I’m going to stop ignoring ResearchGate


LinkedIn, Facebook, ORCID, Twitter, Instagram, Klout, Mendeley, ResearchGate.

I’m signed up for all of these things. Some are useful, some can be annoying, some I just ignore.

Some vague time ago, a friend in my department mentioned that I should sign up for ResearchGate. I said something like, “It’s just another one of those social networks, yadda yadda so what.” But I signed up anyway*.

At the time I signed up, I halfheartedly connected some of my papers, and since then I’ve ignored it. Jump to last week, when one of their emails was creative enough to find its way through my spam filter:

rgateclipI was like, huh? I chose to click over to my profile on ResearchGate.

It mentioned that I’ve had 1,127 paper downloads. (And most of my papers weren’t even on the site. That is no longer true.)

Having a thousand cumulative downloads of your papers isn’t the biggest thing in the world  — this post will be seen far more widely than all those downloads. But for downloads of academic research papers in peer-reviewed journals, this isn’t chump change. And those downloads are coming from specialists who are working on the same stuff that I’m working on — these are my close colleagues!

The data indicate that a bunch of scientists are now going to ResearchGate to get copies of papers. These downloads are coming from the US, Brazil, China, and lots of other places.

Up until this last week, I’ve always thought: If anybody wants my paper, they’re so easy to access! They’re on my website. And Google Scholar has found them on my website.

But, still, about every few months, I get an email reprint request for a copy of a paper that is readily available from my site. So, some people obviously aren’t as savvy as I imagined, or find it’s easier to email me than to look to see if they are found on the interwebs. But really, it’s more complicated than that.

It was pointed out to me (on twitter) that ResearchGate can be important for scholars in China which has an authoritarian government that cuts off access to not just Facebook, but also Google**.

Since I had ignored my page for a long, long time, I dealt with many “requests” for papers. Some papers were listed as authored by me, but weren’t yet uploaded for people to download. I could send them “privately” or upload them for everybody.

So, this offers a way to deal with circumvent paywalls . Of course, it’d be great if all papers were just open access and we didn’t have to fuss with paywalls at all. But the fact remains that a lot of great papers are still getting published in society journals and other venues that aren’t open access. While we’re working on making science available to everybody***, ResearchGate is a workaround until the lawyers hound them into nonexistence, as it looks like a way to jailbreak papers to be available to everybody. I have no idea if the for-profit publishers that hold copyright on some papers have turned their eyes on ResearchGate.


There is an annoying aspect of the ‘social network’ part of ResearchGate. They have a hokey way to measure your “RG score” and “impact points.” At least, I’m guessing it’s hokey. I have no idea what those numbers are. I suppose one way to get some senior scientists on board is to let them show their big numbers. Not that I have any idea what the units are. And you can “endorse” people in that useless way like happens on LinkedIn.

When I mentioned my discovery that ResearchGate is not entirely useless for everybody, this was the first response:

So, for those of you who have been using it, what can you tell us? Please share! I’m a newbie and don’t know what to say, any tips and recommendations would be great.



*(I’m not an early adopter of this kind of stuff, but I’m an early-sign-up-and-forgetter. I heard an NPR story about Twitter in 2007, so I decided to park an account name just in case it turned into something. “Ant” and “ants” were already gone but “hormiga” was available. I didn’t really start using it until 2013.)

** By the way, having a Google Scholar profile is a good idea, if you haven’t made one yet. (Here’s mine, for what it’s worth, if you’re curious about finding my papers and my h-score.) A couple years ago, Joan Strassmann had a post explaining why you should claim your Google scholar profile.

*** I am an advocate for the publication of papers as open access, and am also an advocate for society journals (e.g., Ecology, Biotropica, Oikos, American Naturalist), which are not uniformly open access but have arrangements with publishers so that the journal supports the activities of the academic society. The publishing environment is evolving rapidly enough that it’s not possible to predict what things will look like in a decade, and keeping an open mind is useful to me.

Just as a disclaimer, I’m not getting paid by anybody to write this. Though feel free to send me a paypal deposit.

17 thoughts on “I’m going to stop ignoring ResearchGate

  1. Like you, I see lots of downloads (3k), even of papers that are easily available elsewhere. I haven’t taken advantage of the more social-media-like features (questions, discussions, following people, etc., but there is quite a lot there to explore.

    One caveat is that I suspect that when you upload a full-text, you are saying that you have the right to do so. For many papers, you may not have that right. I’m not saying anything about the ethics of that copyright issue existing, or of ignoring it; but that is the way (I suspect) it is. Same, of course, is true for Google scholar, personal home pages, etc.

