Quicker references with Google Scholar

This post is an ode to Google Scholar (GS). GS has a major advantage against expensive institution only academic search engines in that is free, which makes services indispensable to independent scholars wishing to get some access to research literature when they don’t have an institutional subscription. However, even though I personally have institutional access to indexing services like Web of Science and Scopus, I still prefer GS for the majority of my searches, and in this post I will explain why.

GS is not alone if offering free academic article indexing for a wide range of sources. This post lists a bunch of free and paid services. Microsoft live academic has a very similar system, using a slick interface, which has the advantage of providing paper abstracts where available upfront, and before both these appeared, Citesteer provided something similar. I prefer GS over these and other systems I have tried. In my limited testing, I found the MS live search and Citesteer to give a much smaller set of results to GS. For ease and speed of use I prefer the simplicity of the Google design over the paid alternatives.

GS is largely disliked by librarians, as Google is very cagey about what there index consists and their citation index is probably not to be trusted for serious reporting. GS gives citation counts, which might not always be exactly accurate, for most purposes an exact total isn’t necessary, as it serves as good measure of the importance and influence of a book or paper, and allows easy access to those references that cite it. By default, when you click to see articles that cite a particular article, the index is presented with the most highly cited articles first, which makes it very easy to see the important and influential articles in a field.

As Jose suggested in a previous post, one way to assess the productivitveness of reference managers is by how many clicks it takes to get what you want. GS is about as productive in this regard as I could imagine any reference indexer to be. Because it is free, there is no login and you don’t have to be on a university network to access search results or enter in passwords, or have your session time out like some other services. This means GS is always available. If you set up the preferences on GS you can setup a link to your reference manager of choice for an instant export. As I now use Zotero, this means it’s a one click operation to get a reference into my database, with no dialog prompts.

GS has the advantage that it often indexes PDF’s for the article, which may not be available by other means. If there is a link for your search result of “View as HTML” you know the link GS provides is for the PDF, otherwise it normally links to the abstract via various publishers websites or other indexing services. If there is a link at the side “all X versions”, this means there are various other places in which that article is indexed. If that X is a high number, it is likely that one of the other links will be the PDF, which is useful to check if the frontpage GS link doesn’t link to a PDF, or if the PDF that GS links to is missing. If the reference is a book, it will often link to the Google Book site entry for that book, which is handy.

For easier access to full text articles which GS doesn’t index, I use the OpenURL referrer firefox extension, which can work out your OpenURL referrer for your institution, and adds a link to GS search results. Google offers this service itself for many American libraries - just check the GS preferences page. If you click the link this service adds, it will use the OpenURL system to work out if your library has access to the full text version of the article on the publishers website or other indexing service, and take you to it. It also should show if you have the reference in your library.

One advantage and disadvantage of GS is that it includes many articles that wouldn’t get included in other indexing services. One nice advantage is that it gives you access to books and articles in a single search. The articles GS indexes includes manuscripts in preparation and working papers. This means you can access articles not accessible by other means. However, this means you don’t get the benefits of peer review, but I think the benefits of getting recent papers outweighs this disadvantage. Another problem is that GS will sometimes export reference data which isn’t properly formatted, or missing fields. This will unsurprisingly occur for unpublished papers, but for regular papers it doesn’t happen regularly enough to be a major problem for me. GS gives the index source underneath the link to the reference, so you can figure out whether the exported reference will have the full information, and you can check other sources if GS shows them to be available.

While GS is useful for the reasons outlined above, the best feature of GS is the search. GS uses the Google simplicity of search principle. There is a just one search box, with no fields. There is a link to an advanced search field which allows you to limit searches by year, by publication, and author. This may seem very limited compared to other services. For further information on these options see the GS help page. However, with GS I don’t use advanced searches, apart from the occasion “author:”, as the power of GS is that you don’t need to. I typically put a few uncommon words from the title and the most uncommon author name, and the vast majority of the time I get what I am looking for. One feature of Google search syntax that you might not know is that if you string words together by dashes it is equivalent to a search string. e.g. “war is peace” is the same as war-is-peace. Doing this for a few words from the title of the reference you are looking for ensures a high success rate.

The ease and speed of searching is enhanced for me with other tools that make instant search easier. I use a keyboard launcher, Slickrun, which means I can execute searches from a command line accessible via a hotkey. Other keyboard launchers can provide a similar service, or you can use the keyword feature of Firefox. The means that whenever I see a reference, such as in a PDF article, I copy the reference, type my GS keyword, paste the search term, and a second later my GS search term is loading. An alternative method is to use the firefox extension Conquery . This means I can select text in the browser (e.g. name of an article) and send the text as a search term to google scholar. I also have an AutoHotKey command which will instantly launch selected text as a GS search.

The speed and ease of which I can access to references has changed the way I work. Its quicker for me to get a reference via a GS search then it is to find a stored copy in my own reference manager, and I can’t ask for much more that that from a reference indexing service.

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Quicker references with Google Scholar

Eating Strategies

Do you eat the best thing first or save the best for last?  Most people fall into one of these two categories and according to Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating there is a simple economic explanation.  The people who eat the best thing first tend to have grown up as younger children from large families.  The people who save the best for last are more often first borns.  Need I say more?

