Using Google Scholar in Scholarly Workflows
Monday, October 27, 2014
The next article in our 10th Anniversary Series is by
Prof. Jonathan Eisen
. He is at the University of California, Davis with appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. His research focuses on communities of microbes and how they provide new functions – to each other or to a host. He is coordinating the largest microbial sequencing project to date – a Genomic Encyclopedia – being done at the DOE Joint Genome Institute where he holds an Adjunct Appointment. He is also an active and award-winning blogger and microblogger.-- Anurag Acharya
Using Google Scholar in Scholarly Workflows
School of Medicine & College of Biological Sciences, UC Davis
When Anurag Acharya asked me recently if I would be interested in writing a guest post for the Google Scholar blog in relation to the 10th anniversary of Google Scholar, I immediately responded "Yes." Literally, that was the full content of my email response to his request. Why did I answer so enthusiastically? Well, I can put this down to three main reasons:
I have always been interested in methods of scholarly communication but much more so recently as I am working on two projects on the topic (one to run the "
microbiology of the Built Environment network" or microBEnet
and the other to co-run the UC Davis "
Innovating Communication in Scholarship
In the last 10 years Google Scholar has become a central part of my daily scholarly workflow
I kind of like to blog (for example see my
Tree of Life blog
posts on the microBEnet blog
my posts on the ICIS blog
So - in thinking about what to write for this post, I came up with three main topics I thought would be good to cover - how I got interested in topics of searching for and sharing scholarly papers, how I use Google Scholar, and some ideas about future possible uses of Google Scholar.
Part 1: Some Background
One day, in ancient history, my wife came home from work (at a
biotech startup up focusing on bioinformatics)
raving about this new search engine "
" that people at her company were talking about. As someone who thought of himself as on the cutting edge of web technology, I was a bit dismayed that I had not somehow discovered this myself. But I got over that and tried it out. And, after searching for my name (and being impressed with how well this new search engine worked on such an important topic) I immediately started playing around with searching for scientific papers and data. I did this, I guess, because ever since I was in college, I had been becoming more and more interested in (or some would say obsessed with) issues relating to finding and sharing scientific knowledge.
Without going into too much detail, some of the factors that contributed to my obsession included:
Working as a shelver and then assistant in the
Museum of Comparative Zoology
library in college and seeing how people struggled to find papers of relevance to their work;
Spending many years in graduate school (in the 1990s) working on projects that had been largely unstudied since the 1960s, including one (so called adaptive mutation) where
researchers claimed to have discovered something new in the 1990s
but had in fact missed a rich literature on the topic from the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., see
this from 1955
Building and sharing databases where I was trying to include a description of every paper that had been published about specific genes. I note - thanks to the Wayback machine my
Stanford website from when I was a PhD student
is still available - although alas the specific linked databases are not. I have reposted some of them for people to see what they were like (though many of the links in them are busted). See for example my sites on
Working on projects to catalog everything known about specific organisms in association with work I was doing to characterize the genomes of these organisms
In these and other projects, I had seen and experienced just how much time could be spent on searching for papers and data about a particular topics. I am not sure I had a well-defined strategy in every case but I came to rely upon some preferred methods including:
"Citation walking" where one takes a paper of interest and then asks "how has this paper been cited?” and traverses across the literature via citations
Searching for keywords in abstracts and titles
Browsing through specific journals
Looking for papers by specific authors
For data, I mostly would look in specific centralized data repositories such as
for DNA sequence information and
for three-dimensional structural data on proteins.
And of course many other approaches. Nothing really novel or brilliant here though I do think I got pretty good at how to carry out such searches. But one of the challenges was each approach had to be done in a different system and some of the systems were only available for a fee and some were not even online. And even with lots of time and pain, many things could be missed.
