1 Jun 2010

Literature hacks: PubMed searches by RSS

This is a guest post by Joe Dunckley
There are all sorts of ways you could find out about new articles that you might want to read. There's that big room across campus that's full of old writings on paper, but that's too far away and they have some silly rule about not eating your lunch near their writings on paper, and anyway you're not sure you still have the card that lets you in. You can't trust your colleagues to point out an article that isn't crushingly mediocre, unless it's because it concerns a species or a disease whose name sounds mildly amusingly puerile, but those ones are never actually remotely related to your work. You subscribe to electronic tables of contents, but these days everyone's publishing in PLoS ONE, and you're not wading through their contents every week in the hope of finding the occasional thing that's relevant. You could regularly search PubMed, but that means typing in keywords over and over, and wading through the results asking yourself, "have I seen this paper already, or do I just feel like I've seen this paper already?"

So you could subscribe to email alerts for your PubMed searches, but my god, man, what the hell do you think you're doing? What, you haven't got enough email already? Make you feel special, having your phone stop you every five minutes with unimportant impersonal notifications? If it's not private, not time-critical, and does not require a reply, it should not be pestering you with an email. That article has taken ten years to get from concept to publication, it can wait a little longer for you to read it -- not that you even read more than one in every twenty of the articles you're alerted to.

Which is why it should be obvious to any of our readers why they should be using HubMed's RSS feeds of PubMed searches, with their Google Reader, to keep up with the literature. New articles will accumulate and be available to scroll through in the sophisticated and cleanly laid out environs of the Google Reader, when it's convenient for you to read them. Reader will tick off items that you've seen and present to you items that you haven't yet seen, without ever screaming "look at me, look at me right now!"

Update: Since I originally wrote this, PubMed released their major update, introducing their own implementation of RSS saved searches, which looks at least as good as that of HubMed, and takes less effort to set up -- just click the RSS button next to the search box on the search results page.

No comments: