Monday, July 20, 2009

The Scientific article of the future

Cell Press has always been innovative [See Another one from Cell Press: free symposia! and references therein]. As a collaborative effort to redefine the way a scientific article is presented online, integrating the tools and capabilities of the online environment, Cell Press and Elsevier have launched a project called Article of the Future at its Beta Prototype site.

Together, they've compiled two prototypes with several features.
Some of them are:

A graphical abstract allows readers to quickly gain an understanding of the main take-home message of the paper. The graphical abstract is intended to encourage browsing, promote interdisciplinary scholarship and help readers identify more quickly which papers are most relevant to their research interests.
This is great as it helps you get the idea of the paper and its implications graphically. Note that this does not replace the written abstract; it's just an addition.

Research highlights provide a bulleted list of the key results of the article.

A figure that contains clickable areas so that it can be used as a navigation mechanism to directly access specific sub-sections of the results and figures.
And many others.

You can check the prototypes here. I particularly liked Prototype #1.

I think that taking full advantage of the most important platform used nowadays to search for and read articles (that is, online), is a great idea. As some have stated in the past (including my former PI) the print version of journals is inevitably heading towards disappearance unless it can find a way to compete with the complete set of tools provided by the Internet (commenting, sharing, rating, audio and video, etc) that enhances the reading (and science communicating) experience. Although I like my print version of Nature, as it allows me to read the News & Views section and editorials during my daily commute, I hardly use it to read the articles related to my research. I'd rather download them, file them, attach comments, etc and save them for good, without worrying about spilling my coffee over them or leaving them behind somewhere. Also, there's some great reference-managing software around nowadays to help you cope with the increasing amounts of articles being published so you can find a particular article in seconds, leaving the old days of diving into piles of photocopied articles to find the right one or visiting the library, behind.

But what about reading the articles online? Is it the same as downloading the article and reading it offline? This new approach by Cell Press and Elsevier, says no. The idea is to take advantage of the capabilities the online environment provides and to "allow readers individualized entry points and routes through the content, while using the latest advances in visualization techniques". Something not available in a simple PDF file.

You can download it just to have it backed up and organized and read it offline if you want to (although, who works offline nowadays?), but the idea behind the project is to enhance the reading experience by taking advantage of what the Internet has to offer.

I think that journals integrating and taking advantage of all the tools the online environment provides, benefits us all and can lead to better science communication.

Be sure to provide feedback to this project.

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