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Connecting researchers boosts collective intelligence

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Elsevier's Jay Katzen explains how new research 2.0 tools are helping researchers to source more pertinent information by connecting with others in their field

The increased availability of electronic scientific literature is resulting in a ‘data smog’. Scientists now read 25 per cent more articles from almost twice as many journals than they did six years ago, according to research by Carol Tenopir of the University of Tennessee, USA. It is an ongoing challenge for them to keep up-to-date on research developments in their field, and identify relevant research to support their own studies without spending too much time gathering irrelevant information.

One solution to this is a combination of accurate information sourcing and sharing, resulting in ‘collective intelligence’. Although many scholarly search and collaboration tools already exist, these tend to be used in isolation of each other. To realise the full benefit of these new technologies, the tools need to be used together and applied to accurate, highquality information.

Ensuring information benefits

Three key factors are essential to ensure reliability, accuracy and increased benefit from information sourcing. These factors are peer review, information literacy and collaboration.

The first of these, peer review, is critical to establishing a reliable body of research and knowledge from which to draw. The process ensures that published studies meet the high standards of academic research and aims to prevent dissemination of unwarranted claims, inaccurate interpretations or personal views.

A recent global study commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium found that 85 per cent of researchers surveyed agree that peer review greatly helps the communication of research. Applying this quality control also significantly reduces the amount of information researchers are faced with.

For example, of the more than 520,000 articles submitted to Elsevier journals each year, over half are rejected due to the peerreview process.

After peer review, the next step is providing the tools needed by researchers to access the information that is most relevant to their studies. According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, ‘information literacy is the solution to data smog. It allows us to cope by giving us the skills to know when we need information and where to locate it effectively and efficiently.’ Many researchers already possess these skills, but today there is a need to automate this process to make it more accurate and efficient.

Searching and sorting

Of the numerous scholarly search engines, the free-to-access Google Scholar is often researchers’ first choice. However, researchers have also struggled with the many results generated and the need for more trawling time as a result. While enabling a broad search of academic content, Google Scholar does not focus a search on peer-reviewed, scientific content so it requires further sorting on the part of the researcher.

Elsevier’s search engine Scirus, which is also free to access, offers a more comprehensive search for the scientist because it is specifically optimised for scientific research and searches over 450 million science-specific web pages.

Taking search a step further, subscribing to an abstracting and indexing database like Elsevier’s Scopus provides a myriad of ways for scientists to interact with broad collections of scientific content. Scopus personalises the search experience by enabling researchers to discover information in ways that make the most sense to them individually and fit with their specific workflows. Additionally, using the Scopus Citation Tracker, researchers can evaluate the relative influence of any scientific paper, which adds an extra layer of information validation.

Collaboration adds value

Such tools are very useful on their own for finding relevant information. However, the value of the information extracted using researchers’ own information literacy skills and tools is maximised further when it is shared through collaboration.

The internet has eased and extended research collaboration beyond geographical and cultural barriers, leading to the development of a host of collaboration tools specifically designed for the scientific community. These tools enable researchers to further enhance the credibility and relevance of information that has already passed through the peer-review process.

2collab aids researchers by providing the facility to share information across the globe

Using social tagging

One such tool is Elsevier’s 2collab. This social bookmarking service promotes collaboration, discussion and dialogue among researchers by allowing them to store, organise, search and share bookmarks to research available online. 2collab stimulates collaboration throughout the research development process – assisting in identifying problems, solutions and opportunities. It provides researchers with a trusted space to focus on scientific research and connect with peers across the globe.

With the rapid growth of internet access in developing countries, tools like 2collab also support the growth of a global information society. While stand-alone services like 2collab widen the net of information to be shared and discussed, the true benefit of these new bookmarking tools comes from their integration with search engines and information sourcing tools. Links to non-subject specific social bookmarking tools can be found all over the internet, allowing users to reference any web content on general bookmarking sites. This integration is still in the early stages in the area of scientific information sourcing.

Both Scopus and Elsevier’s ScienceDirect now allow researchers to add article links to their profile on 2collab. This enables researchers within the same network to see their peers’ comments and ratings of an article, further informing their evaluation of credibility and relevance of the information at hand.

Research tools based on user participation cannot replace the peer-review process. However, researcher collaboration based on trusted, peer-reviewed information, can enable superior research. Online collaboration among researchers is still in its early days. But it holds great potential for facilitating research. It is possible to imagine a time not too far ahead when collective intelligence, through online collaboration tools, will become integral to development and dissemination of scientific research.

Jay Katzen is managing director for academic and government products at Elsevier