Next week, a virtual conference is addressing some very pertinent questions of universal relevance to science. In fact, CIARD (Coherence in Information for Agricultural Research for Development) is asking more specifically about e-agriculture and their e-agriculture platform, but I expect the answers will be of wider value:
+ What are we sharing and what needs to be shared?
+ What are the prospects for interoperability in the future?
+ What are the emerging tools, standards and infrastructures?
+ What actions should now be facilitated?
Their background briefing makes clear the information overload problem. It looks like 2011 will be the first year when 1,000,000 MEDLINE-indexed peer-reviewed articles will be published.
I’ve copied part of their vision for the solution in the image above: “Peer reviewed journals and scientific conferences are still the basis of scholarly communication, but science blogs and social community platforms become increasingly important.”
For me, another part of the solution is development of powerful, natural language, search algorithms. Where would we be without Google in research today? If I want to find which wheat line carries Ug99 rust resistance, I don’t go to a genebank database, nor even Theoretical and Applied Genetics TAG on the shelf behind me and where I saw the relevant article. I Google the phrase. The importance of this searchability is re-emphasized every time I look for a reference on one subject: I happen to work on a type of transposable element, Long Interspersed Nuclear Elements, and their acronym, LINE, is found in a majority of those million papers!
I’m now getting my information from browsing half-a-dozen journals and magazines, but much that is new and directly related to my main research is from links which reach me through several keyword and citations search engines which scan new publications, as well as various news feeds which appear on my internet homepage. For this year at least, many other links come from the social and scientific networks and my ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ there. Mendeley suggests papers which I am sure I would not have found otherwise; Twitter finds articles in regional country newspapers; even the AnnBot Daily newspaper provides links of a lighter set of articles about plant science and the environment.
I do wonder now if I spend too much time reading while the e-mails pile up unanswered, and the chase letters asking for the reviews pile in, but without these links I think I would not have the knowledge to give opinions. I’m sure I will be advocating more and different tools in a few months time, but I don’t think I will be going back to delving into specialist databases or many dozens of journals.