Mindless Eating, by the way, masquerades as a diet book but it’s really about research design!  Highly recommended.


Eating Strategies

The most absurd sentence I read today

I am proposing that the Son and the Father Singularities guided the worlds of the multiverse to concentrate the energy of the particles constituting Jesus in our universe into the Jesus of our universe.

That is from Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Christianity.

But wait, there is competition for the honor:

If Jesus indeed rose from the dead using the mechanism described in Chapter 8, namely electroweak tunneling to convert matter into energy, and if indeed this was done with the intention of showing us how to use the same process, then we ourselves should be able to learn how to turn matter into either electromagnetic energy or neutrinos within a few decades.

You choose…


The most absurd sentence I read today

Nelles Maps

dali-map-crop2sm.jpg

Nelles Maps are the best foldable maps for travelers I’ve seen. I favor them for six reasons: 1) They come at a good practical scale for traveling, fine enough to show most small rural towns. 2) Each map displays shaded physical relief of mountains, highway numbers and even “places of interest” - which are often not listed in guide books. 3) The maps are printed on both sides to maximize coverage. 4) They are printed in a form that folds neatly into a shoulder bag, with cover. 5) They are reasonably priced. 6) Best of all, Nelles seem to keep them very up to date. I haven’t found any Nelles maps in print that are more than a few years old.

These qualities may seem expected, but most maps of third world countries are uselessly vague. Nelles maps shine in particular for Asia and Africa, and remote places where good maps are hard to find. I know from personal experience they have the best ones (in English) for China (in 3 maps, a North, Central and South), for India, and for the Himalayas as a whole. And they have the only useable map for Papua Maluku (Papua New Guinea) that I’ve been able to find. You may be able to find maps that are better for specific countries, but try Nelles (based in Germany) as your first stop.

–KK

Nelles-Map-sm.jpg
Nelles Maps
$8-$11
Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nelles Maps


Nelles Maps

Advice for economics grad students

Because, for whatever reason, I'm nervous about entering a world that plays according to different rules than the corporate one I'm used to, I've taken to reading and bookmarking a lot of "how to succeed in academia" articles. So as I come across good advice (or at least good advice for me), I'll post it here.

In 2005, Matthew Pearson wrote a letter for the new graduate economics students at UC Davis. The letter (PDF) has some advice specific to that program, but there's other good general advice buried in there too.

  • In the first year, it's "about learning that survival is not all about intelligence, nor passion, but commitment." Learning the fundamentals can be grueling, you'll feel like an imposter, but keep going. Pearson says: "Some research in behavioral economics suggests that people are happier with decisions they know are irreversible. Simply putting that decision [to quit] out of the realm of possibility will relieve you of a lot of burden."
  • Although he talks about preliminary exams at one point, the advice can be generalized: "...[I]t is very important to believe that you have it in you to pass." Learn from your mistakes, take your grades as indicators of where you may need to adjust and improve. "Freaking out is a waste of your time and energy."
  • "Begin to develop your strategy to pass early on." He's talking about the prelims here, but I'm thinking in terms of my master's paper I'll have to write. Ideally, my projects over the next few years will feed into the paper, so that the effort to compile, research, and write will be minimal. (My adviser suggested looking for a subject at my workplace; maximize what I already know well.)
  • I really like this bit of advice. He's talking about getting the fundamentals of economics in your bones, but again, I'm expanding its purview:

Develop your intuition. I cannot stress this enough. As I mentioned above about studying for understanding and not merely memorizing, you must believe that the intuition is there and that the material will seem much, much easier once you have grasped it...When you aim for this kind of understanding, however, things become so much clearer.

Often the barrier to true understanding is the nagging sense that you have SO MUCH to study, so you really must move on to the next topic. However, grazing over lots of material gathering cursory familiarity can be, at best, far less productive than studying one thing until you really understand it and do not need to depend on memorized content...[Me: Hmmmm.] Repetition [can be] sufficient for understanding less challenging material, but this is no longer the case.

[Me: In my spring information course, I felt bombarded by so many new concepts--RDF, metadata, ontologies, thesauri--that it wasn't until I was studying for the final that I grokked how they all fit together. Until that time, they were only vocabulary words. Given the pace of the course, and the fact that I was working full-time and taking a second course, there really was no time to do more than keep my head above water. Also, where I'm at now, everything is basic and fundamental. Intuition will only develop for me after I've worked with these things some more.]

  • "Develop your student capital." Learn to ask your classmates, professors, and TAs questions, no matter how silly you might feel. "There is no place for pride when you do not understand."
  • Develop an effective method for dealing with note-taking and note-studying. "Choose something that addresses your weaknesses effectively." (Spoken like a true lifehacker.) Pearson takes notes on looseleaf paper, transfers them to a binder, and then makes his own notes on the other side of the page as he goes through them. A nice system. I'm still working out mine. What I did in the spring worked OK, but didn't encourage revisiting the material and refreshing itself in my mind.
  • Rest effectively--this means time with friends and family, exercising, getting enough sleep. And yes, that means there can be "unproductive rest," as he calls it, like zoning out in front of the teevee.

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