Preface: Finding your way through the published literature when starting a new project, or keeping up to date between research and courses can feel daunting, so we asked Axton from Litmaps how we can discover literature based on connection. We learned how Litmaps helps you see a field of literature based on connectedness theory, and how visual summaries can both help to prioritize our reading lists as well as ensure we’re not missing relevant articles. This interview is part of our ongoing series on innovative companies developing support for your research!
Can you tell us about yourself and what led you to start Litmaps?
During my undergraduate degree I ran into a friend that was struggling with getting a visual picture of his literature review for his PhD. We generally lamented at the inadequate state of software tools available for scientific researchers and eventually decided after much frustration to make our own tool to address our issues. Litmaps also combined two of my interests: science and software as I studied biomedical science and computer science.
How does Litmaps and seeing literature by its connections help to accelerate research?
Litmaps lets you quickly scan the network of academic papers around the papers you know, to surface vital papers you may not be aware of. This saves you time trawling through citations and therefore lets you get back to focussing on your actual research work. This approach also lets generalists quickly get up to speed in a new topic area.
Litmaps can also generate reading lists and notify when relevant new papers come out—does Litmaps bring results from preprint servers, and can I follow these as they are published and cited?
Yes we index and recommend papers from some pre-print servers like arXiv, and help you keep up to date as new related pre-prints are published. The way we do this for you is through saved searches that match against new pre-prints that are added to our corpus.
Is there anything researchers should keep in mind when using number of citations as a way to discover scientific literature?
The number of citations a paper has, or the number of references from other papers, are an imprecise way of judging the quality of research work. This is especially true in fields where there is a lot of change. So you have to use the raw number of citations as one input to what you should focus on reading. However, if you are referencing a similar sets of papers to others, this can be a good indication that those other papers are worth reading. This connectedness theory is at the core of how our search algorithm works.
The connected maps look like perfect teaching tools for research courses and masters degrees—are researchers using Litmaps in the classroom?
Yes! We have seen Litmaps used as a teaching tool in the classroom and lab, helping graduate students get familiar with the process of literature review, as well as helping supervisors keep in touch with their students.
Moving from keywords to connections sounds like a more inclusive way of organizing literature. Do you have any plans to add support for searching in other languages or fields other than science?
We do think of how we can make it more enjoyable to start discovering literature. We currently support searching in other languages and have a corpus that includes work from fields outside of science. In the future, we are considering localizing our application to enable deeper usage with non-english speakers.
What is your vision for the future of Litmaps?
We believe science and technology are vital to advance society and can help to solve some of the challenges facing us as a species. To fulfil this mission we will continue to craft our tools to make literature discovery and visualization easy for researchers of all types from academia, industry, to government.
We would like to thank Axton for sharing his insight!