Subject disciplines & download figures

One line summary

Disciplines without dedicated subject repositories seem to provide the most popular items downloaded from our institutional service.

The general trend

Whilst looking at the top 99 most downloaded items from the Edinburgh Research Explorer it struck me that the most popular cluster of subject disciplines were those from the Humanities & Social Sciences.

pie chart

The pie chart above shows the general breakdown by college with the Humanities and Social Science disciplines making up over half of the most popular items downloaded from our institutional repository. Science and Engineering disciplines own a third of the most popular items, whilst Medicine & Veterinary Medicine make up the remainder.

I was initially surprised given that the bulk of our 18,000+ open access full text items are from the Science, Technology, Engineering & Technology (STEM) fields.

 Looking in more detail

When you further sub-divide the broad classification into finer subject groupings you start to see the beginnings of a pattern emerge.

bar chart

The bar chart above shows the number of items in the top 99 downloads for each school at the University of Edinburgh (apologies for the tiny text – click image to enlarge). Each school broadly maps to a subject area, albeit with some fuzziness; for example, the Edinburgh College of Art comprises a number of creative disciplines like Fine Art, Music and Design brought together in one unit.

Science & Engineering (Red)

From our download figures the most popular S&E subject disciplines – Geosciences, Engineering and Chemistry – all don’t have dedicated subject repositories. Whereas, the least popular – Maths, Physics, Informatics and Biological Sciences –  are all well covered by the subject repositories arXiv or PubMed Central.

Humanities & Social Sciences (Blue)

The most downloaded HSS units are the Edinburgh College of Art, the Business School, History, Classics & Archaeology and Social & Political Science; none of which have established methods of sharing via subject repositories.

Economics is already serviced well by RePeC, Psychology & Language Sciences have CogPrints, and Health in Social Sciences is covered by PubMed Central. Only Divinity and Education don’t have subject repositories and have relatively low download rates.

Medicine & Veterinary Medicine (Green)

This college grouping is extremely well covered by the PubMed Central subject repository which may explain the poorer than expected usage performance.

Some closing remarks and limitations

There are no bad results here: all of the open access downloads from our service are complimentary to those obtained directly from publishers websites and from other subject repositories. These downloads can in a way be considered extra views that we help facilitate.

This blog post is only a quick observation and not a fully fledged study so take what I say here with a pinch of salt. Using the number of popular items as a proxy for download rates may not be completely accurate, but on the other hand it does help even out some anomalies (like high download figures for one item skewing the whole data set). To be more comprehensive we should really look at the whole set of 18,000+ items rather than just the top 99. Even with these limitations in mind I still think this is a useful and interesting observation.

2014 download statistics from

As well as reporting on the number of open access uploads to our institutional repository we now have the facility to report on the other end of the spectrum – the number of downloads for each item.  Here are the top 10 items downloaded from our research portal so far in 2014:

Title  School Jan-14 Feb-14 Mar-14 Apr-14 May-14 Total
Total 28,229 33,418 44,437 47,864 50,092 278,667
The past, present and future of China’s automotive industry Business School 523 633 993 1199 993 5796
Youth Crime and Justice School of Law 207 192 272 384 198 2127
The Computer Modelling of Mathematical Reasoning School of Informatics 198 152 267 187 125 1734
An Introduction to Conditional Random Fields School of Informatics 66 349 614 656 1685
The double-curvature masonry vaults of Eladio Dieste Edinburgh College of Art 126 187 234 187 178 1342
Liquidity, Business Cycles and Monetary Policy School of Economics 59 82 72 78 69 839
The dynamics of solar PV costs and prices as a challenge for technology forecasting School of Engineering 41 110 164 212 237 835
The Limits to ‘Spin-Off’ School of Social and Political Science 389 121 35 17 19 833
The Adaptive City Edinburgh College of Art 69 56 98 125 195 818

It is interesting to note that six of the items are from the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, whilst the remaining four items are from the College of Science & Engineering. Records from the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine are surprisingly absent from the top downloads chart. In fact this trend continues if you look at the top 100 downloaded records. I have a pet theory about this which I will follow up in a separate blog post [EDIT – post available here].