However you manage your academic literature – increasing web availability and the ‘academic spring’ mean that there may be an easier way. Matt McKay tells us how
“Just drag this over here and then click here; you’ve now imported all of your papers and citations into your library. Click there and generate a bibliography, and there to choose your citation style. Oh and you can sync this to your tablet or mobile device, if you want.”
Wait a minute… Organising research papers wasn’t always this easy, was it? Certainly not – it was not all that long ago that you’d be in the situation where you’d need to cite a paper by ‘Dr X’, and having searched through various folders of PDFs, rifled through your desk drawers and having, maybe, found the exact paper that you’d been looking for, then be manually entering citation details one field at a time. Or, indeed, if you could not find Dr X’s masterwork, you’d be heading over to PubMed to search for the paper, again, entering citation details by hand and quite possibly looking for a .ris file to import into your reference manager (which would then need to be moved across to your library). Endless clicking, potentially thousands of results thrown up through PubMed – only one of which is the paper you’re looking for – and you’re left with a process which can, at best, be described as painfully time-consuming.
This was often compounded further when searches hit publisher pay-walls and access to documents was therefore restricted. The combination of limited access and poorly designed literature management tools meant investigators and academics spent considerable time struggling with the research process instead of doing their research.
Fast-forward just a few years and we now find ourselves in a rather different world. The first few months of 2012 have been coined the ‘Academic Spring’. Similar to events in Egypt and across the Middle East in 2011, the campaign for free and unrestricted access to scholarly research has gained widespread momentum and increasing traction. Funding bodies like NIH and Wellcome Trust, along with a wide range of prestigious academic institutes such as Harvard and MIT most recently, have joined a growing list of organisations that require their researchers and investigators to publish in an open access journal, or to self-archive their materials in to accessible institutional repository. Most recently, a White House petition calling for ‘free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research’ garnered the 25,000 individual signatures required to be considered by the US Administration in barely two weeks.
Today, databases of research are richer and offer a more complete picture of the pool of scholarly knowledge available when populated by open access articles. Likewise, the process of managing research output has become much more intuitive. The Internet now provides us with tools that allow paper management and research discoverability to be achieved at great speed and in huge volumes, while also giving the power to highlight and analyse the connectivity that exists between papers and researchers themselves.
One such tool is Mendeley – a cross-platform research management tool that extracts data from your PDFs and creates a personal database that allows researchers to search, read, highlight and annotate via either the web or desktop. In addition to that, users also create an online profile at mendeley.com, which lets them sync their library across multiple computers and devices so papers can be managed on the move. It helps them organise their papers and documents and create bibliographies and citations, quickly and accurately.
Beyond that, Mendeley has become an online collaboration network for researchers worldwide. Through the use of collaborative filtering technology seen on sites like Last.fm or Amazon.com, Mendeley learns about users when they add documents to their personal libraries, so it can then recommend related articles that may have been missed and also help connect them to people who have with similar research interests. Through the online community, researchers connect, share and collaborate. This combination of algorithms and social recommendation is the best way to comprehensively survey the literature and also see what others in their fields have been studying. Not only does this help speed up the research process generally; it also helps researchers spot trends and connections.
“Mendeley takes the burden off your shoulders for organising your references, helps you share your work and discover other people’s research,” said Ozan Keysan, Research Associate, Institute for Energy Systems at The University of Edinburgh.
Mendeley has actually evolved as a product since its creation in 2008. It is now a combination of a software tool, a social network which helps manage and share papers, and also a recommendation engine built on a database of nearly 250 million user-uploaded documents. Moreover, third-party developers can build apps on top of this database. To date, more than 200 additional tools for research management, collaboration, analytics, visualisation, and annotation have been built. Through the extensive research database and third-party apps, Mendeley is now producing real-time information on content usage and providing never-before-seen insight into how academics collect, read, share, and annotate their research. This helps researchers understand the impact of their work, helps academic institutions measure the value of their output, and also provides publishers with the ability to track and measure the influence of their journals and articles. All in real-time.
Mendeley’s overall offering is unique. While some companies are providing research management tools and some companies are building social networks for researchers, no one has so far combined both around a crowdsourced database and platform for third-party developers. This combination makes Mendeley a powerful force for change in academic research – this blend of tools, collaboration and analysis within an online ecosystem – creates something which is greater than its individual constituents, a connected network for researchers around the world to manage, share, learn and analyse their work.
The research community has long recognised that both open access and data-rich searchable academic databases both enable them to get to research articles and incorporate new findings into their work more rapidly. But what are the wider societal implications for the new landscape of research? Does the greater visibility and accessibility of research help influence the direction of future studies, or indeed the direction of government policy and funding decision?
Research results often are debated, contested and tested again before consensuses are reached which bear recommendations for both practice and policy. Even then, most policy instruments tend to be linear and unwieldy – simply providing the evidence and conclusions of research to policymakers often does not result in practices or indeed policies being changed.
It is through the combined powers of openness and wide collaboration that research can have the biggest impact on the policy stage. Presenting works that draw from the biggest datasets across the globe offer policy makers the best representations from the pool of our scholarly knowledge currently available. Inter-institutional, inter-regional and international research collaboration, made possible through new technologies, can now deliver a much deeper understanding of the biggest problems and opportunities for society. Likewise this collaborative, data-rich environment can help us solve these problems and ensure we capitalise on the opportunities presented to us – in a faster, more informed way than ever before.
“The research world and online education in general is undergoing a revolution. There is now an incredible amount of research material available online, and this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Jan Reichelt, President, Mendeley. “Technology is required to help us make sense of this vast pool of data, and tools such as collaboration networks and crowdsourcing are going to be fundamental to improving our understanding of this huge amount of collective knowledge.”
Our understanding of the real impact and overall picture of research output can and should, be used drive future discoveries and influence policy. Earlier this month, the EU Commission announced that open access and big collaborations across big data sets would form key pillars of its Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. This high level clarion call suggests that not only is technology changing the world of research, but that it already has in fact changed it.
The author: Matt McKay, Director of Communications