August 25, 2009
The Impact of Boundary Spanning Scholarly Publications and Patents
Authors: Xiaolin Shi, me, Belle Tseng, Gavin Clarkson
Human knowledge and innovation are recorded in two media: scholarly publication and patents. These records not only document a new scientific insight or new method developed, but they also carefully cite prior work upon which the innovation is built.
We quantify the impact of information flow across fields using two large citation dataset: one spanning over a century of scholarly work in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, and second spanning a quarter century of United States patents.
We find that a publication's citing across disciplines is tied to its subsequent impact. In the case of patents and natural science publications, those that are cited at least once are cited slightly more when they draw on research outside of their area. In contrast, in the social sciences, citing within one's own field tends to be positively correlated with impact.
The paper came out last week. PLoS One has these neat features where readers can rate the article, leave comments in general, or comment on particular parts of the text. So far... nothing. I'm a bit bummed. Either no one has noticed our potentially controversial article, or it's not as controversial as I had assumed.
August 17, 2009
Tomorrow's professor & Prof. Hacker
There are two blogs on academic productivity/best practices that I follow. Tomorrow's professor usually covers things academically (in detail, with references, etc.), Prof. Hacker is quite a bit more random but hits on just as many intriguing topics. For example, Prof. Hacker recently recommended stockpiling dry goods to survive through the semester. A bit extreme. Plus the more you buy, the more you consume. Plus you don't face the interesting challenge of eating down your pantry & fridge for as long as you can without going shopping (or it would take so long it would be boring).
Recently Prof. Hacker had a post about email productivity. Inbox 0 and such were touted as lifesavers. I've personally "implemented" the Trusted Trio system and have been using it for well over a year. The idea is that you read each email once, answer it immediately if it will take < 3 minutes, put it into the "action" folder if you need to answer it but it will take a little while, into the "hold" folder if you can't really take action, but you'll need to revisit it, and otherwise just archive/delete it. This way your inbox spends most of its time empty.
The reality for me was a bit different. First of all, the #1 email lifesaver is the "not to me" filter. If it doesn't have my email address explicitly in the to or cc field, it goes into a "mailing list" folder, which raises no "new mail" flags and in general waits for me to get to it, rather than calling attention to itself. The other time saver is the nostalgy add-on for Thunderbird that allows me to sort email with keystrokes.
Now my "inbox" is rarely 0. It usually has 50-100 messages. Most of them require some action from me. Why not just file it into the "action" folder? Well, because the "action" folder is a scary place. Instead of visiting it every day regularly like all the email self-help articles suggest, I go there only when I'm feeling very brave. It has some reviewing assignments, but also many, many emails with attachments. Students requesting feedback on projects & write-ups, researchers who want to call attention to their papers, or even worse, books. Other researchers who are proposing joint books, projects, proposals. Or helpful individuals who are sending helpful resources or papers that I should check out. All very worthwhile emails. But not ones I want to worry about right now.
Normally an unfiltered inbox is diluted. Such messages occur only once every 10 or 20. However, the action folder is nothing but this high-time commitment stuff. So I only really place messages in the action folder if I'm pretty sure I won't take action for a few days... or weeks...
What about answering email as soon as I read it? Well, I find (and this has been acknowledged by the email gurus as well), that the more you write, the more people write back! So it follows that if you reply within minutes, your incoming email will start arriving at a higher rate. And that seems self-defeating.
August 04, 2009
This summer I read a real book. "Expert Political Judgment" by Philip Tetlock. By read, I mean that I got through Chapters 1-5, leaving Chapters 6 and 7, as well as the methodological and technical appendices, for another lifetime. Sure I read other books, the odd fiction novel, mystery novels, not to mention the Malcom Gladwells, Tim Hartfords (really enjoying "Logic of Life" at the moment), Michael Pollans, Steven Levitts, Surowieckis, Airelys... But they all cater to my ADD. Describing a situation, setting me up to expect X, and then revealing that in fact Y is the case.
Not so with Prof. Tetlock. After an entire chapter motivating the problem and setting out the methodology, Tetlock first establishes that humans (experts even) are shockingly bad at predicting the future (worse than simple statistical models, in any case). He then describes how different personality types (hedgehogs and foxes) perform differently in prediction tasks, and then another several chapters dissecting the results (how do the participants themselves justify their mistakes? what other factors correlate? etc.).
I'm glad to have "read" this book. Even though I do a lot of academic reading both out of curiosity and assigned (see previous post on reviewing work), these are also bite-size pieces, little pre-packaged juicy bits with one or two results that can comfortably be summarized in a concluding paragraph.
What did it take to read a real book? I had to put myself in situations with no internet access, on vacation, with no other books I'd want to read, preferably on a train, or sitting in proximity of others who could appreciate that I was reading a serious book and therefore upgrade their opinion of my work ethic (and cook me food).
Now that I've read the book, I need to figure out how to cite it. You see, I'm afraid I might be a bit of a hedgehog. This book doesn't quite fit into a paper I'm writing on my own version of hedgehogs vs. foxes...