Sunday, January 26, 2014

ridiculous policies

Lately, I have been in contact with a lot of different editorial offices as my "doomed project" (mentioned here and here and here) slowly passes through all the steps of pre-print to-dos. Because it's a Review paper I've planned to use a lot of re-printed figures from already existing publications. The process of getting permission to use these figures is mostly standardized for the pool of journals I'm interested in and just needs a few clicks through the Rightslink website. The difficult task starts afterwards, because the Journal of course needs high resolution figures for the publication. However, with getting permission to re-print the figures I did not get the figures themselves. So the easiest way seemed to just extract them from the online PDFs. As the original authors surely have submitted their figures in high resolution they are certainly embedded in the PDFs as such - that's what I thought. Wrong! Totally wrong! As the high-res figures are only needed for the print version of the paper, the versions embedded in the online PDF are usually of much lower quality than what I'm asked to hand in. So I asked the journal office how to deal with this problem, but I did not get any response. 
The two options I saw were to a) contact the authors of the papers directly and ask for high res figures or b) contact the corresponding journals and ask for high res figures.
Option a) worked well in case I knew the authors and I was able to get a few of the graphs that way. But contacting all the authors I don't know - leave alone figuring out their current contact details, if they happen to still be in academia - seemed to be a very lengthy process. So I opted for version b) and contacted all the other journals. So far I got one response. In a very polite email the responsible editor told me that due the policies of the journal he can't send me a high res version of the figure AND he can't tell me the contact details of the authors! WHAT??? I had to ask the journal for permission to re-print the figure, but now they don'tt provide the figure and they can't even tell me how to contact the people who could? This is like renting a car but without getting the keys and nobody is willing to tell you where the keys are.
Do I now have to hunt down every author and ask if they happen to have a good version of their figures from a publication written 15 years ago and if they would be willing to dig through all their old data and find it for me? Because the journal has "policies" which prevent them from doing three clicks through their electronic archives? This is just ridiculous!


  1. I apologize if you already know about these, but I am going to share a couple of tricks anyway.
    1) If those are 2D plots, I recommend that you just replot yourself. Use something like DataThief ( to read the data points off the graph and just plot the thing yourself. The caption should say something like "Replotted after J. Schmoe et al., Nature 55,etc)
    2) Also, another thing that works well is enlarging the PDF many times and then capturing the (now huge) figure. It will look ok when pasted and reduced, unless it's a really crappy scanned figure or something.

  2. Thanks for the hints! I thought about re-plotting, but was hoping to find an easier/faster way now that I got all the permissions to use the original graphs.
    Enlarging the PDF and capturing the figure seems to only give great results if the embedded figure has high resolution anyways or if it is a vector graph.
    What I tried is using Photoshop to open the PDF such that just the embedded figures are shown. Then I can store the desired figures and the resolution of the new graph should be the resolution of the embedded one - which should be the highest resolution possible as far as I understand. But often the embedded graphs have a resolution of about 150dpi whereas for a print version the journals require 300-600dpi. That's where I got stuck with this method.

  3. The final status is: none of the journals was willing to provide figures, all of the just said "ask the authors". This is a very poor service statement!
    Very helpful people were actually our librarians who figured out where I could get which journal in print to then take high res scans.
    But in the end I found the applicable policy of the publishing journal, which in principle says: "send us the PDFs and tell us which figures you need and we take care of it". How they will take care of it and why it took several weeks and back and forth emails to point out this policy to me I don't know. But now "the beast" is off my desk - finally!