Using Google Scholar to keep up with the literature
We have all bemoaned the increasing difficulty of keeping up with the growing body of literature. Many of us, me included, have been relying increasingly on following only a subset of journals, but with the growing popularity of the large open-access journals I know I for one am increasingly likely to miss papers. The purpose of this post isn’t to give you the panacea to your problems (sadly I don’t think there is a panacea to this issue, though I have hopes that someone will come up with something viable in the future). The purpose of this post is to let you know about an interesting addition or alternative (for the brave) to the frantic scanning of the table of contents or RSS feeds: Google Scholar.
Almost everyone at this point knows you can go to Google Scholar and search for key words and it’ll produce a list of papers. Did you also know that you can set up a google profile with your published articles and that Google can use that to find articles that might be of interest to you. How does it do that? I’ll have to quote Google’s Blog because it’s a little like voodoo to me (obviously this is Morgan writing this post, not Ethan): “We determine relevance using a statistical model that incorporates what your work is about, the citation graph between articles, the fact that interests can change over time, and the authors you work with and cite. “ When you go to Google Scholar’s homepage (and you’re logged in as you) it’ll notify you if there are new articles on your suggested list. I actually have been pleasantly surprised by the articles it has identified for me, including some book chapters I would never have seen. For example here’s several things that sound really interesting to me, but I would never have seen:
MC Emmerson – Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning: …, 2012 – books.google.com
A Potochnik, B McGill – Philosophy of Science, 2012 – JSTOR
D West, J BRUCE – International Journal of Modern Physics B, 2012 – World Scientific
It doesn’t just search published journal articles. For example there are preprints from arXiv and government reports on my list. I don’t know if this would work as well for the young graduate students/postdocs since it uses the citations in your existing papers and our junior colleagues might have less data for Google to work with. However, once you have a profile, you can also follow other people who have profiles, which means you get an email every time scholarly work gets added to their profile. Are you a huge Simon Levin groupie? You can follow him and every time a paper gets added to his profile, you can get an email alerting you about the new paper. I also use this to follow a bunch of interesting younger people because they often publish less frequently or in journals I don’t happen to follow and this way I don’t miss their stuff when my Google Reader hits 1000+ articles to be perused! You can also sign up for alerts when someone you follow has their work cited. (And you can set up alerts for when your own work gets cited as well).
As I said before, I don’t think Google Scholar is a one-stop literature monitoring stop (yet), but I find it useful for getting me out of my high impact factor monitoring rut. The only thing you need to do is set up your Google Scholar profile and the only reason not to do that is if you’re worried it’ll give Google the edge when it finally becomes self-aware and renames itself Skynet (ha ha ha ha….hmmm).