What we read this week (13 April 2018)

Welcome to Things we read this week, a weekly post featuring articles from around the internet recommended by BMJ’s Digital Group members. These are articles we’ve read and liked, things that made us think and things we couldn’t stop talking about.

The future of scientific article formats

Following on from James Somers excellent piece in the Atlantic about the future of scientific papers.  Luis Pedro Coelho has put together a more pessimistic, but probably more realistic, response suggesting that the future of the scientific papers is probably a PDF. In a slightly older post Björn Brembs outlines the seven functionalities that he thinks the scholarly literature should have. Björn makes some good suggestions and submission should be easier.  We did some experiments many years ago with a “people who read this article also read this” service but it was a flop. TrendMD’s more sophisticated recommendation algorithms work much better for BMJ. How to best support for TDM is something we would really like input from the community on. 

Social components

Bo Franklin has a nice article about how The Economist is using Medium to foster debate by using the platform to send letters to readers.

“Our first letter was opened by 16% of the 30,000 people who received it. Of these, 21 chose to respond. This isn’t a particularly high response rate, but the thoughtfulness and reason of the comments was substantially greater than we’re used to seeing on other platforms, and more akin to the traditional letters The Economist receives.

We’re always looking for ways to interact with BMJ’s readers and the wider community,  last week The BMJ hosted a Twitter chat about patient involvement in conferences. NiemanLab’s piece on how the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun, and Chicago Tribune worked together to tweet about the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination also caught our attention. This could be something we can use to great effect within the STM community.



John Brock from Frankl Open Science has a nice roundup of blockchain-enabled science projects. (I think Principia and the Aletheia Foundation, if they are still going,  are missing from  this round up). Peter Murray-Rust makes an astute comment about coordinating this passion to change the current system:


Finally, it would be hard to let the week go by without mentioning Facebook. Here’s a slightly different take, technology ethicist Tristan Harris talks about the arm’s race for capturing human attention and how to make technology less manipulative:

I found the section on Snapchat’s streak feature particularly disturbing:

With Snap streaks there’s first of all an asymmetric situation so the children don’t know that there’s like a thousand or a hundred engineers on the other side of the screen and that they’re deliberately choosing this technique against them, so that’s one thing.. So there’s an asymmetry between the knowledge that the persuaders have and the knowledge the persuadee has.. Okay, the second one is that the, just had it, the goals of the persuader are different than the goals of the persuadee.. So when the people that make Snapchat do this their actual goal is how can I hook you to use the product everyday, cause that works really well.. Like the streaks feature is super addictive.. That’s their goal and the goal of the person who’s using it, usually the challenge of ethical persuasion is people don’t know their own goals so they actually just sit there and then the persuader’s goal infects the persuadee.. So now the persuadee is like the matrix, there’s a drilled hole in the back and this goal went in and like now I need to keep up with these streaks and now they actually want that. That’s something that they intuitively, independently want. That’s successful advertising.. The persuader’s goal has become the persuadee’s goal and now they define their friendship based on whether or not they’re able to keep up their streaks and if they don’t have their streaks they’re no longer best friends.. And by the way that’s actually true.. So there are children walking around who think that their you know the terms of their friendship are the streaks that they have.. I want to just do one more thing here.. It’s a great example, I’m so happy you asked me that.. Is the, you can do the same thing, a streak feature on a meditation app.. Same feature, now we’re putting on a meditation app, the number of days in a row you’ve meditated.. So why is it feeling, like intuitively it feels better there, right? So why is that and I’ll just say quickly it’s because theoretically the person who’s trying to meditate actually cares.. Their goal is aligned with the persuader’s goal.. They actually want to sort of mark off the number of days in a row that they’ve done the thing that they’re yearning for.. Whereas in the first case that’s not true.

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