Things you should read

We’ve been thinking a lot recently about the idea that the social web can/should play an increasing role in filtering the large quantity of published information to allow the best and most important work to float to the top (see e.g., posts by The Scholarly Kitchen and Academhack). In its simplest form the idea is that folks like us will mention publications that we think are good/important and then people who think we’re worth listening to will be more likely to read those papers and then pass on recommendations of their own. In concept this should allow for good papers to be found by the scientific community regardless of where they are published. Ecology is far from having reached the level of social media integration required to fully realize this possibility, but there are examples of other fields where this sort of thing has actually occurred.

We think this is a cool idea, but currently it is a relatively ineffective way to find interesting papers; primarily because there simply aren’t enough folks in ecology discussing what they’ve read. EEB and Flow does a great job of this and a few other blogs by practicing scientists make occasional contributions in this regard (e.g., I’m a chordata, urochordata), but there certainly isn’t a critical mass yet. Part of the reason for this is that putting together full posts on articles one has read can take quite a bit of time, and time isn’t something most of us have a lot of lying around. Here at JE we have half a dozen Research Blogging style posts that we keep planning on writing, but finding a couple of hours to reread the paper and a couple of related works and put together a full post just doesn’t seem to happen.

So, today Jabberwocky Ecology announces a new kind of post – Things you should read. The idea behind these posts is to reduce the activation energy for posting about papers that we like. As such, these might be as short as the title of the paper and a link. Most of the time we’ll try to contextualize things a bit with a few sentences or a paragraph to help you figure out if the linked material is relevant to you, but these won’t be full blown summaries because these are things you should read, not things you should read about.

9 Comments on “Things you should read

  1. I’ve been thinking about this a good deal, and have begun to wonder – while blogs are great as a permanent record of a mention followed by discussion (which, let’s face it, rarely happens these days), in many ways I feel like twitter is the better tool for this. A number of folk seem to be gravitating to it as a professional space, and I’ve found a few out-there articles I wouldn’t have seen other ways due to tweets. The nice thing is that it forces you to say little, if anything, about a post. Heck, with bit.ly, you can just click a browser button.

    I also wonder about sites like third reviewer. Useful? Should we have one for ecology?

  2. I think there is definitely something to be said for Twitter for this sort of thing (I was actually trying to use it for things like this for a while) and in fact the social science folks who really think about this stuff really seem to be thinking about Twitter when they talk about it. The truth is that keeping up with Twitter and occasionally posting to it just ended up taking too much time away from other things and in particular I felt like dividing my attention between the blog and Twitter pretty much meant that I didn’t end up doing much on either. So, I chose the blog because it’s more flexible and because my read on the state of the field at the moment is that a blog post is more likely to be looked at by the average ecologist than a tweet.

    Nerdier picture – I think we’re only a year or two away from a much more integrated information stream between short post services like Twitter and Google Buzz and traditional blogging platforms. You can already see this happening with the blogging platforms automatically logging tweets as comments and posting notices of posts to twitter, but that’s clearly only the beginning. So, I think is this choice is probably only going to be functionally important for another couple of years.

    I really like the idea behind Third Reviewer. I’d like to see one for ecology, but given the response by ecologists to similar opportunities I don’t know whether it would be well used. What Morgan & I would really like to see is a site like that which has a rating system as (one of) its core feature(s). I like the dialog, but to me one of the important things that Third Reviewer and other comment systems don’t provide is a quick way of finding papers that other people think are really good. Ratings would go a long way in this direction.

  3. Oh, I like that rating system idea. Given how google implemented the personalized ability to change the ordering of links, I bet that sort of thing would be quite easy to implement – e.g. rate the relevance to a search you make, or somesuch. Because, we can start up any site to monitor and rate new pubs (although real people would have to do the rating). But it’s the back-catalog of literature that would take a wee bit of time.

    Heck, I wonder if there was a sort by # of times cited option on ISI if that alone would make things easier?

  4. Yeah, the old stuff would take a while but I think that measures of citation rates would do a pretty good job for anything other 5 years old. The problem with citation rates for newer articles is that they take a while to start to filter through (though I often don’t get around to reading things for a couple of years anyway :)) and that individual article citation rates are almost certainly influenced by the quality of the journal. A direct rating system should be faster and, while articles in higher profile journals would probably get more ratings, the ratings should presumably be unbiased by journal quality (if anything folks might tend to expect more from a Science paper and rate the same piece lower than if it was in a more specialized journal).

    This should also be a relatively easy system to setup. I’m guessing that a couple of weeks work in Drupal could provide you with something pretty functional.

  5. Actually, I wonder if this isn’t something that would be naturally integrated into the new Web 2.0 reference manager systems – Mendeley and Zotero. I always worry about relying on a single system for a bunch of different things, but it seems like this might be a natural way to start. Ideally there would be an independent ratings site with an API so that the references managers could allow their users to rate and view ratings in an integrated manner.

  6. Pingback: Towards a unification of unified theories of biodiversity [Things you should read] « Jabberwocky Ecology

  7. Hey there. Long time reader, first time responder.
    What about Faculty of 1000 Biology?(http://f1000biology.com/) It’s a consortium of prominent biologists that suggest papers that they consider important. It’s broken down by discipline and gets pretty specific to field. Also, they provide the reason why they suggested it (i.e. new finding, hypothesis, contradiction). While you have to pay in order to get access to all the articles and comments on the article by others, it’s not too much of a chore to hunt down the article on JSTOR or another University provided database.

  8. Hi Tad – Thanks for commenting.

    I do like the concept of Faculty of 1000 for helping to identify interesting papers. The last time I looked at it I didn’t feel like it had reached it’s potential due to the fact that it’s a gated community (both in regards to accessing the posts and in the ability to comment on articles). I keep meaning to read this article and post about it because the results in the abstract seem to indicate that their system isn’t working very well at the moment. I think something that is more open (though not entirely open given that you’d obviously end up with unqualified commentators in politically controversial areas) might fix some of these issues. Regardless, I think they’ve come up with an interesting idea and I think it’s definitely a valuable avenue for identifying interesting papers.

  9. Pingback: these unified theories have arrived with relatively little fanfare… « Jabberwocky Ecology

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