April 10, 2013 § 2 Comments
My twitter feed is on fire, since the announcement of Elsevier having bought Mendeley, after a few months of rampant rumors. “Elsevier is evil ! They will shut down Mendeley ! Mendeley lost its soul ! We should in no way contribute to Elsevier’s business and benefits”. These are a few of the reactions that quickly followed the announcement. What should I do ? Should I care ?
Elsevier has an awful track record: from fake journals to insane profits on journal bundles, to name a few. Everybody agrees on that, and for sure they realized it and are trying to make up for it, somehow. Now that they own Mendeley, they are going to do all sort of crazy things. Maybe, maybe not, time will tell. Mr Gunn seems confident at this point. Others much less, to say the least.
I have a different take on the current events. I am usually a very pragmatic guy. I used to use Endnote, like everybody else a few years ago when there were no alternatives. Their habit was to update the software every year, although I never found any significant improvement in the update. I remember that sometime the update was WORSE than the previous version, breaking my library. And I had to pay 100$, give or take, to update. Every year, although I quickly gave up on the update. No PDF organization, no way to perform full text search. No sync. Quite rough.
Then Papers came out. And it was awesome. Finally a decent PDF organizer, that quickly improved. Not having the choice of my OS (Win), I had to give up on Papers when I came back from the US. Too bad. A windows version has been developed since, but I already gave up. It’s been bought by Springer since, and I’m not sure Springer is any better than Mendeley.
And then I came across Mendeley. It more or less provides everything I need: easy import (I love the DOI look up), easy organization, full text search, cross plat-form sync. I’ve paid for a data plan for a while to have all my files synced between my laptop and desktop computer (Dropbox is not allowed where I work). Works flawlessly. Excellent to insert bibliography in papers I write. Automatic bibtex file creation when I need to use LaTeX. If only they could provide the abbreviated journal name, that would be perfect. I now trow in it every interesting paper I came across, whether it’s directly related to my interest or not. It is thus becoming my personal, curated papers database. The value I get from this software has very quickly become extremely valuable.
And now it belongs to Elsevier. Well, I try not to submit papers anymore to Elsevier journals (although Acta Materiala is a solid journal in my field), I avoid to review for them. I use Scopus less and less since Google Scholar has become extensive. I get little or no value from Elsevier’s products. But Mendeley is different. As I said, I get a lot of value from it right now, and I don’t mind paying 5$ a month for my data plan, it’s worth it. My files are synced across all on my computers. If the situation turns ugly, I don’t lose anything but the time spent migrating to another platform. So for now, I’ll stick to Mendeley, and see what happens.
March 14, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Based on my twitter feed, there were two main news yesterday: the election of an old dude in Rome, and the not very classy decision of Google to kill Reader in a few months. As you can guess, I am much more concerned about that second one, for my daily work routine. I have expressed my love for RSS previously. As of today, my strategy hasn’t changed. RSS is still the best way, by far, to keep track of new articles.
Many people today are claiming that RSS is dead, and twitter will do the job instead. Not at all, as far as I am concerned. I have a very different usage for both. I use twitter to discover recommendations and keep track of the scientific buzz around. The constant flow of tweet is nevertheless a guarantee that I will miss some stuff. It’s ok. It’s in the very nature of twitter. When it comes to tracking new articles in journals, twitter just doesn’t do the job. I use (mostly) Google Scholar to search for article on a topic in which I have some interest. Something specific. But it’s definitely not a tool for systematic tracking of new papers. My current RSS feed currently comprises around 50 journals, 30 blogs, and roughly 40 RSS feed of Scopus search results or equivalent. Since October 2008, I have read over 300k items in Reader. The counter is stuck at 300k for over a year, actually. My current feed provides about 3k items per month (I used to have much more). I spend about 10-15 min per day to keep track of new articles, and usually discover 2 or 3 new papers of interest for me, not directly related to my specific niche (freezing !). If I need to visit every single journal website to get the same information… well, there’s just no way. RSS is still the best choice. No question.
