OpenCitations has happily joined the open-source social media platform joinmastodon.org.
Mastodon is “a free and open-source software developed by a non-profit organization”, with the aim of favouring interoperability and bringing social media interaction “back in the hands of the people”.
We look forward to recreating there our wide network of connections, and getting in touch with new people, projects and institutions in a different virtual environment.
In the scholarly ecosystem, a bibliographic citation is a conceptual directional link from a citing entity to a cited entity, used to acknowledge or ascribe credit for the contribution made by the author(s) of the cited entity. Citations are one of the core elements of scholarly communication. They enable the integration of our independent research endeavours into a global graph of relationships that can be used, for instance, to analyse how scholarly knowledge develops over time, assess scholars’ influence, and make wise decisions about research investment.
A copyrighted fact
However, as citation data, i.e. pieces of factual information aiming at identifying entities and relationships among them, are of great value to the scholarly community, it has been a “scandal” that they have not been recognised as part of the commons. Indeed, only recently we have seen some efforts – such as the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) – that have tried to change the behind-the-paywall status quo enforced by the companies controlling the major citation indexes used worldwide, convincing scholarly publishers to support the unrestricted availability of scholarly citation data by publishing them in suitable open infrastructures, such as Crossref and DataCite.
Of course, as for many other kinds of data, putting bibliographic and citation data behind a paywall is a thread to enabling the full reproducibility of research studies based on them (e.g. in bibliometrics, scientometrics, and science of science domains), even when such studies are published in open access articles. For instance, the results of a recent open access article published on Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, which aimed to analyse the citation behaviour of Digital Humanities (DH) research across different proprietary and open citation databases, are not fully reproducible since the majority of the databases used – namely Scopus, Web of Science, and Dimensions – do not make their bibliographic and citation data openly available.
In addition, the coverage of publications and related citations in specific disciplines, particularly those within the Social Sciences and the Humanities (SSH), is inadequatecompared tootherfields. Usually, this is due to the limited availability of born-digital publications accompanied by a wide variety of publication languages, publication types (e.g. monographs), and complex referencing practices that may limit their automatic processing and citation extraction. As a side effect, such a partial coverage may result in a considerable bias when analysing SSH disciplines compared to STEM disciplines that usually have better coverage in existing citation databases.
Reforming research assessment
All these scenarios have at least another negative effect on the area strictly concerned with the research assessment, which often uses quantitative metrics based on citation data to evaluate articles, people, and institutions. Indeed, the unavailability and partial coverage of bibliographic and citation data create an artificial barrier to the transparency of the processes used to decide the careers of scholars in terms of research, funding, and promotions.
to be open and transparent by providing machine-readable, unrestricted and reusable data and methods for calculating the metrics used in research assessment exercises, and
to leave to the research community, instead of commercial players, the control and ownership of the crucial infrastructures and tools used to retrieve, use and analyse such data within research assessment systems.
Thus, the leading guideline that can be abstracted is to follow Open Science practices even when assessing research and not only when performing research.
Within this context, OpenCitations (full disclosure: I am one of its directors) plays an important role, acting as a key infrastructure component for global Open Science, and pushes for actively involving universities, scholarly libraries and publishers, infrastructures, governments and international organisations, research funders, developers, academic policy-makers, independent scholars and ordinary citizens. The mission of OpenCitations is to harvest and openly publish accurate and comprehensive metadata describing the world’s academic publications and the scholarly citations that link them, with the greatest possible global coverage and subject scope, encompassing both traditional and non-traditional publications, and with a breadth and depth that surpasses existing sources of such metadata, while maintaining the highest standards of accuracy and accompanying all its records with rich provenance information, and providing this information, both in human-readable form and in interoperable machine-readable Linked Open Data formats, under open licenses at zero cost and without restriction for third-party analysis and re-use.
For OpenCitations, open is the crucial value and the final purpose. It is the distinctive mark and founding principle that everything OpenCitations provide – data, services and software – is open and free and will always remain so. OpenCitations fully espouses the aims and vision of the UNESCO Recommendations on Open Science, complies with the FAIR data principles, and promotes and practises the Initiative for Open Citations recommendation that citation data, in particular, should be Structured, Separable, and Open.
