Nov 9, 2018

When scientists get information overload

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Science is moving at a dizzying pace: around 2.5 million scientific journal articles are published a year around the world, and still the volume keeps climbing. But rather than propel science at an increasing clip, the flood has created information overload — and threatens to hold back progress.

The big picture: We have written about how artificial intelligence and faster computing are allowing scientists to go after much bigger problems. But part of the problem is also the more mundane task of simply keeping up with their field in an age of too much data.

Scientists spend a lot of time reading each others’ work. In order to do useful research, they need to know what else is going on: the day’s trends, techniques, and outstanding questions.

  • But the sheer volume means no one can read all the relevant work.
  • Nor can anyone realistically find only the best papers.

This sets up an impossible choice, says Doug Raymond of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence: A scientist can take the time to understand where her field stands, and risk getting scooped, or publish fast with possibly only incremental results.

So several new projects are using AI to cast a wide net, searching the internet for interesting scientific papers that may have otherwise been buried.

  • Mikey Fischer, a Stanford PhD student, created Assert, a site that shows 10 papers at a time, scored by how much they are discussed by influential Twitter accounts and whether their authors published their computer code.
  • Andrew Mauboussin, a Twitter data scientist, wrote PCA News, a feed that searches for tweets about AI-related papers, scoring them based on likes and retweets, the quality of replies, and the influence of the account.
  • The Allen Institute yesterday announced improvements to Semantic Scholar, a popular search engine for academic research. Now, the site shows tweets, videos, presentations, news stories, and computer code next to research.

By turning away from the traditional peer-review system, these new projects reward research that sparks online buzz, and is verifiable by other scientists.

  • "I want a kid in their garage to publish a paper and for it to have impact," says Fischer.
  • Raymond, who manages Semantic Scholar, said the new approaches are "making it easier for new scientists to break through with high-impact and high-risk research in fields where there is just an overwhelming amount of publications to sift through."

But, but but: The rigors of peer review can’t be replaced by 240 characters, and social media can be as much of an echo chamber as the ivory tower.

  • Just because a paper is trending on Twitter “does not mean it is high quality science,” said Mauboussin.
  • A focus on Twitter chatter means researchers with a large following will see a disproportionate boost.
  • Assert aims for a middle ground by soliciting simple feedback: Readers can rate papers on their quality, leave comments, and ask researchers questions.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates: Infections number tops 140,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now infected over 142,000 people in the U.S. — more than any other country in the world, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: COVID-19 had killed over 2,400 people in the U.S. by Sunday night. That's far fewer than in Italy, where over 10,000 people have died — accounting for a third of the global death toll. The number of people who've recovered from the virus in the U.S. exceeded 2,600 Sunday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 15 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 721,584 — Total deaths: 33,958 — Total recoveries: 149,122.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 142,106 — Total deaths: 2,479 — Total recoveries: 2,686.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump says his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

World coronavirus updates: Cases surge past 720,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now more than 720,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 33,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Sunday that his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health