Elsevier launches “Apps for Science” challenge

That sounds a lot like Mendeley’ s initiative. From their press release:

Elsevier is challenging developers in Australia, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States to create fully operational applications for the SciVerse platform. In combination with third party APIs and open data, applications can be created utilizing content APIs which enable integration with Elsevier’s full text article database SciVerse ScienceDirect and abstract and citation database SciVerse Scopus.

Always good to see publishers and alike fighting to improve their products. Looks like the opening of API to the public is all over internet, these days. Whether they will truly open their database remains to be seen. I’m curious to see what they will come up with.

iPad for academics, a personal feedback

I got one almost as soon as it was out. I knew this was the device I have looked for, for a long time and for several reasons. I spend a good chunk of my day reading, and you’re more comfortable reading on the sofa that in your office chair. I haven’t had the slightest regret since I purchased it. It changed a lot of my workflow, for the better. I went a long way toward a paperless office and workflow.

A few quick thoughts on the device. The form factor is excellent. Smaller would be uncomfortable, in particular for reading papers. A larger screen would make reading papers more comfortable, obviously. The weight is ok. The Apple case is poor, but you need a case. Battery life is amazing, I can use it a couple of days in a row without recharging it. I went for the 16Gb Wifi (there is always wifi at hotels and conferences), since I am only storing papers and misc docs on the iPad. Almost no music or pictures, so 16Gb are more than enough (my whole papers library is around 1Gb). Reading in daylight is ok, contrary to what others said, just increase the brightness of the screen.

Here is a rundown of the apps I am using regularly so far, or that I tried. A fairly exhaustive list of app for scientist can be found here.


  • Reeder, the most beautiful and most convenient RSS reader, as far as I can tell. It syncs with Google Reader perfectly. $4,99
  • Instapaper. For curated reading. I sometime even send full papers there. The comfort of reading is amazing. I never read long text on websites anymore. $4,99
  • Kindle and IBooks. For books. Not for PDF (for me), see below. Free.
  • Pulse. Excellent for browsing a bunch of website for which I did not subscribe to the RSS feed. Free.
  • Safari. I spend at least half of my iPad usage time in Safari. Browsing the web with swiped and pinches is just incredible awesome and comfortable. You are living in the future.

Papers and PDF reading

  • Papers, of course. I am using the desktop version too. The iPad version is good for reading, in particular since annotation tools were introduced. I haven’t printed a paper for the past six months, I think. Not good convenient for bibliographic searches on the fly, though. $14,99
  • Mendeley. I am using Mendeley more and more, in particular since I have to use a PC. I don’t use too much the iPad app, though. I prefer Papers. Free.

Notes taking

  • Simplenote. Almost perfect, really, in particular since tags were added. Perfect for taking notes during meetings, conference, or ideas on the fly. Free.
  • Dropbox. Of course. How could you live without Dropbox, today ? Free of course. Not using it yet ? Do me a favor and use this link to register, and both of us will get an extra 250Mb for free.

Publishers and journals

  • PLoS reader. Pretty good. Not many of papers of interest for me inPLoS, though. Free.
  • ACS Mobile. Not very good actually. Nothing more than an  RSS feed of the various ACS journals. Avoid it if you are using RSS already. $4,99, which is a shame considering it’s nothing more than a toc feed.
  • Nature. Quite good, I like it so far. Free … except for the actual content, of course !
  • PubMed Tap. Quite good, but I don’t get many papers from PubMed. Free for the lite version.

The platform is still young, and I miss a couple of apps, such as Scopus (a dedicated iPad app). The iPhone app is ok, though I does not sync to the Scopus profile, too bad. I am using it through the website, which is very usable on the iPad. I’d love to see a Sketchup app, too.

A couple of apps I am not using, related to writing. This includes Papers, for instance. I don’t have a bluetooth keyboard, since I want to travel light. And extensive writing (hours long) without a keyboard is not comfortable. There are a couple of editors with or without syntax highlighting, such as Textastic, or TexTouch (with remote compiling), which would be useful when I’m writing TeX docs.

What I like above all ? Not having to carry my portable transportable laptop anymore. I only take my iPad when I’m traveling for a couple of days or go to conferences. Incredibly comfortable.

Research papers as software

I just stumbled upon this post from Daniel Lemire.

Research papers need versioning: the authors should revise their most important work, to fix bugs and improve the presentation. Important research papers should be perfected as much as possible.

This would be oh so nice ! I love that idea, although the implementation sounds totally unrealistic. Like everybody else, I guess, my research have been and is very incremental. We come up with new ideas and hypotheses, and a couple of months (years) later we improve it.  Thus there are two ways you can work: publish a new paper every time you’ve made substantial progress, or wait until the paper is,indeed, as perfect as possible. In which case, eventually, you never publish, and you might be in trouble if you don’t have a tenure position, since the publish or perish mantra is pretty much the major constraint today.

Combine this with the idea I found the other day (I can’t find the reference anymore, though) that you are only allowed to publish 5 or 10 papers in your entire career, so that you have to focus on the most important ideas and most innovative work you can come up with. That would cut the background noise considerably.

Superconductivity in FeTe1-xSx induced by alcohol

Ah ! I like this one ! We all know that the best discoveries happens by accident or mistake. This one is good, this Japanese team discovers the benefits of red-wine (and other alcoholic drinks) soaking for the superconductivity of their materials. The paper is here. Reminds me of the benefits of 86-proof Scotch whisky on slow crack growth in dentin, or the experiments we did when using beer, gelatin and corn syrup as additives to modify the ice crystal growth.

[From IO9]

Online profile usage of a paper

Some interesting statistics, released from Angewandte Chem. I found the profile usage of a paper particularly interesting. Apart from the fact that you have a vert short window to get notice, the most intense activity is found when the paper first appear online. There are two possible reasons for this:

  1. Researchers checking out the Angew Chem website every day or so.
  2. Researchers using RSS to keep up to date, as I mentioned earlier.

I am certainly not representative, but I don’t know anyone checking everyday journal’s websites for new papers. Which means that the number of RSS feed subscribers must be somewhat consequent. For a different perspective, the open access journal Materials is providing statistics for each published paper. Here are the statistics for a paper I published last year. No peaks at the beginning, I guess that’s the difference between a high profile, well established journal and a new open access one.

From In the Pipeline.

In defense of the PhD

Follow up on the Economist paper I mentioned earlier.

And then finally, there’s one last thing everyone seems not to understand: once you finish your PhD, get done with the damn post-doc contract, and become a tenure-track researcher, you’re in the best job there is. You’re doing what you love, you have most of the time a flexible schedule, you supervise master’s and/or PhD students, you go to conferences all over the world. You write papers others comment on, and at some point you might even write a book (or co-author one). How amazingly cool is that?

I couldn’t agree more. We love what we do (except those who don’t, of course…). He just forgot about the grants writing and usual paperwork, which takes 20 to 50 % of our time, but eh, he’s still doing a PhD.