The most important collection of such open citation data is COCI, the OpenCitations Index of Crossref open DOI-to-DOI citations. The last release, dated August 2022, contains more than 1.36 billion citation links between more than 75 million bibliographic entities that can be accessed programmatically using its REST API, queried via the related SPARQL endpoint, and downloaded in full as dumps in different formats (CSV, JSON, and RDF).
In addition to the publication of citation data, a considerable effort has been dedicated to collaborating with other Open Science infrastructures working in the scholarly ecosystem, as summarised in the figure above. Since 2020, OpenCitations has significantly benefited from the scholarly community that resulted from the 2019 selection by the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS) of OpenCitations as a scholarly infrastructure worthy of financial support. The community funding permitted the appointments of people dedicated to the administration, communication, community development, and maintenance and improvement of the OpenCitations software and the computational infrastructure on which it runs. In addition, OpenCitations started its involvement with OpenAIRE and the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), and it is collaborating with other funded projects project such as RISIS2, OutCite, OPTIMETA and B!SON.
While OpenCitations is currently providing a good set of citation data, which is already approaching parity with other commercial citation databases and that has already been used in a few studies for research purposes, there is still a margin for improvement. Currently, the citations included in the OpenCitations Indexes come mainly from Crossref data, one of the biggest open reference providers. However, Crossref does not cover all the publishers of DOI-based resources. Indeed, other DOI providers, in some cases, expose citation relations in their metadata, such as DataCite. In addition, DOI-based publications represent just a limited set of all the bibliographic entities published in the scholarly ecosystem. Other identifier schemas have been used to identify bibliographic entities – and, for some publications, there not exist identifiers at all!
On the other hand, OpenCitations has started working to create a new database entitled OpenCitations Meta, which will provide three major benefits. First, it will permit storing in-house bibliographic metadata for the citing and cited entities involved in all OpenCitations Indexes, including author identifiers using ORCID and VIAF identifier schemes where available. Second, it will provide better query performance than the present API system, which obtains bibliographic metadata on-the-fly by live API calls to external services, such as Crossref and DataCite APIs. Finally, it will permit indexing citations involving entities lacking DOIs, by providing them OpenCitations Meta Identifiers.
This last collection, combined with automatic tools for citation extraction from digital formats, is crucial for increasing the coverage of underrepresented disciplines and fields in bibliographic databases, such as SSH publications. One of the OpenCitations’ goals is to reduce this gap in citation coverage by setting up crowdsourcing workflows for ingesting missing citation data from the scholarly community (e.g. libraries and publishers). In the future, another contribution will be to set up tools for automatic extraction of citations that can also support small and local publishers, crucial assets for SSH research, that may find difficulties in carrying out citation extraction tasks on their own since using and maintaining a tool (or paying a company addressing those tasks on behalf of the publisher) requires extra costs beyond publishers’ finances.
To conclude: OpenCitations is one piece of a puzzle that is working to change existing scholarly practices to create an open and inclusive future for science and research in which the scholarly community owns and is responsible for its own data.
The OpenCitations Roadmap consists of a board fulfilled with colour-labelled cards which present the goals so far reached, the present projects and activities, and the future plans. By clicking on the cards, it is possible to visualize a description for each activity, the progress state, and who in the OpenCitations team is working on it.
The OpenCitations Roadmap covers all kinds of activities divided according to the scope, identified by the coloured labels, in particular:
light blue for the technical development, such as the development of the software for the creation of the new database OpenCitations Meta and of DOCI, the OpenCitations Index of DataCite open DOI-to-DOI citations, and the re-engineering of the infrastructure and the website;
green for the data model implementation;
yellow for the data development, such as the bi-monthly COCI releases;
purple for the events and outreach activities.
The cards also highlight the activities related to the two EC-funded projects OpenCitations is involved in, OpenAIRE Nexus (blue label) and RISIS2 (orange label). We thank the OpenAIRE team for the help and suggestions during the Roadmap review process.
The OpenCitations Roadmap is an open work in progress that will reflect the developments and growth of OpenCitations. At OpenCitations, we don’t want this Roadmap to be just an online ‘showcase’, but a room in which to share ideas and opinions. We invite you – the members of our community, our stakeholders, the other Open Science actors, researchers, and librarians, and anyone who is interested in OpenCitations activities – to add a comment or a question in the ‘Leave feedback‘ card. This will help us to better understand our strong and weak points, and to stay in touch with the needs and thoughts of the community.