Thus when my wife introduced me to this new fangled Google thing my thoughts rapidly turned to - how can I use this new tool to help in finding and then sharing scientific papers or data about these genes and organisms I was studying? Did Google searches solve all my "issues" in this regard? Alas, no. But jump forward ~15 years to today and I am quite amazed in retrospect how much of my scholarly workflow flows through Google Scholar. But rather than try to recall and write about how my workflow changed with the advent of Google Scholar I thought I would just jump to the present time and discuss some ways that I use Google Scholar now.
Part 2: Using Google Scholar today
When working on this post I started to look around at how I use Google Scholar and I confess I was amazed at how many different ways I use it in my work. Here are some examples:
Tracking and using citations
. One major general use of Google Scholar lies in tracking of citations to specific scholarly works. Here are some ways that I use such information:
Citations to individual works. A key aspect of scholarly work in many fields is examining how specific works are cited. Such information has many uses include discovering new works on a topic by seeing how specific papers from the past are cited, assessing impact of works, ego satisfying, and more. For many years, information on how a specific work was cited was nearly impossible to come by without paying for access to citation tracking databases. Now, with Google Scholar I (and others) can very rapidly gather such information.
Citation from diverse sources. One aspect of using Google Scholar to track citations to individual works is the way GS finds citations in diverse sources – not just in the peer reviewed scholarly literature. Now, in some ways this can be viewed as a limitation (some may not want to count or even know about citations from self published white papers, for example). But in others ways this is a wonderful thing as one can find citations to one’s work from very diverse sources outside of the “normal” mold.
Citation metrics. It is not a large conceptual leap to go from the ability to track citations to individual works to the ability to create summary statistics about citations across many works. There are many indices for such purposes – some useful and some not. But whatever you think of such indices – Google Scholar has opened up the ability for people to calculate such metrics for oneself or to offer services to calculate metrics for others. Such indices can be used in many ways but perhaps the most common is to summarize the citations for one individual researcher. Which leads into my next topic …
Google Scholar Pages
. Perhaps my favorite development from Google Scholar in the last 10 years has been the introduction of Google Scholar Pages for individuals. I make use of
my Google Scholar page
and pages of others for dozens of things including these:
Citation metrics for myself. See above for a discussion of citation metrics in general. I use Google Scholar pages to examine citation metrics for myself and my papers all the time (right now GS shows two summary statistics H-index and I-10 index). And I use this information in many ways including
putting it on my CV
, including it in grant reports, and examining which of my scholarly works have had more “impact”.
As landing page for my publication list. Once one has a GS page, GS automatically adds new publications to one’s list and also updates citation counts and other information regularly. Thus I now include a link to my GS page on my blogs, my work web sites, and in my email signature.
To keep track of my coauthors. I have been blessed (and perhaps a bit cursed) to work in a field (genomics) where many projects involve large-scale collaborations across many institutions, involving many researchers. And I have found that a nice way to track these coauthors is via GS (although – note to GS folks – there used to be a way to show, publically, all coauthors in a list but I cannot seem to figure out how to do this anymore).
Author disambiguation. For people like myself with a relatively unique name, when others search for my scholarly works, they are pretty easy to find (although I note the fact that there is another Jonathan Eisen out there who publishes some works with a bit of a conspiracy theory angle has been both good and bad for me at times). But for many others, their name is not a perfect way to find their work. This may be because they have a name that is relatively common, or it may be because they have changed their name (e.g., after marriage). For such people creating a GS page can be very useful because once one trains GS with a set of works, it can find new works by that same person quite well (I first found out about this author disambiguation by GS when Anurag gave a talk at a
meeting I organized last year).
GS is certainly not the only tool in author disambiguation and others – like author UIDs (e.g.,
are almost certainly better long term options
. I note – author disambiguation may seem like a esoteric topic to many but it has major implications on important issues such as gender equity in academia, since women are much more likely to change their names during their career than men are.
Automated updates of new papers by specific authors. One option associated with GS author pages I use extensively is the ability to “follow” specific authors and get notified of new publications of theirs.
