Discussing science with microformats

The best and quickest discussions of a scientific paper now sometimes happen in science blogs rather than in the peer-reviewed literature. Whereas we have a number of scholarly databases that track citations between papers, we don’t have the same tools for science blogs. Following all science blogs manually has simply become impossible (unless your first name is Bora). This makes it difficult to find all blog posts about a particular paper  – either for proper discussion of an article or for doing automated article-level metrics.

Aggregation can help solve this problem. ResearchBlogging aggregates blog posts about peer-reviewed research. ScienceSeeker aggregates all science blog posts (currently aggregating over 400 blogs) and was announced in February. Nature Blogs also aggregates science blogs, but doesn’t seem to be up-to-date.

Microformats are an alternative – but of course complimentary – strategy. Microformats are small snippets of HTML that represent commonly published things. A good example is Rel-License, a microformat indicating licensed content:

<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/" rel="license">cc by 2.0</a>

In February Google launched a new Recipe view feature based on the hRecipe microformat, demonstrating how microformats can help discovering content. There is currently no standard microformat for scholarly citations. The simplest format would again use the rel tag – together with the Citation Typing Ontology (CiTO):

<a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1197258" rel="cito:discusses">this paper</a>

There are more than 20 CiTO tags for describing what we think about a particular paper or science blog post – many science bloggers would probably have used cito:critiques for the above paper. I suggest cito:discusses as the standard CiTO relationship for most papers and blog posts. You can add this tag manually, or use a tool such as the Link to Link WordPress plugin (I added cito:discusses to version 1.1.2).

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6 Responses to Discussing science with microformats

  1. Peter Sefton says:

    Martin, you give good reasons why these things are important.

    In the work we’re doing on Scholarly HTML we are taking an approach which uses microformat-type conventions, but with a little bit of added rigour. I would just like to point out two potential improvements to the technniques you have here.

    For the citation example, this would be less ambiguous and easier to reliably copy and paste if you add a full URI for the cito relation. This means that it will be easier for tools to reliably find the citations and for curious humans to explore the data.

    this paper

    A similar principle applies to the license, but I’m not sure where their might be an ontology for that – can anyone help?

  2. Peter Sefton says:

    Oops forgot to escape my HTML:

    <a href=”http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1197258″ rel=”http://purl.org/spar/cito/discusses”>this paper

  3. Peter,

    your suggestion makes sense, and we had discussed using the full URI for Scholarly HTML.

    Another convention that I would suggest is to use rel=”nofollow” for citations that we don’t want to show up in the reference list at the end of the Scholarly HTML document.

  4. Peter Sefton says:

    OK – so I take some of that comment back. The RDFa spec allows for some reserved words – so plain old license is OK. Cite is also on the list but if you want to do delicate specifications of what kind of citation you are making then you need to use terms from a particular ontology.


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