My second constraint is that during my day, I use 2 different computers, a phone and an iPad to check on my RSS feed, depending on where I am and what I do. Reader was providing a flawless solution for the sync. There will be another one soon, that’s ok.
The only question left now is: how long will Google Scholar survive? Reader was much more useful to me, and I guess I’m not the only one like this in the academic world. There are now ads in Scholar. I don’t see why they should even bother keep working on it, unless they have some long terms plans for it that goes beyond the simple search engine it is today. By which I mean an iTunes store-like system for academic papers, for instance.
Will I survive ? Of course, because I don’t have the choice. I will export my RSS feed to another service and keep using it. I will miss the convenience of Google Reader until a better solution comes up. Good bye, you’ve served me well.
January 29, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I’m currently wrapping up a long review paper (>10k words) that should hopefully be published this September. As usual, as a non-native speaker, I ran into many common grammar and style mistakes. Luckily, I have next door a native speaker, and he’s patient enough to correct most of my mistake. He’s my first secret weapon. The second one is this little gem, called The Elements of Style (4th Edition), by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This book is probably the best money I’ve ever spend on a book.
So without further ado, here are my top ten mistakes, that I’ve learned to correct thanks to my two secret weapons:
- You should place a comma after abbreviations like i.e., e.g., etc.
- If you enumerate several terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term. Example: “… bla bla bla in materials science, chemistry, and life science”. Same if you enumerate with “or”.
- Put statements in positive forms. It is much stronger.
- Omit needless words. For some reason, we french people seem to be using a lot of these. So here you go, go and mercilessly chase expressions like “the reason why is that”, “the question as to whether”, etc.
- “Due to” is synonym to “attributable to”. Avoid using it for “owing to” or “because of”.
- “Interesting”. It might be interesting to you, but not to everyone else. Remove it. Just remove it.
- “Type” is not a synonym for “kind of”. So get it straight.
- “While”. Just stick to it if you can replace it with “during the time that”.
- Don’t say “very unique”. “unique” is good enough.
- Split infinitive: when you put an adverb between “to” and the verb. I used this form a lot and thought it was cool. Apparently it’s not. Don’t say: “to thoroughly investigate”, say: “to investigate thoroughly”.
This is just the top ten. The entire book is full of stuff like this. Go and get it. And don’t lend it to anyone, you’d never get it back. Do you have another one? Share it in the comments.
August 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Almost back to the lab. It’s been a good summer with the boys, mostly at home. Reading books, papers and blog posts when I had free time. Which does not occur so often with children less than 5 years old, as anyone in the same situation can testify.
A lot of heated discussion are occurring online now about open access and data mining. While some benefits are straightforward in certain domains such as genetics or chemistry, this is a brand new world to explore. I came across the fascinating comments by Philip Ball on chematica, a network of the transformations that link chemical species. Chemistry is not really my cup of tea, and I don’t have any of the coding abilities, unlike prominent data miners like Peter Murray-Rust. One thing I have, though, is a Mendeley library stuffed with papers (over 1400 as of today). Since my main focus now is on this ice-templating thing, I have a bit more than 350 papers on this topic only.
In addition, I am also fascinated by issues related to presenting data, aka the visual display of quantitative informations , as described by Tufte, among many others. I’ve been playing with Wordle before , it’s all over the internet now. Wordle are beautiful clouds of keywords, where the size of the words relates to their occurrence in a list or a text. You have a good example with the display of keywords in the right column of the blog page.
Today, I did some quick and dirty analysis of my collection of papers. Exporting the Mendeley data to a bib file, I compiled lists of titles of the papers in my library. I used the freely available wordle website. The whole process was really fast, like 15 minutes or so. The first result I got is shown below (clik to enlarge).
Well, as you can expect, being interested in porous ceramic materials templated by ice crystals, these keywords are obviously dominating the wordle. In the upper right you can find “zirconia”, reminiscent of my PhD on the low temperature degradation of zirconia containing ceramics. This was in the pre-Mendeley years, I don’t have many papers left on this topic.
Things get more interesting if I restrict the analysis to the titles of the papers related to ice-templating. I got about 340 of them. I’ve followed really closely the ceramic domain, and much less the polymer field. Polymers are thus largely under-represented in the following analysis, although ice-templated polymers came first.
The first obvious observation is the absolute domination of “freeze”, “casting”, “porous” and “ceramics”. They are almost in every tile. So if you want to be original, don’t come up with a paper entitled “freeze casting of porous ceramics”. The other dominant keywords are “structure” and “properties”, which is a pretty good image of the current approach to the phenomenon. Freeze whatever you have and look at the structure and properties. Not groundbreaking, most of the time. But the underlying mechanisms are so complex that very few people are willing to tackle them. “Tissue” and “scaffolds” are pretty strong too, and tissue engineering have indeed been one of the main focus so far in terms of potential applications. “Ice” is less prominent than “freeze”, and reflects how people are currently describing the process, “freeze-casting” instead of “ice templating”. I am not a big fan of “freeze-casting”, since it was originally used to describe the processing of dense materials. Although pretty much everyone is doing porous materials, “freeze-casting” still dominates. “Ice-templating” exclude all solvents other than water, so it’s not perfect either.
I also did the same analysis compiling all the abstracts. This is much closer to mining the full text of the papers. The output is much more balanced.
“Pore”, “porous”, “structure” and “freeze” still dominates, but the relative occurrences of other keywords is much more balanced. Since people tend to report almost exclusively positive results, we got a lot of “increased”, “high”, “new”, “novel”, “potential” “significantly” and “significant”, better represented than “low” and “decreased”. “Defects” is noticeably absent, although it remains a major issue of the process. “Control” is missing from the wordle (well, not really missing, but it’s really tiny), a fair representation of the majority of the papers, where people exert no control whatsoever. Freeze and see.
“Properties” is relatively large, although people are almost exclusively looking at mechanical properties (hence the presence of “MPa”). People became interested only very recently in other properties, such as conductivity or piezoelectricity.
Regarding materials, “silica” and “alumina” are the only ones found here. A lot of room for testing other materials, and therefore other properties. “Water” and “camphene” are of similar size, as people are equally interested in both solvents.
Missing keywords are equally interesting. “Colloids” is hardly visible, although everyone is dealing with colloidal suspensions. Ceramists are usually talking about slurries instead of colloidal suspensions, which is why we get “slurry” and “slurries” instead. Maybe. I still believe we have a lot to learn if we look at the colloid science papers.
“Interface” is the other elephant in the room. The control of the process largely depends on controlling the interface, and is something that people have largely ignored so far.
Without digging too much into the details, this quick and simple analysis is very informative about the current state of the art. Having followed very closely the domain for the past 5 or 6 years, the keyword clouds obtained here are very representative of the current state of the art. I’d love to extend this analysis to the full text of the papers, although I will need different tools to do it. Maybe I should get an access to the Mendeley API. They are responding to over 100 millons calls to their database each month, they can surely afford a few more. In the meantime, I’ll try to apply the same analysis to a different domains, using Google Scholar or Scopus and Mendeley. More later if I’m successfull.
Funny coincidence, this month’s issue of Nature Materials was released today while I was playing around with this analysis. Check out the front cover…
April 2, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Google is now tracking the metrics of journals. They chose the h5 factor, which is basically the h factor taking into account the last 5 years. The search function works with keyword, as you can guess. So if you search for materials science journal with the keyword “materials”, you will only get results of journals whose name include “materials”, and skip journals like Nanoletters, ACS Nano or other ones.
If you click on the h5 link, you get a list of the top cited paper for that journal, neat. The 2007 graphene paper in Nature Materials of Geim and Novoselov is already cited >5600 times. Holy cow.
February 6, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This is insane when you read it and think about it. We (authors) shouldn’t have to deal, at least not too much, with that. Just finished submitting a revised version of a manuscript. And I went crazy with the online submission system, that just keep crashing and forcing me to start over and over again. As usual. Not exactly a user-friendly experience.
February 6, 2012 § Leave a Comment
The Genome project coming to materials science, a resource developed by the MIT and LBNL.
Computational materials science is now powerful enough that it can predict many properties of materials before those materials are ever synthesized in the lab. By scaling materials computations over supercomputing clusters, we have computed some properties of over 80,000 materials and screened 25,000 of these for Li-ion batteries.
An interesting initiative. You could also hire 2000 students to make the compounds.
By providing materials researchers with the information they need to design better, the Materials Project aims to accelerate innovation in materials research.
I guess they have plans to develop beyond Li-ion batteries.
February 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Another addition to Google Scholar, if you like tracking papers from specific academics. I am using RSS feeds based on Scopus for this. The big difference is that people do not have to be registered to have a profile in Scopus. Profile number need to grow before this new feature can be useful.
February 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
An important update. Most notably, it is now a standalone application. The reference manager war is running and that’s a good thing for us. Also a new word processor integration that looks very similar to that of Mendeley or Papers. I am not planning to switch, though, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it ! I am happy with Mendeley so far.
November 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The service is now open for anyone. I was very curious to see how it performed, so I created my profile straight away. To put it back into context, this is a direct competitor to paying -and expensive !- services like Scopus. My take in a nutshell: it’s good. And the potential is really good too.
What is the main idea behind the service, then? It’s basically a follow-up of Google Scholar, focusing not on the papers but on the authors. A typical Google’s mission of organising the world’s knowledge, and this time, we are taking about academic knowledge. There are two ways to consider Google Scholar Citations.
The first one is the vanity page point of view. Researcher like to show off their long list of papers, their h, j, k or z-impact factor and so on. Google Scholar Citations is really good at this. Setting up your profile is really fast and frictionless, and Google’s also really efficient at finding your papers, as far as I can tell. It then build a table of your documents with the number of citations, which you can order and so on. Neat, convenient and efficient, but not ground-breaking, apart that it is a free service. Beside, it is finding more citations than Scopus or MS Academic, which is good for your ego. My score went from 150 (MS Academic) and 1000 (Scopus) to almost 1200 (Google) citations. Part of the reason is that Google is also taking into account proceedings. I actually discovered that some of my proceedings were cited. Cool. They are also indexing open access journals, which are not in Scopus, for instance. You can export your articles list (BibTex, Endnote and Reference Manager format) if you wish.
The second one, more interesting I think, is the social aspect. When setting up your profile, you can provide keywords to describe what you do. Once you’ve done that, try clicking on one of these keywords. You are brought to a page with a list of researcher sharing the same keyword, sorted out by their number of citations. The potentialities here are really interesting. You can imagine all sort of use from this service, from finding the most relevant person in a field (without forgetting, of course, that citations are just a part of the story), to identifying expert in a domain, whom you might want to contact. Similar to what Mendeley is offering, except that everything is automated here and you get the citations count as a bonus. Social is maybe not the right word here, it’s more about finding the connexion than interacting, since there are not tools but your profile to exchange information’s.
I’ve just finished reading Michael Nilsen’s book, a must read if you are interested in open and networked science. One of the interesting idea that comes back in the book is the fact that you can get stuck on a very specific problem out of your competences. Spend days or weeks to solve it (if you can), while someone, somewhere, with this very expertise, could do it much faster and more efficiently. The problem is to get the connexion. Having a global database of people’s profile and expertise could considerably speed up this process, by making the connexions possible. And I think that Google Scholar Citations might have the potential to do exactly that. The only problem so far is that the number of keywords you can provide is limited, which makes it difficult to get into a more detailed description of your domain of expertise, but that’s easy to fix.
Overall, I’m really excited by the potentialities offered by this new service. Let’s see how it evolves. Now go and try it yourself. Oh, and it’s already integrated in ScienceCard, by the way, which provide alternative metrics.