To keep track of a collection of people. Most researchers do not regularly update their individual publication pages on their websites. However, if those researchers have GS pages one can keep track of their new papers quite easily (either by the follow option mentioned above or just by browsing occasionally). For example, for my microBEnet project I curate a list of GS pages for researchers in the whole field with connections to studies of “microbiology of the built environment” and thus (hopefully) help others keep up with what is going on in the field.
Who is in a specific field? One feature of GS author pages that is not used a lot as far as I can tell, but which has some value is the “areas of interest” tag one can add to one’s profile. Though not everyone uses such tags, I have found they are a useful tool in finding researchers working on specific topics. For example, I list “symbiosis” as one of my areas of interest
and if I click on the link for that on my page
I get a list (sorted by citation counts – which is both useful and annoying) of others who have listed that same area of interest. And many of the people in this list I am not familiar with yet they do work on topics in which I am very interested.
Automated discovery of new papers by topic.
Pretty much all scholars these days are drowning in information and in keeping up with scholarly works. There are many reasons for this of course, and there are also some solutions. I find, for example, that social media is a great way to keep up to date on what new papers are coming out or have come out recently. But social media does not find everything and as someone who is responsible for keeping others up to date on various fields (e.g., this is one of my jobs at microBEnet) I also rely on both manual and automated searchers of the scholarly literature to find new papers or old papers I have missed. GS has two key ways to help in this regard. The first is relatively simple in concept but takes advantage of the power of Google indexing – which is just directly searching GS for papers on particular topics. And the advanced search options allow some customization of such searches. But as someone who is quite busy, I do not actually end up searching GS for new papers all that often. Instead I rely upon automated searches through various services including
, and GS. I use GS in two ways for such automated searches:
Create an alert. When one does a search on GS, in addition to results one is presented with an option to “Create an alert”. I now have dozens of such alerts in operation. To avoid getting drowned by the results I set them up to send only once a week and I filter them into a separate mail folder that I only look at when I have time. But I frequently find interesting new papers this way.
GS Updates. Another option now available, if one has a GS profile, is to use the
system (which I have written about before
for example). This system uses one’s publication list to scan for new papers that are related in some way to one’s prior work.
Many other uses of GS
. I have gone on perhaps way too long here so I am only going to briefly mention a few other uses of GS.
Finding online versions of papers. Unquestionably one of the most valuable uses of GS is to find online versions of scholarly works. But since others have written extensively about this I will just say the following: if you publish any scholarly work I recommend you make it freely and openly available AND that
you make sure that it gets indexed by GS
Full text searches of the literature. Another critically important aspect of GS is that it facilitates full text searching of the scholarly literature which is important for many reasons.
Finding works outside of the “normal” places to publish. Another key feature of GS is that it indexes much more than just publisher’s sites. If one posts a preprint on one’s own web server, that paper may show up in GS (which I think is a good thing). GS also indexes many diverse sources of scholarly works and thus helps in finding works that may otherwise not see the light of day.
Part 3: Where do we go from here?
As an active user of Google Scholar I of course have many comments, complaints, ideas and thoughts about what it could do better and where it might go in the future. And there are SO many things that could be added or improved upon – things like better figure and table searching, better exporting of information, better abilities to curate and create collections and to then use such collections as training sets for automated searchers, and more and more and more. I have written about some such issues and suggestions from time to time in my blog (see for example,
). There is certainly lots of work to be done.
But in thinking about this I realized that making a list of issues and suggestions is only of limited value. What I think GS really needs is a better public forum where GS can discuss what their plans are for the future and also where users and developers can discuss what they would find useful. And though I see some places for such discussions on the
Google Scholar blog
and in related sites, I don’t see a lot. So – I would like to end with a call for GS to create a better site for such discussions of the future of GS …
Caselaw is Set Free, What Next?
Monday, October 20, 2014
The next article in our 10th Anniversary Series is by Thomas Bruce. He is the director of the
Legal Information Institute
at Cornell. He co-founded the LII in 1992. Today, its legal collections are used widely and have inspired the
Free Access to Law Movement
which has helped citizens worldwide learn about the laws that govern them. Thomas is also the author of
, first Web browser for Microsoft Windows. -- Anurag Acharya
Caselaw is Set Free, What Next?
Thomas Bruce, Director, Legal Information Institute, Cornell
A lawyer story
Google Scholar’s caselaw collection is a victory for open access to legal information and the democratization of law. It would be more than worthy of celebration from that standpoint alone. But caselaw is above all an obsession of lawyers, and I’d like to start by telling the tale from their point of view.
Five years ago, when Google Scholar added judicial opinions to its portfolio, it created an immediate sensation among lawyers. Small-office and solo practitioners were
the most vocal about it
; they had always had a difficult time affording the services of commercial publishers,
even in print
. And now there was access to a significant chunk of material that had previously been lodged firmly behind paywalls. It was linked and searchable, and still better, it offered
a version of the citation-tracking and evaluation features
that lawyers knew and loved in expensive commercial systems. It had first-class sorting and filtering features. It had
-form citations for each case (pretty much the epitome of something that nobody but lawyers
knows or cares about
, but a very thoughtful touch indeed). Nobody in the open-access arena had tried such a thing, and probably only Google could have.
said that, “Google fired (arguably) the loudest...salvo in the battle for free access to caselaw… and it apparently came as a tweet”.
Scholar’s immediate impact on the legal profession was owed in large part to its technical virtuosity. It was an unusual display of ingenuity used to democratize services and features whose value had mostly been known only to lawyers. But, for the legal profession, it was happening in the middle of a long-brewing, near-perfect storm. Since
at least the early 90’s
, clients had complained about surcharges that law firms added to legal research costs. By 2000, there was growing refusal to reimburse legal-research fees at all; clients felt that the firm’s online charges were just a part of overhead, like water and electricity. That was not an isolated gripe; rather, it was a visible crack in a
business model that we now know had been eroding for quite some time
. By one estimate, the 2008 implosion of the financial-services industry destroyed over a third of the legal employment in New York.
A lot of firms changed radically or disappeared altogether
in the aftermath. You could talk, in dry academic terms, about
downward price pressure
on the industry. One suspects that the feeling was more like riding in an elevator whose cables had been cut.
There had been free offerings of caselaw online
for some time
, starting with a BBS system
offered by the Cleveland Freenet
in 1989; the first web-based effort started
here at Cornell
in 1992, and was followed with a full edition of all Federal statutes in 1994. Elsewhere -- notably in
-- open-access systems offered by third parties had evolved into the de facto national standard. And government was catching up, with many law creators publishing their materials online, for free.
Free services had never been the first choice of lawyers in the US. Some of the reasons were rational -- free services often lacked features that lawyers depend on, most provided very little in the way of commentary or annotation, and in any case they were highly distributed. There was no “one-stop shopping” in the world of open access to law, just a lot of websites offering different collections. The irrational reasons were, if anything, even more interesting and far more influential, though much more deeply buried in lawyer psyches. Lawyers are notoriously conservative in their work methods, and
many law librarians even more so
. Anything that was both new and noncommercial was
. And the commercial services had had
more than a century to reinforce the idea that size and comprehensiveness were the only measures of quality that mattered
Even so, it’s hard to convey the degree to which lawyers mistrust distributed systems. As John Lederer once remarked, “Lawyers don’t buy books -- they buy systems of books”, and so it was with electronic products as well. It was easy for lawyers to dismiss what they saw as isolated pockets of legal information offered by volunteers at wildly different levels of added value, and marketers of commercial services
had been quick to emphasize these qualities
. That said, in the year prior to the addition of caselaw to Scholar, Cornell’s website had delivered well over 81 million pageviews to nearly 14 million unique visitors. 4.5 million of those pageviews went to the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
, a collection unlikely to be used by anyone but lawyers.
