10 August 2007

Big Science

Another Web 2.0 twist in the trail has left me slapping my forehead again. Why didn't I think of that? Sometimes it's like I live on the wrong side of a one-track mind. What grabbed my attention today was a script for Greasemonkey, the Firefox add-on that continues to delight me with its inventive web mash-inations. This elegant and irresistibly useful bit of code brings new interest to the routine activity of browsing e-journal tables of contents. If you don't want to read any further, get the Quotes from Chemical Blogspace and Postgenomic Greasemonkey script at userscripts.org. Chemical Blogspace and Postgenomic are wonderful websites that tumble together hundreds of blogs in a kind of omnium gatherum of scientific communication. What if you could connect all that procreative blogosphere superabundance to the dry tables of contents provided by scientific publishers on their e-journal sites? Is somebody blogging about an article in Nature? The script knows.

Why should I care about this? How often am I going to plough through the TOCs of PNAS or BioMed Central just because this cool script exists? Let me explain. I'm happy with RSS syndicating, del.icio.us bookmarking, Flickr tagging, RefWorksing, PubMed alerting, blog browsing, podcasting, YouTubing, Facebook fiddling, listserv lurking — all the 'ings' my passions and my profession involve me in, those convenient Librarian 2.0 competencies I posted about a while ago. I think I'm pretty well informed, but sometimes I feel I'm in a bit of a rut. Information science is one thing, but what about Science with a capital S? From the staid confines of my library, peering out from behind these ranks of medical texts shelved in the W's, I am confronted by the frenetic world of scientific endeavour.

I am fascinated by Science, but only in its less formal garb, unencumbered by the starch and stays of mathematical rigour. As a student of science I have always been a flop. I was flummoxed by Newton's laws, easily fazed by trigonometry, and I fizzled entirely trying to calculate moles and masses. One could say that I have a limited grasp of science's myriad complexities. I prefer the simple approach: if it squirms it's biology; if it stinks it's chemistry; if it explodes it's physics; if it's incomprehensible it's mathematics; if it doesn't work it's engineering.

I gravitate to the more popular sources of science information: Scientific American, PBS's Nova, radio programs like CBC's Quirks and Quarks (also available as a podcast), and some wonderful websites and blogs. One thing I have always enjoyed is browsing through journals like Nature, awed by the stunning fecundity of scientific research. Now, with my new script installed, I have easy access to bloggers' opinions about articles in Nature directly from the journal's TOC. It's everything Web 2.0 is supposed to be about, injecting a bit of jaunty twoness into a method of presenting information that hasn't changed much since books were copied by hand. The script does not interfere with the publisher's site in any way. It overlays a 'Pg' or 'Cb' logo onto a table of contents item, indicating that someone has blogged on that article. On mouseover an excerpt of the blog post pops up. The reader merely clicks on the link to get to the blogger's post.

A footnote in an article on scholarly communication (1) led me to a discussion of the script on the Blue Obelisk wiki and a link to download the latest version. Noel O'Blog (Noel O'Boyle, University of Cambridge) extended the script, originally created by Pedro Beltrão to work automatically on a number of popular sites, including Nature, PLoS, PNAS and BioMed Central. His version, posted on userscripts.org, is the one to get.

Here is a list of the sites covered in Noel's script. (The list is taken directly from the script, hence the asterisk storm. It should be possible to edit the script to add other sites, and the author encourages this.)

http://*.oxfordjournals.org/* (Added 01/May/07)

This non-scientist must express his appreciation for a truly innovative way to enhance communication in the scientific community. It's a very cool Web 2.0 tool, which I'm sure will evolve into something even more interesting over time. And it doesn't explode.


1. Martinsen DP. Scholarly communication 2.0: evolution or design? ACS Chem.Biol. 2007 Jun 15;2(6):368-371.


baoilleach said...

Thanks for the write up, and also for the link to the paper - Noel

baoilleach said...
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