Archive for April, 2016

The following is a guest post from science journalist John Bohannon. We asked him to give us some background on his recent dataset in Dryad and the analysis of that data in Science. What stories will you find in the data? – EH



Sci-Hub is the world’s largest repository of pirated journal articles. We will probably look back and see it as inevitable. Soon after it became possible for people to share copyrighted music and movies on a massive scale, technologies like Napster and BitTorrent arrived to make the sharing as close to frictionless as possible. That hasn’t made the media industry collapse, as many people predicted, but it certainly brought transformation.

Unlike the media industry, journal publishers do not share their profits with the authors. So where will Sci-Hub push them? Will it be a platform like iTunes, with journals selling research papers for $0.99 each? Or will Sci-Hub finally propel the industry into the arms of the Open Access movement? Will nonprofit scientific societies and university publishers go extinct along the way, leaving just a few giant, for-profit corporations as the caretakers of scientific knowledge?

There are as many theories and predictions about the impact of Sci-Hub as there are commentators on the Internet. What is lacking is basic information about the site. Who is downloading all these Sci-Hub papers? Where in the world are they? What are they reading?

48 hours of Sci-Hub downloads. Each event is color-coded by the local time: orange for working hours (8am-6pm) and blue for the night owls working outside those hours.

Sometimes all you need to do is ask. So I reached out directly to Alexandra Elbakyan, who created Sci-Hub in 2011 as a 22 year-old neuroscience graduate student in Kazakhstan and has run it ever since. For someone denounced as a criminal by powerful corporations and scholarly societies, she was quite open and collaborative. I explained my goal: To let the world see how Sci-Hub is being used, mapping the global distribution of its users at the highest resolution possible while protecting their privacy. She agreed, not realizing how much data-wrangling it would ultimately take us.

Two months later, Science and Dryad are publicly releasing a data set of 28 million download request records from 1 September 2015 through 29 February 2016, timestamped down to the second. Each includes the DOI of the paper, allowing as rich a bibliographic exploration as you have CPU cycles to burn. The 3 million IP addresses have been converted into arbitrary codes. Elbakyan converted the IP addresses into geolocations using a database I purchased from the company Maxmind. She then clustered each geolocation to the coordinates of the nearest city using the Google Maps API. Sci-Hub users cluster to 24,000 unique locations.

The big take-home? Sci-Hub is everywhere. Most papers are being downloaded from the developing world: The top 3 countries are India, China, and Iran. But the rich industrialized countries use Sci-Hub, too. A quarter of the downloads came from OECD nations, and some of the most intense download hotspots correspond to the campuses of universities in the US and Europe, which supposedly have the most comprehensive journal access.

But these data have many more stories to tell. How do the reading habits of researchers differ by city? What are the hottest research topics in Indonesia, Italy, Brazil? Do the research topics shift when the Sci-Hub night owls take over? My analysis indicates a bimodal distribution over the course of the day, with most locations surging around lunchtime, and the rest peaking at 1am local time. The animated map above shows just 2 days of the data.

Something everyone would like to know: What proportion of downloaded articles are actually unavailable from nearby university libraries? Put another way: What is the size of the knowledge gap that Sci-Hub is bridging?

Download the data yourself and let the world know what you find.

The data:


My analysis of the data in Science:



 — John Bohannon

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2015While gearing up for the Dryad member meeting (to be held virtually on 24 May – save the date!) and publication of our annual report, we’re taking a look at last year’s numbers.

2015 was a “big” year for Dryad in many respects. We added staff, and integrated several new journals and publishing partners. But perhaps most notably, the Dryad repository itself is growing very rapidly. We published 3,926 data packages this past year — a 44% increase over 2014 — and blew past the 10,000 mark for total data packages in the repository.

Data package size

Perhaps the “biggest” Dryad story from last year is the increase in the mean size of data packages published. In 2014, that figure was 212MB. In 2015, it more than doubled to 481MB, an increase of a whopping 127%.

This striking statistic is part of the reason we opted at the beginning of 2016 to double the maximum package size before overage fees kick in (to 20GB), and simplified and reduced our overage fees. We want researchers to continue to archive more (and larger) data files, and to do so sustainably. Meanwhile, we do continue to welcome many submissions on the smaller end of the scale.


Distribution of Dryad data package size by year. Boxplot shows median, 1st and 3rd quartiles, and 95% confidence interval of median. Note the log scale of the y-axis.

In 2015, the mean number of files in a data package was about 3.4, with 104 as the largest number of files in any data package. To see how times have changed, compare this to a post from 2011 (celebrating our 1,000th submission), where we noted:

Interestingly, most of the deposits are relatively small in size. Counting all files in a data package together, almost 80% of data packages are less than one megabyte. Furthermore, the majority of data packages contain only one data file and the mean is a little less than two and a half. As one might expect, many of the files are spreadsheets or in tabular text format. Thus, the files are rich in information but not so difficult to transfer or store.

We have yet to do a full analysis of file formats deposited in 2015, but we see among the largest files many images and videos, as would be expected, but also a notable increase in the diversity of DNA sequencing-related file formats.

So not only are there now more and bigger files in Dryad, there’s also greater complexity and variety. We think this shows that more people are learning about the benefits of archiving and reusing multiple file types, and that researchers (and publishers) are broadening their view of what qualifies as “data.”

Download counts

2015speciesSo who had the biggest download numbers in 2015? Interestingly, nearly all of last year’s most-downloaded data packages are from genetics/genomics. 3 of the top 5 are studies of specific wild populations and how they adapt to changing circumstances — Sailfin Mollies (fish), blue tits (birds), and bighorn sheep, specifically.

Another top package presents a model for dealing with an epidemic that had a deadly impact on humans in 2015. And rounding out the top 5 is an open source framework for reconstructing the relationships that unite all lineages — a “tree of life.”

In 5th place, with 367 downloads:

In 4th place, with 601 downloads:

In 3rd place, with 1,324 downloads:

In 2nd place, with 1,868 downloads:

And this year’s WINNER, with 2,678 downloads:

The above numbers are presented with the usual caveats about bots, which we aim to filter out, but cannot do with perfect accuracy. (Look for a blog post on this topic in the near future).

As always, we owe a huge debt to our submitters, partners, members and users for supporting Dryad and open data in 2015!

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