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iPad in Academic Institutes – III

August 13, 2010

As the schools are gearing up for another academic year, it does look like the iPad is gaining a foothold in the academic circles (see news here and here), the device is now becoming more visible in many institutions. This is in spite of the fact that recent studies showing evidence that students transfer bad study habits from paper to screen.

No doubt the iPad holds the advantage over expensive text books and bulky backpacks, besides, teachers and students have long constituted an important market for its manufacturer. The iPad has now proven to be a good replacement for paper. Not every undergraduate and high school is ready yet, since only a tiny fraction of the content is in a compatible format (one schools only found 6 out of 200 text books) but there is hope that most will be available in the next two years.

As for journal articles, few academic blogs are to be full of praise for this device. Researchers seem to be pretty satisfied reading pdf versions on the iPad – read their experiences here, here, here, here, here and a journal editor’s.

“Papers”, an app that presents a way to view and manage the scientific library. Pdf annotation and note support apps are making the device more useful.

In all this excitement one wonders about the affordability of the iPad. Now there is news about of cheaper clones:  GenTouch and Zenithnk ePad and sure the price of iPad is going to come down … hopefully soon.


PLoS' Ambitious Plans for 2010 and Beyond

July 28, 2010

PLoS recently released its 2009 annual report which they call Progress Update. I was first tempted to look at the financials for 2009 which shows a reduced net loss of $0.5M compared to a little over $1M in 2008. The report also states “PLoS posted its first profitable quarter in Q1 2010 due to strong growth in publishing activity, and we anticipate meeting or exceeding our financial targets for 2010”. But the important point is that at a total expense of less than $10M in 2009, PLoS was able to publish more than 6,400 research articles in its portfolio of 7 journals (stats from ISI); that is approximately $1500 per article (including direct, operational and marketing expenses). The stated net publication fee revenue, presumably the result of the article processing charges (APC) to the authors, is about $8.4M (there had been complaints that PLoS doesn’t make the collection information public, but that is a different matter) which indicates that a majority of the authors are honoring the request to pay the APC in full.

On the scientific and technical side, the report outlined areas of new initiatives. PLoS Currents, launched in 2009, is slated for expansion in 2010. Currents is a series of new and experimental web sites for the rapid communication of research results and ideas. To me the more interesting part is PLoS Hubs. Hubs are resources that aggregate relevant content from a range of sources (open-access in PLoS’ case) and are akin to the Virtual Journals jointly developed by AIP and APS.  PLoS Hub for Biodiversity is scheduled to open in late 2010 which “is a very broad interdisciplinary topic with data, analyses, and ideas currently spread across many locations. The aims of this Web site will be to create a place to share the latest findings, to connect researchers who have complementary interests and ideas, and to accelerate the pace of research and discovery.” I believe the web 2.0 implementations pioneered by PLoS will make Hubs the rallying points for the community.

Another interesting and useful item mentioned in the report is the Author Satisfaction Survey.

In 2009, we conducted our first comprehensive survey of authors about all aspects of our service. The survey covered published and rejected authors in 2008, and we were pleased to report that overall levels of satisfaction are very high. An overwhelming majority of published authors are likely to publish with us again and demonstrated very high levels of satisfaction with the open access and distribution of their published work and the overall publishing experience with PLoS.

PLoS early this year released the detailed results of this survey which can be viewed here. PLoS has thus proved itself good at author marketing and in responding to their feedback. Now Live in Beta

July 19, 2010


Almost 3 years after opening the global gateway for scientific information, the real-time the searching and translation tool is officially released in beta last month. DoE’s OSTI operates the search interface on behalf of the WorldWideScience Alliance. The Alliance’s other major players include British Library, NRC Canada, Russian Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, ICSTI and a dozen other national laboratories around the world. Microsoft Research donated its technology that allows translation into one of nine languages (Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian). Deep Web Technologies provided the federated searching technology that allows real time search across over 60 global, multi-lingual scientific literature databases covering some 400 million pages of science.

I ran a sample search to test the site looking for literature on ‘Liquid semiconductors’ . The result list looks impressive enough; the page looks similar to the ISI WoS with the left margin options (labeled Clusters) for narrowing the result set. ‘Summary of all results’ option shows the list of sources for the result set. There is an alert option as well. I also noticed titles like the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics, Journal of the Physical Society of Japan and Chinese Physics Letters. Here are a few highlights of my search:

  • Navigating through a link to Collection of Czechoslovak Chemical Communications stops me at the abstract page
  • Link to an article in the Barzilian J of Physics ends me on the full article
  • A link to the German publication lands me on the full item record in the source search engine with no navigation to the original article (a sort of dead end but on a second thought this item is probably a book or monograph, there is no resource type in the Clusters)
  • A link to an article in Russian stops me with a message that the resource request is not from a developing country
  • A link to an article in RSC Chemical Society Reviews stops me at the British Library Direct door step
  • JJAP article link takes me to the abstract page
  • Overall the test is not bad but the WorldWideScience could have done more within the three year product development period. However there are some advantages over my favorite GoogleScholar – clustering, deep web search and translation. Hopefully the site will mature over time as it tries to achieve its stated objective.

