Fresh Harvest or Stale Chaff?

Apr 25 2011 Published by under [Information&Communication]

Sorting through the literature challenges most medical professionals. My "pure science" friends usually have a set search in PubMed that updates on a regular basis so they can find relevant new findings for their research.  That strategy helps in my lab-life, but as a practicing nephrologist I often do not know what I need to know until I need to know it. [What a sentence; my apologies in advance to the grammar police.]

The AMWA Journal started a new section this issue to reprint relevant articles from other journals. The first entry in this section caught my eye:

How to search and harvest the medical literature: Let the citations come to you, and how to proceed when they do. Citrome et al. Int J Clin Pract 63:1565, 2009

The article discusses electronic table of contents (eTOCs), automated alerts, stored searches, newsletters, and other available online resources. Article evaluation is addressed in rather standard ways, via title and abstract scanning, along with endorsements by evidence-based medicine groups and other authorities. Electronic storage and indexing is discussed, and online tagging sites noted as a final step. The general approach to their literature harvesting plan is shown in the figure:

I am disappointed by this piece. The general advice is sound; I have eTOCs of major journals in my field emailed when available, as well as keyword notifications from a number of sources. If a title looks appropriate, I click through for the abstract and, often, the article itself. For papers I want ready accessible, I have a PDF library in my Dropbox. If I know I will be able to retrieve the publication online (I belong to a society that publishes the journal, for example), then I may just index it.

My index system is in flux. I bought EndNote as soon as I had a computer. Those in my age bracket who have used typewriters for preparation of grants and manuscripts immediately recognized the value of this type of software. Lately, I have also established a Mendeley Library. This web-based reference manager appears to do everything EndNote can, but with the power of the hive-mind as well. Its Web 2.0 twist involves users providing tags and other meta-data to published literature. I have only played with Mendeley for a few months, but I can see great potential for this type of information in medicine and medical science. I hoped the Citrome piece would include more on these sharing sites for primary steps in literature harvesting, but these authors saw sharing as merely an added final step.

One thought I particularly enjoyed:

A major challenge that remains is determining what is worth reading beyond the abstract and what is worth saving. On a cautionary note, restricting thechoice of journals to what you consider as most worthy works only moderately well, as gems can be found in the most unlikely of places, and publication in a first-tier journal is not always a hallmark of quality.

The article did not change my ways; it pretty much summarized what I already do. How do the rest of you go about harvesting the literature? I am especially interested in finding out how others use Mendeley and other such sites as primary literature search tools - or do you?

5 responses so far

  • Bashir says:

    For collecting papers I have a variety of TOC alerts from key journals. I also make a habit of checking Google Scholars "papers that cite this" link. That is quite useful. I don't have any Pubmed or Google alerts just yet, though I should probably set some up.

    For indexing and storing I do use Mendeley and Dropbox. Both of which I fully endorse (I do have minor complaints with Mendeley). The social aspect of Mendeley (the groups and recommended papers) has potential to be useful if you're trying to learn about a new topic. For example someone will have curated a list of Top 20 articles on Molecular Basketweaving. Though some areas are more developed than others, so Mendeley isn't always useful for that.

    • fcs says:

      +1 on all of this.

      I also subscribe to relevant RSS technology feeds, so even if I miss something big initially I usually catch it later when the press get wind of it. (Which is usually pretty quick post-publication).

  • Mr. Gunn says:

    A simple way to get the essential papers on a topic that's not in your specialty is just to do a search in the Mendeley research catalog, find a result that looks like what you want, then check out the related research on the page for the paper. It's a pretty effective way to drill down into something without being overloaded because Mendeley sorts search results in part by readership, so that tends to put the important stuff first, kinda like how Google puts highly linked-to results first.

  • Namnezia says:

    PubMed searches first and foremost. We also have a more or less monthly lab meeting where everyone is assigned one or two journals and we go around the table pointing out interesting articles of relevance to the lab, the titles and links of which are then compiled into a list. But really I find most papers I need when I'm writing a paper or a grant proposal.

    As for storing papers I just dump all the PDFs in one folder and use the Apple search tool (which searches the contents of the PDFs too) to search the folder and sort the files. I use EndNote for making bibliographies, but not for organizing.

    • Chris says:

      Apple search tool? Is that the standard apple search bar? I'm new to this whole mac thing...

      Anyways, I subscribe to the RSS feeds of all relevant journals. Yes, a lot of irrelevant stuff comes in but I can just star the stuff I want for further browsing later and delete the rest... also, I have a few PubMed searches set up for some labs/people working on simliar things as well as a few general topics that might also crop up in journals I'm not subscribing to...

      I wish I was dedicated enough to save any of the papers I read though. I have a bunch of stuff in EndNoteWeb but that's not really searchable...

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