  2. I’ve long been a fan of ResearchGate as it has a number of features not found on other similar sites, including the facility to ask (and answer) questions. The RG score is an intriguing add on that I’ve been playing around with, trying to work out what it is actually measuring (if anything). As far as I can see the number of publications you list adds a lot to it, as does asking and answering questions. Try experimenting by asking a question, you’ll see what I mean.

    I’d not thought about the source of the paper downloads but you’re right, China is up there (along with the USA which I find harder to understand).

  3. Researchgate is great! It is definitely an underrated networking tool. By following topics, I’ve discovered lots of papers I may not have heard about otherwise, and it’s also been great for finding full-texts of older papers in obscure journals that my institution may not have access to. You do have to be careful about uploading full-texts – Researchgate can be very pushy at prompting you to upload full-texts without you realising you’re doing it, but you are breaching copyright if your paper is not able to be publicly displayed. I’ve heard that Elsevier has been requesting Researchgate to take papers down, but not sure about the details. The best bet is just to use the ‘private send’ option when someone requests full-text for a specific article.
    Asking/answering questions is also a great way to interact with other researchers and find new info. The ‘impact’ scores are really just arbitrary, but I think most people join the site for the networking/research benefits, not the impact score. :)

  4. Received this a few minutes ago and it’s is one of the things that I don’t especially like about ResearchGate as it’s likely to irritate the hell out of colleagues in the university:


    With 114 new downloads, you were the most downloaded researcher from The University of Northampton last week

    Congratulations, Jeff. Your achievement has been included directly on the home feeds of your colleagues and co-authors.

  5. I don’t maintain a local site linking to (locally stored) pdfs because I now just link to my researchgate page. I also link to my google scholar page. So if you want to basically see my scholarship follow the google scholar link. If you want to download something, follow the researchgate link. there is also academia.edu or something like that. I don’t remembering registering for academia.edu…but I am, so maybe someone in marketing at my university did that for me. I’ve ignored it but do receive e-mails giving me download statistics (which are not nearly as big as researchgate).

    *** following up on your postscript. My issue with many society journals like Am Nat and Ecology is that these articles never enter the open domain but are behind a paywall forever. But no, I’ve not led any protests against this behavior that may be good for business (debatable) but bad for science.

  6. I’ve also been very careful about what I upload to ResearchGate. I imagine that it’s only a short amount of time before they get sued for copyright violations. It’s been useful to connect to other scientists and sometimes to identify papers that I wasn’t aware of previously.

  7. I like ResearchGate and I try to be an active user. Often I notice from their notification emails first about new papers of my colleagues and other researchers I follow. For my own papers, I don’t upload the full text unless it’s also available from the journal website. So, usually a one year after it was published I will upload it to RG. I’ve also noticed that most of my downloads come from USA and China.

  8. Interesting that the key thing that made you think it was worth watching was the “downloads” email. (I got one too; I think every user did.) That is, ResearchGate is functioning mainly as a paper repository, and not as a social media site. But my recollection is that ResearchGate was originally billed as a “Facebook for scientists” site. In that regard, it’s a kind of a flop.

    Nature’s survey on scientists’ use of social media seems to confirm this: http://www.nature.com/news/online-collaboration-scientists-and-the-social-network-1.15711 Lots of people sign up for ResearchGate, but few use it, especially for conversations.

    My own take on “Facebook for scientists”: http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2011/12/why-facebook-for-scientists-sites-keep.html

  9. I use Research Gate – great way to get your stuff read more easily, although I don’t take part in the Discussions etc, also goo d way of getting papers

  10. The copyright of papers issue on ResearchGate and personal web sites is an interesting one and my attitude has been to try to test what is allowable, regardless of who owns the copyright to the publication itself. So I’ve uploaded full text copies to ResearchGate and to my group’s website. If a publisher asks me to take them down I will do so, but that’s not happened yet. And I suspect it won’t, publishers have bigger fish to fry. I’d also be surprised if ResearchGate is subject to legal proceedings by publishers given that its membership is academics rather than commercial users.

  11. jeffollerton: To think publishers won’t act against ResearchGate is not supported by precedent. Academia.edu, a site similar to ResearchGate, has already been on the receiving end of take-down notices:



    Academia.edu claims to have a bigger user base than ResearchGate (11 million compared to 4.5 million), but strongly suggests that the big five academic for profit publishers could put ResearchGate in their crosshairs at any time.

  12. I love it for sharing papers (and following-back ~everyone) but that’s about it. The compulsive LinkedIn-like endorsement clicking is my least favourite feature, and makes me tend to use it less than Academia.edu, even though ResearchGate has a more attractive interface.

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