A new computerized look at the biomedical research literature has turned up tens of thousands of articles in which entire passages appear to have been lifted from other papers. In fact, researchers estimate there may be as many as 200,000 duplicates among some 17 million papers in the leading life sciences and biomedical research database Medline (medline.cos.com). Scientific American reports researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas used a text-matching algorithm to compare seven million Medline abstracts against matching entries flagged by the database’s software as being closely related. The researchers set their own software tool, called eTBLAST, to identify pairs that were more than 45% identical. The search turned up more than 70,000 hits, which the researchers and three assistants then checked manually. In 79 cases (and counting), duplicates with different authors had no obvious legitimate explanation. The group set up a public Web site, Déjà vu (http://discovery.swmed.edu/dejavu/), to document the findings. The researchers estimate that about 50,000 of the eTBLAST hits will turn out to be either plagiarized or multiple listings. The next step, they say, is for journals to investigate.
Engineers at the University of Washington have for the first time used manufacturing techniques at microscopic scales to combine a flexible, biologically safe contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights. There are many possible uses for virtual displays, reports UWeek.org. Drivers or pilots could see a vehicle’s speed projected onto a windshield. Videogame companies could use the contact lenses to completely immerse players in a virtual world without restricting their range of motion. And for communications, people could surf the Net on a midair virtual display that only they would be able to see. While the prototype contact lens does not correct the wearer’s vision, the technique could also be used on corrective lenes. Ideally, installing or removing the bionic eyes would be as easy as popping in a contact lens.
San Francisco’s transit system is the first in the U.S. to test a systemwide cell phone payment program that allows riders to pass through the turnstiles with a wave of a phone. The $200,000 pilot project, which ends its testing phase this month, uses a wireless chip that lets people pay by passing their phone over a wireless reader. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has been using the contact-free technology in its EZ Rider pilot program, allowing riders to pay at the turnstiles by waving a plastic card with a wireless chip. The latest test puts a similar chip inside a phone, eliminating the need for additional cards. BART is also working with fast-food franchise Jack in the Box to allow trial participants to pay for food with their cell phones. Users load up to $48 on the chip from a credit or debit card account via BART’s Web site (www.bart.gov). This “near-field communication” technology, in wide use throughout Asia, will likely continue to proliferate in the U.S., based on preliminary results of the BART test.
China’s Netizens on Rise
The Chinese government has announced its Internet population soared to 210 million people, putting it on track to surpass the U.S. online community this year as the world’s largest. According to government officials, China is only five million behind the U.S. online, a figure consistent with some U.S. estimates. But China still lags the U.S. in several respects. China’s online penetration rate is placed at 16%, the point Americans hit in the mid-1990s. About 75% of U.S. adults are now online; penetration is higher when teens are included. Internet penetration in China holds a different meaning, however, where cyber cafes serve as the main entry to the Web for many people. Still, say officials from both sides, China’s online growth is significant.
Intel recently organized a panel of experts, including academics, journalists, and independent third parties, to vote for the 45 most influential figures in technology over the last 150 years. The top 10 vote grabbers are:
- Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web founder)
- Sergey Brin (Google co-founder)
- Larry Page (Google co-founder)
- Guglielmo Marconi (Inventor of the radiotelegraph system)
- Jack Kilby (Inventor of the integrated circuit and calculator)
- Gordon Moore (Intel co-founder)
- Alan Turing (Pioneer in deciphering German code in WWII)
- Robert Noyce (Intel co-founder)
- William Shockley (Co-inventor of the transistor)
- Don Estridge (Led development of the IBM computer)
For the full list of technology influencers, which includes Bill Gates (#31), Steve Jobs (#14), and Vint Cerf (#13), see http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/technotes/jan08/mostinfluentialtechies.htm.
Between Ads and Friends
The MySpace generation wants less space devoted to online advertising. In fact, the ads on social networks like MySpace and FaceBook have become so widespread—and annoying—that users are beginning to opt out. BusinessWeek reports the average amount of time users spend on social networking sites fell 14% in four months, with MySpace slipping from a peak of 72 million users last October to 68.9 million last December. Besides slowing user growth and declining time spent on these sites, users appear to be less responsive to ads. If advertisers can’t figure out how to reverse these trends, social networking could end up as a niche market in the cyber ad world, slashing valuations across Silicon Valley.
In other news (and forms) of social networking technology, smart conference badges might be able to help people venture out, form new connections, and gain insight into how they interact with others at such events. Technology Review reports MIT researchers tracked the social interactions of a select group of attendees at a conference using a smart badge incorporating an infrared sensor, wireless radio, accelerometer, and microphone to log the bearer’s behavior. The data from the sensors was wirelessly transmitted to a computer that produced a real-time visualization of the event’s social graph. The project illustrates the increasing popularity of sociometrics, a discipline in which sensors collect fine-grain data during social interactions and software makes sense of it. Similar tags from Intel are being used to help monitor the health and behavior of the elderly. Rick Borovoy, co-founder and CTO of MIT’s spin-off company nTag, contends this form of “reality mining” creates a sense of community and identity. “It’s a way to subtly intervene and disrupt conventional networking patterns.”