The future of research

The internet has improved access to a great amount of information. It’s easier now than 20 years ago to do academic literature reviews, simply because all new publications are available in electronic form. A program such as BibDesk to organise this information for you is the icing on the cake.

But there’s still a long way to go. Publications are provided with automatic citation information, but this isn’t linked in any way to the electronic document that is the research paper. I imagine a much more useful system in which documents that arrive on your computer are automatically catalogued and cross referenced.

Similarly, there is no facility in these electronic documents for defining relationships, predominantly citation references. At this stage of the game, such things must all be done manually. In the future, it will be nice when a citation in a paper can be clicked on obtain the referenced text. At the moment, some Elsevier journals support such features; I’m very impressed.

And don’t even get me started on the problems with maths. IEEE publications persist on using bitmap maths fonts, which really has no excuse. I’m appalled by the lack of typographic quality found in today’s research journals compared to themselves of forty years ago.

Anyway, this was all prompted by something that’s going on at Nature; they’re looking to data mine their publications for creating a posteriori relationships (I presume) between them:

Nascent: Open Text Mining Interface: Much better, surely, to have a common format in which all publishers can issue their content for text-mining and indexing purposes … The Open Text Mining Interface (OTMI) is a suggestion from Nature about how we might achieve that.

(Via Ars Technica.)

Sounds great. It’s inexcusable for any publisher not to be looking into all sorts of techniques for actually enabling a “semantic web” for their publications. I look forward to a future where keeping track of events in your research field is a matter of subscribing to sufficiently specific syndications that pools all the new stuff together automatically.