The Fight Aging! Algorithm

This query turned up in my in-box today:

I have long relied on your blog to stay informed about aging research. I wonder if you could write a post (or point me to one) describing your general method of information gathering and analysis. When I attempt to follow the biogerontology literature directly, I find many individual papers of interest but often lack the wider context. I know of few sources that can consistently provide a background of general developments in the field, historical progression, expert analysis, etc. This is why a blog like yours is very useful to me. Might you elaborate on your sources? How do you aggregate and sift through papers (is there specific software for this you prefer)? Are there other blogs or news feeds you use routinely? What about staying apprised of developments in biotech and industry outside of academia? Any advice on these matters would be greatly appreciated.

Now I know that some time back I wrote a post on the sites I reference when searching for news, recent research, and other items of interest. Fight Aging! has grown to the point at which I sometimes lose old posts - I know they are there somewhere, but I cannot find them, or at least not without wading through thousands of posts by hand, which isn't going to happen. The aforementioned post on news sources is one such lost item as of today: Google isn't much help when searching Fight Aging! for terms like "news," "science," and "site," as you might imagine. So here I'll take the lazy way out and scribe a fresh outline of my process.

(With the note that I'd be extremely happy to see fifty or more people doing exactly what I'm doing here, while finding new audiences, validating the topic, giving it their own spin, and so forth. One day my fingers are going to fall off, or a bus will land on me, and it will be a shame if at that time it's still the case that I'm not completely irrelevant. Success in propagating a sensible, SENS-favoring view of longevity science should be accompanied by the emergence of many more fellow travelers in the news-relay and opinion business - and there are still all too few such folk).

The Search

Every day I check a few science publicity outlets:

These two complement each other well. ScienceDaily is usually slower to put out new materials, which means I have two chances to notice something interesting, and it will be presented in two different ways. I also check Google News on a daily basis with a handful of trivial searches - things like "aging science," "regenerative medicine," and so forth.

Every few days I'll run through PubMed with a pair of very simple searches:

Similarly, one or twice a week I'll wander through likely blogs (most of which are listed in the main page sidebar here at Fight Aging!), specialist news sites like The Scientist, and a couple of the more prolific open access journals like Impact Aging or some of the BioMed Central publications.

Beyond this, the last line of finding things is having them found for me. Readers are often kind enough to point things out by email, which is very helpful. Social news sites like /r/science and mailing lists such as KurzweilAI, the GRG, and transhumantech help to ensure that I at least notice the more newsworthy items that I otherwise missed.

This is all done by hand: web browser, mail client, mark 1 eyeball. I make fast judgement calls on what I'll likely find interesting on the basis of titles, summaries, and occasionally skimming an article. This isn't rigorous by any means, but it's how the general tenor of what is presented here emerges: I know the topics I'm interested in, and I know what catches my eye. Sticking to a manual, vague, varying site-by-site approach also means that I tend to follow themes from day to day and week to week. If I've been looking over cancer research for the past couple of days, then I'm more likely to notice something relevant and linked in that field than is otherwise the case, for example.

Everything that I find or is found for me goes into the stack for later.

The Stack

The stack is my in-box: mail sent to myself, with links and sometimes notes, one source or post idea per email without much in the way of any distinguishing labels. This works well for me, as I want things to fall off the bottom of the stack. If something in my stack is three weeks old, that means I've looked at it at least twice with fresh eyes and both times decided it wasn't as interesting or relevant as some other topic. Time to delete it and move on.

One of the best outcomes from an item sitting in the stack for a couple of weeks is that sometimes someone else will write a far better blog post or article on the topic than I would ever have managed. This is definitively a win in my book, and that better post goes to the top of the stack, while the original link is dropped.

I post a few times a day, which means I'm dipping small samples from a vast river of happenstance and events, and over time trying to construct relevance in a bigger picture. There will always be more later, and nothing of importance happens once and then never again in the world of science. I'm not worried about missing out on anything that I consider important despite the eminently and deliberately haphazard approach I take. I'm almost certainly missing many things that someone else might consider important - Fight Aging! is nothing if not a consideration of a narrow slice of the life sciences and its application.

(And yes of course this could all be automated, giving me one big homogeneous stack of stuff in a single window to meander through and flag every morning, but where's the fun in that? It wouldn't even speed up the process).

