Wednesday, December 18, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (12/18/19): Difficult to find?

In some sense... 

... this blog is all about documents that are difficult to find.  We search for articles about life deep underground, or rivers in Spain, or sex ratios of different animals.  

But sometimes we need to find A SPECIFIC article or a SPECIFIC book.  Usually it's because someone has recommended it and we realize that we just have to find it.  

My friend Pete recommended an article to me the other day.  Unlike most suggestions like this, he actually knew exactly what the citation was.  Here's what he told me:  "Go read this article, I think it was in Psychology Today, the title is "On Watching Myself Grow Old."  

Great.  That's not a lot to go on.  But with a few SRS skills I was pretty quickly able to figure out that he meant this article... 

Hebb, D. O. (November, 1978) “On watching myself get old”  Psychology Today, 12(6):15-23

"Excellent,"  I thought to myself, "finally!  A decent citation!"  I thought it would be a 5-second search to get the article.  

But no! 

It turns out to be harder than it looks.  Much harder.  I'll be curious to see how you solve it.  

1. Can you find the full text of this article? 

Hebb, D. O. (November, 1978) “On watching myself get old”  Psychology Today, 12(6):15-23

I'll tell you, I finally found it, but it wasn't easy.  Can YOU find it more rapidly than I could? 

In another conversation from this week, my friend Bill said  "I loved that book by James Patterson that had a number in the title.  You have to read it!"  

"That's it?"  I protested.  "That's all you can tell me?"  

"Oh yeah.  The cover was yellow.  Does that help?"  

Kinda.  I guess.  So I put it to you:  

2.  Can you find the novel by James Patterson that has a yellow cover AND has a number in the title? 

Good luck with these!  

Be sure to tell us HOW you found the Psychology Today article and that yellow-number-in-the-title book by James Patterson.  I'm sure we'd all love to learn how you did it! 

Search on! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A heroic search video

As I said a couple of weeks ago... 

... I don't often recommend videos, but this new video from Google Search Marketing is wonderfully uplifting, and we could all do with a little uplift these days.  

I enjoyed it, and I thought you might as well.  

Maybe you have a hero in your life.  I hope so.  One of the big points of this video is that we can all be heros.  Here are some wonderful examples.


Search on! 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Answer: Does anything live deep in the earth?

Let's go deep.  

As discussed, I have NO IDEA what animals might live deep in the earth. But... 

Anyone down there? 

Does anything live down there?  How far down in the earth does life extend?  

You can see where this is going.  Our Challenge for this week was:   

1.  What, if anything, lives deep in the earth? I know moles, earthworms, ants, and gophers live in the earth--but they don't go very deep.  Are there any creatures that live REALLY deep in the earth? If so, what are they like?   

I started my quest with a straightforward search: 

     [ life deep in the Earth ] 

I was pleased to find some interesting reports about life deep in the crust of our planet. and reports that there's life, specifically nematodes, that life about 1 miles (1.6 m) underground in South African mines. 

Unidentified nematode (Poikilolaimus sp.) in a biofilm of microorganisms, from under Kopanang
gold mine in South Africa. By Gaetan Borgonie/Extreme Life Isyensya, Belgium.

This report is from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a collaborative network of geologists, chemists, physicists and biologists searching for life deep underground.  

That's great!  Not only is there small life way underground, but there's an entire network of people looking for it.   

First question to ask:  Who / what is the DCO?  It's easy to find the DCO home page, which describes them as  

"...a team of scientists...with the support of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation [investigating] how the deep carbon cycle drives our world.
The DCO brings together a multidisciplinary group of scientists, including geologists, chemists, physicists, and biologists.
The DCO Science Network, is made up of more than 1200 scientists from 55 countries..."  

I've heard of the Sloan Foundation. That's a well-known research support foundation that does large grants to further science throughout the world.  They're credible, and when I check the Sloan site, I see their initial grant to Oxford to start up the DCO.  And I see their management team at the Carnegie Institute.  (Another well-known research place.)  

I clicked through on the link to the original report from DCO and found more data.  I didn't know that they also have a project that has drilled 2.5 kilometers into the seafloor, and found microbes in boreholes more than 5 km (3.1 miles) deep.  

In addition to nematodes, two types of microbes—bacteria and archaea—dominate the deeper parts of Earth. There are millions of distinct types of bacteria, most yet to be discovered or characterized, that form a kind of microbial “dark matter.” Deep Life scientists say about 70% of Earth's bacteria and archaea live in the subsurface.  

That's astounding.  

Deep microbes are often very different from their shallower relatives, often with life cycles on near-geologic timescales.  

In some cases, they exist on nothing more than rocks.  No organic materials input required.  They directly digest and get energy from the minerals themselves.  

What's more, the
 genetic diversity of life below the surface is comparable to or exceeds that above the surface.  

Luckily, the DCO page (above) links to their peer-reviewed work.  Here's a sample from that page: 

The biomass and biodiversity of the continental subsurface. (2018) Nature Geoscience Magnabosco C, Lin L-H, Dong H, Bomberg M, Ghiorse W, Stan-Lotter H, Pedersen K, Kieft TL, van Heerden E, Onstott TC

Exploring deep microbial life in coal-bearing sediment down to ~2.5 km below the ocean floor. (2015) Science Inagaki F,  (et al.)  

