New Science Journal Data APIs are Worlds Apart

Mark Boyd
Aug. 16 2013, 01:00PM EDT

Scientific journals are providing greater access to published research by releasing new APIs. Cambridge Journals Online API and Public Library of Science Article Level Metrics API have both been released in the past several weeks. Meanwhile, the European Commission has just completed a public consultation on open access to research data ahead of a new wave of policy reform and their next big research funding round.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is fairly unique amongst research journals, offering open access to every research article they publish. They announce that their mission:

"...is to accelerate progress in science and medicine by leading a transformation in research communication. Every article that we publish is open-access - freely available online for anyone to use. Sharing research encourages progress, from protecting the biodiversity of our planet to finding more effective treatments for diseases such as cancer."

PLoS publishes discipline-specific research journals including computational biology, genetics, and ONE, a general science journal crossing many disciplines. PLoS maintains a scientific integrity and robustness of other peer-reviewed journals, while seeking to disrupt the current scientific publication system in which end users are often required to pay up to $45 for access to a single research article, often published a year after the research has been completed.

To extend PLoS’ mission, they have previously released the PLoS Search API to enable PLoS catalog searches via a REST interface and now they have released an Article Level Metrics API.

“This is the kind of API that is as applicable to research applications as it is to social ones”, says Patrick, one of the ProgrammableWeb API staffers who singled out the PLoS Article Level Metrics API as an API of the week.

The PLoS Article Level Metrics API provides access to a rich source of metadata related to the level of impact of research published on the PLoS website. Performance reports on online usage, citations, social bookmarks, notes, comments, ratings and blog coverage of each published article can be sourced via the ALM API.

The release of a beta API by Cambridge Journals, on the other hand, models the paywall-based limitations to scientific research access that PLoS is trying to disrupt. The beta Cambridge Journals Online API provides a RESTful interface to access citation and abstract data of all 300+ Cambridge Journal published articles. Developers could use the API to create a live feed of published articles on a given scientific subject, or incorporate abstracts and citations into a search return of a given keyword. Cambridge Journals are looking into providing other data via their API in the future. To make use of the API, developers need to email Cambridge with an outline of how they plan to use the data before an API key will be provided.

Publication of scientific research articles was not covered in detail at the European Commission public consultation on open research data held in early July 2013. However, there were strong calls from the Open Knowledge Foundation for future scientific research to be made available in machine readable format, in a similar vein to the White House’s Executive Order on Open Data.

Mark Boyd is a ProgrammableWeb writer covering breaking news, API business strategies and models, open data, and smart cities. I can be contacted via email, on Twitter, or on Google+.

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