    Article Citations and Journal Impact Factor

    June 30, 2010

    Standing inthe crowd

    One big surprise stands out in the Thomson Reuters’ 2009 Journal Citation Report released two weeks ago, as noted by Bob Grant in The Scientist:

    … … the publication [journal] with second highest impact factor in the “science” category is Acta Crystallographica – Section A, knocking none other than the New England Journal of Medicine from the runner’s up position. This title’s impact factor rocketed up to 49.926 this year, more than 20-fold higher than last year. A single article published in a 2008 issue of the journal seems to be responsible for the meteoric rise in the Acta Crystallographica – Section A‘s impact factor. “A short history of SHELX,” by University of Göttingen crystallographer George Sheldrick, which reviewed the development of the computer system SHELX, has been cited more than 6,600 times, according to ISI. This paper includes a sentence that essentially instructs readers to cite the paper they’re reading — “This paper could serve as a general literature citation when one or more of the open-source SHELX programs (and the Bruker AXS version SHELXTL) are employed in the course of a crystal-structure determination.”

    Curiously as reported on one of the Thomson Reuters Forums:

    The next most-cited article [in Acta Cryst A], “On the application of an experimental multipolar pseudo-atom library for accurate refinement of small-molecule and protein crystal structures”, shows only 28 citations.

    I heard of journal editors who implemented procedures for accepting manuscripts that expect to receive potential minimum citations (say 6 in two years following publication), but in this case Acta Cryst A is very lucky and as the commentator in the forum says:

    Without another, similarly important article in 2010, Acta Crystallographica – Section A is likely to return in 2011 to its prior Journal Impact Factor of between 1.5 and 2.5.  A valued journal for specialists in this field.

    PACS Used to Study Physics Community Network Evolution

    June 25, 2010

    PACS logo

    AIP has been developing PACS for over 40 years by dedicating significant resources. PACS has been aiding the publishing efforts, in a number of ways, of almost 180 physics journals. Now a group of researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory and University of Maryland use the PACS assigned to published articles in APS journals to map the evolution of physics topics over the period 1985 to 2006.

    Journal articles get a bunch of codes assigned as part of indexing. The first two digits of the PACS codes represent the subject areas or disciplines or scientific fields (see a full list by expanding all the + signs on this page). The authors consider two disciplines to be linked in a network if two PACS codes are assigned simultaneously in the journal articles. They are thus able to construct the following networks for 1977 (top) and 2005 (bottom) respectively. In both illustrations nodes corresponding to scientific fields, as well as node labels and their corresponding fields, are shown in the same color. The size of the nodes corresponds to the number of PACS codes contained in that community. Same-color neighboring nodes have the same label. The thickness (weight) of the edges correspond to the number of shared PACS codes between communities. The thickness of the links indicates how many papers have PACS codes corresponding to both nodes.

    What the study tells us is that the physics network communities are not static. Communities regularly merge and create new groups of ideas. That is to be expected from anecdotal evidence. However the authors expect their study to help in making predictions about the future of science and thus inform efforts to guide its development.

    Science network maps are increasing in popularity both because of their visual appeal and prediction making. Online citation maps following references in published articles are the old fashioned simple ones but the more complex and new studies apply statistical mechanics. One such study that generated a lot of interest recently is the click stream map of science (this article was viewed/downloaded more than 20 thousand times within the first month of publication and appeared in the same journal as the PACS study).

    iRex Files for Bankruptcy

    June 11, 2010

    iRex reader

    The maker of the first e-book reader I experimented with, iRex Technologies (a Philips’ spin-off) has filed for bankruptcy.

    The iRex 1000 e-book reader, the model we acquired more than a year ago is a 10.2-inch monochrome e-ink display but the most expensive of all at that time. Several months ago, our tech guru James and I did some analysis comparing the existing devices and this one scored the highest. The larger size display is made for PDF (very suitable for the archived journal content) and Word document viewing. The touch-screen interface allows mark up on documents with a stylus, making the display look and feel even more like a pad of paper. Obviously the company has trouble picking up next-generation technologies that the manufacturers of the competing devices, iPad (Apple), Kindle (Amazon), Sony Reader (Sony), are quick in adopting.

    Lesson (re)learned: Big ships can easily sink small ships.

    Printing from Smartphones

    June 9, 2010


    Printing from Smartphones is now possible, courtesy of HP.

    I always maintained that scientific reading, unlike reading anything else, is non-linear. When apps for content reading on mobile devices were evolving I thought they are not good enough and envisioned printing pdf’s from the apps. Somebody said why you need that, email the article to yourself from your mobile device, go to the computer and print from there. Aren’t these machines looking bulkier now-a-days and what happens when they go away or when one is not nearby.

    James, my friend, are you listening? Two weeks ago in your seminar, I kept badgering you of this functionality and you kept saying good luck.