Everyone's talking about Zika. Should we go to Brazil? Put off having babies? What are the actual facts? Many people - not just "academics" and "medics" - want to fact-check what they hear on the news by reading the scientific literature and form their own opinions. But how should they start?
Public resources of over a million biomedical papers exist, like PubMedCentral (PMC) and Europe PubMedCentral (EPMC). The ContentMine (CM) team, funded by the Shuttleworth Foundation, has worked with EPMC to create a unique interface to this literature. Search for 'Zika' and ≥tpapers≥tpapers downloads all the papers automatically. You don't just get the papers, but also a novel, faceted view of what’s in them and other topics people are talking about. You might be surprised, but the most common species mentioned is not the virus, but a mosquito - Yellow Fever Mosquito (Aedes aegypti), because it spreads Zika. Latin names are very helpful - there's no confusion and all scientists use them. They're one of several entities that our software can discover, including genes, DNA, places, and chemicals. These observations or mentions are ‘facts’ and importantly, facts can’t be copyrighted so we can share them with anyone.
But are they important? That's where Hypothes.is comes in. It's a way of commenting on papers and sections in them. "Have you noticed that Wolbachia (a bacterium that stops mosquitoes transmitting viruses) occurs in several papers? see the Results section here ..." , "No! that's worth following up." Hypothes.is supports communities forming around facts and knowledge that anyone can create and participate in - not just academics. We propose that ContentMine and Hypothes.is combine to creat an amanuens.is - a scholarly assistant that automates the flow of new facts to the experts and communities of interest and experts. Through combining machines and humans in a tight, iterating, loop, amanuens.is will be able to mine critically important facts and make them available to the world.