Google, a company with unparalleled capacity and legendary technical skills, offering a large collection of caselaw under one roof, with a workable citator and advanced search functionality. That was a big story, and it was often
as “Google takes on commercial legal-research behemoths”. It was free access offered from a source that could not be dismissed as somehow beneath notice or unlikely to survive. Google’s offerings in Scholar thus became a validation of, and a capstone on, the things that open-access advocates had been doing for years. Apart from its inherent value -- which was, and is, huge -- it was a sign that freely accessible legal information was technically advanced and more than sufficient for many if not most professional needs. Most of all, it signaled that free legal information was something to be taken seriously. It sent that signal at a time when
circumstances compelled the profession to pay far more attention than it otherwise might have
. Scholar not only brought us a new and capable collection, it brought a new level and quality of attention to the entire open-access enterprise.
I began by telling a story about law and lawyers, but of course there’s an even more compelling story about law and everyone else. Laws -- and particularly statutes and regulations --
. They describe what’s possible and permissible, what it costs to do business, what we can expect from government and what government can expect from us. On any given day, an open-access legal web site such as ours, or Scholar, is used by people who are helping veterans get the benefits to which they’re entitled, small businesses planning new courses of action, and students at all levels who are learning about the Constitution and our system of government. There are law-enforcement personnel learning about the limits and obligations of their position, hospital managers consulting public-benefits law, and people finding out what they have to do to sell new products in new markets. Those people need access to law. They need to be able to create starting points for themselves, using search to connect words and phrases that they already understand with concepts and explanations that at first they will not understand at all. They need to be able to
follow their noses
from those poorly-understood things to other pages that will explain them. Making all that possible is the next challenge.
Google Scholar’s caselaw collection offers features -- such as citators -- that are a step toward the “system of books” that would fully integrate primary legal sources and commentary into a practical resource for public understanding and professional practice. The legal-information ecosystem on the Web as a whole is moving in that direction. As that progresses, the benefits to everyone affected by law -- which is to say, everyone, period -- will be enormous. We will move beyond making law available on the Web to making it truly accessible on the Web -- not just discoverable, but understandable.
In 1992, starting with important caselaw collections, the open-access community began connecting law to itself. Hyperlinks gave readers a way to seamlessly follow citations -- at least if the cited thing was available online somewhere. And simply seeing to it that the things that ought to be online are online kept us all busy for a very long time (and is still a significant problem, in
, some of them
surprisingly close to home
). We need to increase the density of connections between documents by making connections easier for machines (rather than human authors) to create. We need to hugely increase the amount of freely-available material that explains the law. And we need to -- in ways both trivial, and not -- make it possible for people to find the laws that affect them using things they already know.
Regulations provide a really good arena for thinking about such problems, for two reasons. First, they are harder for information systems to deal with. They are inconsistently drafted by a wide variety of people. For example, the
Code of Federal Regulations
is essentially a compilation of the work of perhaps 200 agencies (nobody really knows exactly how many). And, compared to caselaw, regulations have been relatively neglected by open-access publishers. Finally, and most importantly, they are the largest single contact surface between the public and the legal system. Yes, there are Supreme Court cases that are
sweeping in their effect on daily life
-- roughly half a dozen a year, compared to the thousands and thousands of cases in the Federal system that are just about two people suing two other people over something that
only four people care about
(and maybe a fifth if you count the judge). Regulations
affect lots of people
they change often
. That makes them much more of a challenge for open-access publishers, both technically and economically. It also makes it that much more urgent to provide citizens with improved modes of access and value-added services such as notification of changes and anything and everything that would make compliance easier. Second, regulations are about things, and they are often based on science. And building things that bridge knowledge domains is what information scientists do.
A trivial example may help. Right now, a full-text search for “tylenol” in the US Code of Federal Regulations will find… nothing. Mind you, Tylenol is regulated, but it’s regulated as “acetaminophen”. But if we link up the data here in Cornell’s CFR collection with data in the
DrugBank pharmaceutical collection
, we can automatically determine that the user needs to know about acetaminophen -- and we can do that with any name-brand drug in which acetaminophen is a component. By classifying regulations using the same
system that science librarians use to organize papers in agriculture
, we can determine which scientific papers may form the rationale for particular regulations, and link the regulations to the papers that explain the underlying science. These techniques, informed by emerging approaches in natural-language processing and the Semantic Web, hold great promise.
All successful information-seeking processes permit the searcher to exchange something she already knows for something she wants to know. By using technology to vastly expand the number of things that can meaningfully and precisely be submitted for search, we can dramatically improve results for a wide swath of users. In our shop, we refer to this as the process of “getting from barking dog to nuisance”, an in-joke that centers around
mapping a problem expressed in real-world terms to a legal concept
. Making those mappings on a wide scale is a great challenge. If we had those mappings, we could answer a lot of everyday questions for a lot of people.
As I hinted earlier, search is often just the start; it shows the way to the trailhead, but the information-seeker must then follow a path that leads to commentary and deeper explanation of what the search engine offers easily. Building that path is a problem that rests critically on integration across multiple websites and collections. Metadata-publishing standards and linked-data approaches are helping; we look forward, for example, to a set of specific legal extensions to
that will make it easier for people and machines to follow their noses from what search provides to the understanding that they really need. It will be a long job.
But that is a tale for another day, perhaps another ten years in the future. It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come. Scholar, and its legal collection, are a tremendous gift to those who want to know about the law, and a platform for those of us who want to go further.
Rise of the Rest: The Growing Impact of Non-Elite Journals
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
The world of scholarly communication has changed quite a bit over the last decade and Scholar has been a part of the change. We are taking the opportunity of Scholar's 10th anniversary to explore the impact of these changes - looking at how scholarship and citation patterns have changed as publications and archives moved online and comprehensive relevance-ranked search became available to everyone.
As the next article in the 10th anniversary series, we have published
a study examining the evolution of the impact of non-elite journals
on arXiv. The idea that a small elite set of journals covers most of the key papers in a discipline has long been prevalent in the study of scholarly communication. We explore how this has changed over 1995-2013. - Anurag Acharya
Rise of the Rest: The Growing Impact of Non-Elite Journals
Anurag Acharya, Alex Verstak, Helder Suzuki, Sean Henderson,
Mikhail Iakhiaev, Cliff Chiung Yu Lin, Namit Shetty
In this paper, we examine the evolution of the impact of non-elite journals. We attempt to answer two questions. First, what fraction of the top-cited articles are published in non-elite journals and how has this changed over time. Second, what fraction of the total citations are to non-elite journals and how has this changed over time.
To answer these questions, we studied citations to articles published in 1995-2013. We computed the 10 most-cited journals and the 1000 most-cited articles each year for all the 261 subject categories included in Scholar Metrics. We considered the 10 most-cited journals in a category as the elite journals for the category and all other journals in the category as non-elite.
There are two main conclusions from our study. First, the fraction of highly-cited articles published in non-elite journals increased steadily over 1995-2013. While the elite journals still publish a substantial fraction of high-impact articles, many more authors of well-regarded papers in a diverse array of research fields are choosing other venues.
Our analysis indicates that the number of top-1000 papers published in non-elite journals for the representative subject category went from 149 in 1995 to 245 in 2013, a growth of 64%. Looking at broad research areas, 4 out of 9 broad areas saw at least one-third of the top-cited articles published in non-elite journals in 2013. All broad areas of research saw a growth in the fraction of top-cited articles published in non-elite journals over 1995-2013. For 6 out of 9 broad areas, the fraction of top-cited papers published in non-elite journals for the representative subject category grew by 45% or more.
Second, now that finding and reading relevant articles in non-elite journals is about as easy as finding and reading articles in elite journals, researchers are increasingly building on and citing work published everywhere. Considering citations to all articles, the percentage of citations to articles in non-elite journals went from 27% of all citations in 1995 to 47% in 2013. Six out of nine broad areas had at least 50% of total citations going to articles published in non-elite journals in 2013.
Read on arXiv
Using Google Scholar in Scholarly Workflows
Caselaw is Set Free, What Next?
Rise of the Rest: The Growing Impact of Non-Elite ...
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