."

With the free version, users will be able to search the abstract and citation database and view open-access papers with one click. They will also be able to access basic metrics for these publications and associated grants. The company envisions that this will primarily be used by academics to discover research.

A paid version of the tool called Dimensions Plus is designed for institutions, with a “sustainable” price point determined by the institution’s research output. Digital Science and some university administrators familiar with the tool said the institutional price was substantially lower than what many institutions currently pay to access scholarly literature indexes such as Elsevier’s Scopus or Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. With the paid version, institutions will be able to access more detailed metrics and data, as well as incorporate institutional logins so that academics can easily access research behind a paywall.

Roger Schonfeld, director of Ithaka S&R’s libraries and scholarly communications program, said he thought Digital Science’s strategy of layering paid-for services and tools on top of free data was an interesting move from the company. He added that by pulling in numerous data sets and functions, Digital Science seemed to have created “an entire new category of product.”

Schonfeld has previously written with some concern about the way in which a small number of companies such as Clarivate Analytics, Digital Science and Elsevier are working to provide solutions for researchers’ entire workflow. Though Schonfeld feels that Digital Science has created a useful product, he said he would encourage researchers and institutions to think about how to engage with such tools in an “increasingly strategic way.”

He added that he would be interested to see how Digital Science’s competitors respond but felt that few would be surprised that Digital Science had decided to expand with an abstract and citation database.

Digital Science said it had expanded the Dimensions tool in response to customer requests for a new research data platform, and that response to the product so far has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Keith Webster, dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University, said that one of the advantages of the revamped Dimensions tool, which he has tried out as a development partner, is that it pulls together data that previously would have been found using several tools into one convenient spot. Anne Maglia, associate vice chancellor for research administration and institutional compliance at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and another development partner, agreed.

“The new product makes it easier to quickly find information to support our faculty and administrators,” said Maglia. “Having multiple types of data aggregated in one place, with a straightforward interface, simplifies our data-searching process. As a result we are using data for many more applications than we had the time or ability to previously.” She added that her institution planned to use the product for strategic planning and to improve the competitiveness of its research enterprise.

Both Carnegie Mellon and UMass were among 100 developmental partners that Digital Science worked with to develop the Dimensions 2.0 in the last 12 months. Both Webster and Maglia said that their institutions already subscribe to Digital Science products and will continue to do so.

Webster said he hopes the new version of Dimensions will integrate well with the other Digital Science tools the university is already using, and he wishes to create “a holistic campus research information system.” Previously his colleagues used Dimensions only sporadically to find potential collaboration partners or new hires, he said, as well as to better understand the international funding landscape.

Maglia said she feels the Dimensions product is a “very good value” for the time it saves and the data it provides, but Webster said he is not certain that the product is yet a complete replacement for products offered by Digital Science’s competitors.

He explained that institutions that value, for example, Clarivate Analytics’ Impact Factor, or Elsevier’s Snowball Metrics may not be ready to drop their subscriptions to these services just yet.

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Lindsay McKenzie

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