In this way, supplementing the conventional communications channels of email and the social platforms (our blog, Twitter, LinkedIn), the OpenCitations Roadmap will become a new virtual place for dialogue, where you can directly contribute to improve OpenCitations.
We are happy to announce OpenCitations’ participation in a number of online conferences and events during the next few weeks. Our directors Silvio Peroni and David Shotton will be speaking at the Open Science Fair 2021, the OASPA Conference 2021 and Open Access Tage.
Open Science Fair 2021 (20-23 September) is an event organized by OpenAIRE, in collaboration with some key international initiatives in the area of Open Science: COAR, EIFL, Force11, LA Referencia, LIBER, OPERAS, Sparc, Sparc Europe. Like a real fair, the visitors can explore virtual pavilions, participating in various Keynote Talks, Parallel Sessions and Workshops dedicated to Open Science. Silvio Peroni will give two talks on Tuesday 21:
The Workshop “The perils of being invisible. Collective funding models for Open Science infrastructure” (16:30-18:00 CEST) “will help identify the main challenges of collective funding models for Open Science Infrastructure, as well as explore the path forward to make them more efficient”. Silvio Peroni, Niels Stern (DOAB/OAPEN)James MacGregor (PKP), Agata Morka (SPARC Europe/SCOSS), Jon Treadway (the Great North Wood Consulting), Jean-Francois Lutz (University of Lorraine) and Vanessa Proudman (SPARC Europe) will reflect on the evanescence of Open Science Infrastructure (OSI) in library budget considerations. The speakers will also promote interaction with other workshop participants in order to create a collective dialogue. You can register for the event here: https://www.opensciencefair.eu/2021/workshops/the-perils-of-being-invisible
The OASPA Conference 2021 (21-23 September), entitled “Designing 21st Century Knowledge Sharing Systems”, will be dedicated to “many timely and fundamental topics relating to open scholarly communication”, including “the ongoing impact of the pandemic”. David Shotton will take part in the Poster Lightning Talks Session 3 (Thursday 23, 1-2 pm BST), with the title “OpenCitations – what does the future hold?”, a reflection on OpenCitations’ values, data, services, achievements so far, and plans for the future. For further information and registration: https://oaspa.org/conference/
Silvio Peroni, together with James MacGregor (Public Knowledge Project) and Niels Stern (OAPEN) will hold the Workshop “How Open Infrastructure Benefits Libraries?” (September 27, 11:30-13 CEST) as part of the Open Access Tage 2021 (27-29 September), an annual event dedicated to Open Access initiatives and community. During the workshop, the speakers will investigate the social and economic value of open infrastructures for libraries. For more information and to register for the event: https://oat21.sched.com/event/kdFg/workshop-2-how-open-infrastructure-benefits-libraries
We thank the organizers of these prestigious international events for having invited OpenCitations to participate. The Open Science resounds and grows through such community-centered initiatives.
If you wish to learn more about Open Science, ongoing Open Access initiatives, and OpenCitations’ commitment to and activities within these areas, don’t miss the opportunity to participate in these on-line conferences … see you there!
Very VERY occasionally I read a paper that is so well written, and which addressed the points so accurately and so eloquently, that I rejoice. The paper by Pettifer et al. entitled Ceci n’est pas un hamburger: modelling and representing the scholarly article that appeared in Learned Publishing last October , is one of this special handful.
It is beautifully written, and the scope of its coverage is highly pertinent to the recent discussions on the future of research communication detailed in the previous post. It also has the benefit of being published as an Open Access paper in what is otherwise a subscription access journal.
I particularly liked the authors’ evaluation of FRBR‘s classification into works, expressions and manifestations to describe the relative benefits and drawbacks of PDF, XML, and RDF as representations of a journal article, since that is exactly what Silvio Peroni and I modelled in FaBiO, the FRBR-aligned Bibliographic Ontology.
The paper is also an excellent introduction to Utopia Documents, the ‘smart’ PDF reader that the authors have developed, which is used to create the Semantic Biochemical Journal, and which is to be highly recommended for personal use to enrich the experience of reading articles in PDF format on-line. The Utopia Documents software is freely available, and can be downloaded from http://www.utopiadocs.com.
 Pettifer S, McDermott P, Marsh J, Thorne D, Villeger A and Attwood TK (2011). Ceci n’est pas un hamburger: modelling and representing the scholarly article. Learned Publishing, 24 (3): 207-220. http://dx.doi.org/10.1087/20110309.