Monday, September 19, 2011

Organizing the World's Scientific Information by Date and Author is Making Mother Earth Sick

 ABSTRACT Scientific information looks a lot like the news because it's printed on paper and built with sentences we believe to be true. But treating scientific papers as if they were a constant stream of news is dangerous because it gives even the most crucial discoveries about Earth's ecosystems only one day of public attention. This confuses the public by obscuring true scientific consensus and allows policymakers to avoid tough decisions.

 In my talk, I'll explain why we should be organizing scientific discoveries as if they were products, using informal peer ratings to keep the most important work at the top of list for policymakers and the public to see. Such an effort requires us to consider factors like subscription walls, data access, political agendas, the nature of scientific debate and the deeply-entrenched habits of old academia. Despite the challenges of ranking a product as peculiar as the world's scientific information, I'll argue that a new approach is crucial if we are to make the tough decisions that will protect Mother Earth for the long term.

Comment: I think this talk has relevance to Zunia, the development portal. Currently the portal separates "news" and "events" from other "posts" with one filter. Its default is to present results of searches in order of "popularity", and while I don't fully understand the algorithm, that seems to be a measure of frequency of recent page views of the full post. It can also sort posts by date and time posted, listing the most recent first. There is also a listing by the time of the most recent comments.

Of course, the site allows searches by key words, and it also allows searches by tags, including fixed geographic and categorical tags.

But would it be useful to have the ability to provide responses to a search in order of credibility, comprehensiveness, importance, clarity or other concepts (based on ratings from users)? Sometimes you don't want something that is either popular or recent, but rather something that is a comprehensive summary of information.

I still like the idea for a portal of dividing it into a library of information and a directory of organizations, programs and projects (which would require alternative criteria for sorting resources).

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