News Posts

The first couple of posts of the day are simple links to recent news or research, usually accompanied by a little explanation of the relevance, or pointers to past instances where the topics were mentioned at Fight Aging! In other words, why did I notice this? Why do I think it's worth mentioning? How does it fit into my view of the bigger picture? That flows very naturally from the process of noticing interesting news in the first place.

News items come from the stack, which I look over every day. A non-scientific, entirely arbitrary ranking system runs somewhere in the depths of what passes for a brain here, leading to the two items to run with. On the pro side:

  • Do I have a strong and defensible opinion on this that makes me itch to type a few sentences?
  • Is there a good earlier discussion of the underlying science in the Fight Aging! archives?
  • Do I find it especially interesting, or a sign of meaningful progress?
  • Is it directly relevant to SENS-like goals of rejuvenation biotechnology?

And con:

  • Have I already mentioned this recently, or written a very similar post of late?
  • Did this actually turn out to be less interesting than I initially thought?
  • Is it stale news, too long in the stack?
  • Am I presently tired of this particular topic, meaning I probably won't do it justice?

Having picked what I'm going to post, I then search the Fight Aging! archives for earlier references: this is an important step, as it's how I keep my understanding of the bigger picture in place, given that there's far to much going on to remember in more than outline form. I may run to Google or Wikipedia for lay explanations of any biochemistry or other items that are new to me, and which I have to better understand in order to grasp the point. Wikipedia, I have to say, is great for undergraduate-level life science materials, and moderately good for popularized medical research.

It isn't all that common nowadays that I do find myself bogged down in trying to understand an item from the stack - on the one hand there are selection effects (i.e. my understanding) operating on the news I pick out while browsing, and on the other hand I've been doing this for a decade. Still, new is interesting. But if it is the case that I have to spend more than a handful of minutes on figuring this out, then the item in question will certainly require more explanation for passing readers than is good for a news post; I tend to throw those back to the stack and mark them for use in longer and more detailed blog posts.

Blog Post

The last post of the day is a longer item, and it is usually the case that I'll have been pondering what to write in the back of my mind since looking over the stack earlier in the day. This is a chance to take more time to talk about relevance and focus in on a couple of pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is modern longevity science, where it is heading, and where it could be heading. I have my views, and Fight Aging! is one manifestation of that inexact process by which views develop and interact with ongoing reports from reality.

Writing is a mood thing, however, even for a brief handful of paragraphs. Unless I'm fired up or provoked on a topic, then I will generally write about a specific research result in a wider context - in essence just a longer news post with a different format. Fight Aging! is an exomemory of sorts, and putting more posts into place helps ensure that later posts will be both better informed and placed in a more helpful context.

In Summary

So in summary: Fight Aging! is a largely manual process of my telling you what I find interesting or relevant, and why I find it interesting or relevant. No magic and very little technology, just practice and opinion in equal measure.

Comments

Well Reason - you do one hell of a job on this site. I've lost count of how many people I direct to here and SENSF for the latest news.

Posted by: VV5 at February 28th, 2013 7:47 PM

Thank you for the hard work. The very first thing I do every morning, while drinking my coffee, is check this site. Always bummed out when it turns out to be Saturday or Sunday.

Posted by: Lloyd Morris at February 28th, 2013 9:18 PM

Hello Reason,

I agree that you are doing a great job and I also look forward to your two entried in the morning and the 3rd one around 5:00 or so (currently unemployed so I don't have much else to do).

Besides your 3 daily entries, I also look at Phys org, usually under Nanotechnology and Medicine & Healthy, both of which are constantly being updated during the day. I also look at Kurzeill's web site that has a one time update early in the morning.

Finally, I look at MIT Technology Review, Science Daily, and Nanotechnology Now on a daily basis.

Yes, this is why I like the week days (until I find a job anyway), hopeing for some significant medical discovery which would be shown on at least one of the web sites.

Please continue your great work, Reason. We appreciate it very much.

Robert C.

Posted by: Robert Church at February 28th, 2013 9:38 PM

I check out Fight Aging daily. I appreciate your commentary

Posted by: Kevin mills at March 2nd, 2013 11:59 AM

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