Same Time Next Year: crunching PubMed data

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I am giving a talk next week and wanted to update some plots from an old analysis that previously featured on quantixed.

The question is: how long does it take for a paper get published?

The answer is complex (as previously discussed on quantixed), but we can at least find out using data from PubMed what journals declare as the time from when a paper is received to when it was published.

The code is below and can be found here. I retrieved all PubMed records for papers published in 2019. This could be done by downloading month-sized chunks of XML data using a query such as:

(journal article[pt] NOT review[pt]) AND ("2019/1/1"[pdat] : "2019/1/31"[pdat])

The R script below loads all of these files in, extracts the data we need and saves them out so that they can be loaded again as a large data frame for analysis. This approach was necessary because the full dataset is 24 GB and difficult to work with.

Some quick figures:

  • 1,060,195 papers in 4,673 journals
  • 3,847 journals had >9 papers)
  • Median received-to-published time is 146 days (IQR = 94 – 216)
  • Median time per journal is 165 days (IQR = 125 – 219)

According to PubMed the time taken for a paper to be received by a journal and then published is just under six months. The usual caveats apply:

  • Journals may “reset the clock” on submissions by rejecting the paper and allowing resubmission
  • This analysis only shows the time that each paper spent at the journal that published it. Manuscripts can go through multiple submissions at other journals, which is not shown here.

Same time next year?

My previous analysis (on PubMed data for 2013) found that the time was a lot longer, 239 days. What is responsible for the speed up?

  • More data: in the previous analysis, around 400,000 lag times could be calculated from 1.5 million records. This time over 1 million lag times could be calculated.
  • Processes have got faster: the lag from acceptance to published was previously 122 days. This is likely to have fallen (I haven’t calculated this figure this time). A lot of journals now run a continuous publication model which decreases the time to actual publication.

Whatever the reason, it’s great that the publication lag times have decreased in the last six years.

The code

## the purpose of this script is to aggregate large PubMed XML datasets
## An example is an entire year of PubMed Journal Articles in month-sized XML files

## Setup preferred directory structure in wd
ifelse(!dir.exists("Data"), dir.create("Data"), "Folder exists already")
ifelse(!dir.exists("Output"), dir.create("Output"), "Folder exists already")
ifelse(!dir.exists("Output/Data"), dir.create("Output/Data"), "Folder exists already")
ifelse(!dir.exists("Output/Plots"), dir.create("Output/Plots"), "Folder exists already")
ifelse(!dir.exists("Script"), dir.create("Script"), "Folder exists already")

## Function to extract a data frame from XML file
## This is modified from christopherBelter's pubmedXML R code
extract_xml <- function(theFile) {
  newData <- xmlParse(theFile)
  records <- getNodeSet(newData, "//PubmedArticle")
  pmid <- xpathSApply(newData,"//MedlineCitation/PMID", xmlValue)
  doi <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//ELocationID[@EIdType = \"doi\"]", xmlValue)
  doi[sapply(doi, is.list)] <- NA
  doi <- unlist(doi)
  # authLast <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//Author/LastName", xmlValue)
  # authLast[sapply(authLast, is.list)] <- NA
  # authInit <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//Author/Initials", xmlValue)
  # authInit[sapply(authInit, is.list)] <- NA
  # authors <- mapply(paste, authLast, authInit, collapse = "|")
  year <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubDate/Year", xmlValue) 
  year[sapply(year, is.list)] <- NA
  year <- unlist(year)
  articletitle <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//ArticleTitle", xmlValue) 
  articletitle[sapply(articletitle, is.list)] <- NA
  articletitle <- unlist(articletitle)
  journal <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//ISOAbbreviation", xmlValue) 
  journal[sapply(journal, is.list)] <- NA
  journal <- unlist(journal)
  volume <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//JournalIssue/Volume", xmlValue)
  volume[sapply(volume, is.list)] <- NA
  volume <- unlist(volume)
  issue <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//JournalIssue/Issue", xmlValue)
  issue[sapply(issue, is.list)] <- NA
  issue <- unlist(issue)
  pages <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//MedlinePgn", xmlValue)
  pages[sapply(pages, is.list)] <- NA
  pages <- unlist(pages)
  # abstract <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//Abstract/AbstractText", xmlValue)
  # abstract[sapply(abstract, is.list)] <- NA
  # abstract <- sapply(abstract, paste, collapse = "|")
  recdatey <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'received']/Year", xmlValue)
  recdatey[sapply(recdatey, is.list)] <- NA
  recdatem <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'received']/Month", xmlValue)
  recdatem[sapply(recdatem, is.list)] <- NA
  recdated <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'received']/Day", xmlValue)
  recdated[sapply(recdated, is.list)] <- NA
  recdate <- mapply(paste, recdatey, recdatem, recdated, collapse = "|")
  accdatey <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'accepted']/Year", xmlValue)
  accdatey[sapply(accdatey, is.list)] <- NA
  accdatem <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'accepted']/Month", xmlValue)
  accdatem[sapply(accdatem, is.list)] <- NA
  accdated <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'accepted']/Day", xmlValue)
  accdated[sapply(accdated, is.list)] <- NA
  accdate <- mapply(paste, accdatey, accdatem, accdated, collapse = "|")
  # use pubmed date as the published date. This seems safe for older records.
  pubdatey <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'pubmed']/Year", xmlValue)
  pubdatey[sapply(pubdatey, is.list)] <- NA
  pubdatem <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'pubmed']/Month", xmlValue)
  pubdatem[sapply(pubdatem, is.list)] <- NA
  pubdated <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PubMedPubDate[@PubStatus = 'pubmed']/Day", xmlValue)
  pubdated[sapply(pubdated, is.list)] <- NA
  pubdate <- mapply(paste, pubdatey, pubdatem, pubdated, collapse = "|")
  ptype <- lapply(records, xpathSApply, ".//PublicationType", xmlValue)
  ptype[sapply(ptype, is.list)] <- NA
  ptype <- sapply(ptype, paste, collapse = "|")
  # theDF <- data.frame(pmid, doi, authors, year, articletitle, journal, volume, issue, pages, abstract, recdate, accdate, pubdate, ptype, stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
  theDF <- data.frame(pmid, doi, year, articletitle, journal, volume, issue, pages, recdate, accdate, pubdate, ptype, stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
  ## convert the dates
  theDF$recdate <- as.Date(theDF$recdate, format="%Y %m %d")
  theDF$accdate <- as.Date(theDF$accdate, format="%Y %m %d")
  theDF$pubdate <- as.Date(theDF$pubdate, format="%Y %m %d")

## xml files in Data directory
theFileList <- list.files(path = "Data", = TRUE, pattern = "xml$")

## loop through the files
for (i in 1:length(theFileList)){
  fileName <- theFileList[i]
  theData <- extract_xml(fileName)
  theData$recacc <-as.numeric(theData$accdate - theData$recdate)
  theData$recpub <-as.numeric(theData$pubdate - theData$recdate)
  theData$accpub <-as.numeric(theData$pubdate - theData$accdate)
  theXmlName <- basename(fileName)
  outputName <- paste0("Output/Data/",gsub(".xml",".csv",theXmlName))
  write.csv(theData, file = outputName)

## now we load the csvs into one large data frame (assumes all csvs in Output/Data are for merging)
theMergedData <-,
          lapply(list.files(path = "Output/Data/", = TRUE, pattern = "csv$"), read.csv))
## remove rows with no recpub information
theMergedData <- theMergedData[complete.cases(theMergedData[ , 15]),]
## remove rows with recpub <1
theMergedData <- theMergedData[which(theMergedData$recpub > 0),]
## summarise by journal
journalInfo <- aggregate(theMergedData[, 15], list(theMergedData$journal), median)
journalCount <- aggregate(x = theMergedData$journal, by = list(unique.values = theMergedData$journal), FUN = length)
colnames(journalInfo) <- c("journal","median_recpub")
colnames(journalCount) <- c("journal","articles")
## drop journals that published fewer than 10 articles
journalCount <- journalCount[which(journalCount$articles > 10),]
journalInfo <- merge(x = journalCount, y = journalInfo, by="journal")

## make plots
p1 <- ggplot(theMergedData, aes(x = recpub)) + 
  geom_histogram(binwidth=7) + 
  geom_vline(aes(xintercept = median(recpub)),
             color="red", linetype="dashed", size=1) +
  xlim(0,730) + 
  labs(x = "Received-Published (days)", y = "Papers") + 
  theme(axis.text=element_text(size=20), axis.title=element_text(size=24,face="bold"))

p2 <- ggplot(journalInfo, aes(x = median_recpub)) + 
  geom_histogram(binwidth=7) + 
  geom_vline(aes(xintercept = median(median_recpub)),
             color="red", linetype="dashed", size=1) +
  xlim(0,730) + 
  labs(x = "Median Received-Published (days)", y = "Journals") + 
  theme(axis.text=element_text(size=20), axis.title=element_text(size=24,face="bold"))

ggsave("Output/Plots/paperSummary.png", p1, dpi = 300)
ggsave("Output/Plots/journalSummary.png", p2, dpi = 300)

The post title comes from “Same Time Next Year” by Paul McCartney & Wings from the bootleg “Cold Cuts” album.

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