What this tells me is that indeed, life DOES exist way down deep into the earth, and that it's remarkable.  

One of the terms I picked up as I read through these reports is microbiome--that is, the collection of microscopic bacteria and other organisms that live together in a particular environment.  Learned that term led me to do this query: 

     [ deep underground microbiome ] 

which leads to all kinds of articles.  In these articles we find that: 

* deep earth life holds 15 to 23 Billion tonnes of Carbon, 245 - 385 times the carbon mass of surface-living humans
* that is, up to ~70% of Earth's bacteria and archaea live underground... not out where we can see it!  
* deep underground microbes are very different than surface microbes, living life on near-geologic timescales, in some cases consuming nothing more than energy from digesting rocks, 
* the genetic diversity of life below the surface is comparable to or exceeds that above the surface,
* microbial community richness relates to the age of marine sediments where cells are found—suggesting that in older sediments, food energy has declined over time, reducing the microbial community

The absolute limits of life on Earth in terms of temperature, pressure, and energy availability have yet to be found. As we learn more, the records are continually broken. 

A frontrunner for Earth’s hottest organism is Geogemma barossii, a single-celled organism living in hydrothermal vents on the seafloor. Living in hydrothermal vents on the seafloor, this microscopic spherical bacteria survives at 121 degrees Celsius (251 Farenheit; that's 21 degrees above the boiling point of water).   

And... the depth? 

The record depth at which life has been found below the surface is approximately 5 km (3.1 miles).  Meanwhile, the record below the ocean is 10.5 km from the ocean surface at 4000 meters depth below the sea floor.  (That's nearly 11 km (6.8 miles).)  

Admittedly, these are only microbes--but they're amazing and live under extreme conditions (which is why they're called, collectively, extremophiles , but also, hyperthermophiles for those that like it hot).  

Ultimately... I think we've found our answer--at least for the moment.  Nematodes (multicellular life) can exist down to 2.57 km (1.6 miles) underground, while bacteria can make it to nearly 11 km (6.8 miles).  

But I'm sure we're find more, deeper, probably hotter in the coming years.  

Other notes: 

SRS Regular Reader found some great content as well.  Arthur Weiss found this superb BBC documentary about deep life focusing on nematodes (including the remarkable  Monhystrella parvella, which lives at 2.2 miles (3.6km) down.  See also the article in Nature (a very well-known scientific journal) about the deep-living nemtodes of South Africa.  

SRS RR Jon (the Unknown) found that CBS 60 Minutes had done a segment on this: What lies two miles beneath the Earth's surface?  (It's a bit painful to watch--you can't skip through the ads--but it's got some great visuals.) 

Research Lessons 

While it wasn't hard to do this piece of research, there's certainly a lot of stuff to wade through.  

1.  Keeping all of the research findings straight takes notetaking.  I know that I needed to keep a set of notes (in a handy Google Doc) with just the URL, a word or two about what's relevant, and whether it was from a reputable source, a peer-reviewed journal, or simply a news site.  

2.  Pick up specialized terminology as you read.  Once again we found that as you read, you should pay attention to the specialized language of the articles you see.  That's how I picked up the term "microbiome," which led to many excellent articles.  (Why did that work so well?  Because it's kind of a technical term that's used in kind-of-technical articles, which is what I was looking for.) 

Excellent job this week.  

Search on!  

P.S.  Sorry about the delay in finishing this SRS answer.  It's the end-of-the-year... what can I say?  There's a lot going on!  

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

SearchResearch Challenge (12/4/19): Does anything live deep in the earth?

As you know, I love diving... 

... and although I never go much below 100 feet (33 meters), I'm fascinated by the creatures that live way down deep in the sea.  They're interesting, wonderful, and exceedingly strange.  

But... as I was talking with a friend yesterday I realized that while I have a pretty good idea of the animals that live in the bottom of the sea, I have NO IDEA what animals might live deep in the earth. 

Any creatures down there? 

That made me curious:  Does anything live down there?  

You can see where this is going.  It's time for us to go deep.   

1.  What, if anything, lives deep in the earth? I know moles, earthworms, ants, and gophers live in the earth--but they don't go very deep.  Are there any creatures that live REALLY deep in the earth? If so, what are they like?   

How would you start a search like this?  

I'm really curious about two aspects of this: 
     (a) How far down in the earth does life exist?
     (b) How do you (the researcher) know? 

What counts as a credible source for an SRS Challenge like this?  (Few of us are going to actually go check it out, so what makes you believe a particular source?)  

I'm really curious to see what we can discover.  

How far down into the planet does life exist?  

Let us know what you find.  Be sure to say HOW you found it, and WHY you believe the source!  

Search on!  

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Why connected people are also better searchers!

I bet you’re a skilled online searcher... 
....if you’re reading this, you might even be an expert at online search. 
Note:  This post originally appeared in the blog, Connected Learning.  
But improving your search skills is one of those things that will pay dividends way beyond your expectations. That’s what this post is really all about—how to be much better at digging up the content you need to find fast, accurately, and with skill.
This is the premise of my new book, The Joy of Search: A Google insider’s guide to going beyond the basics (MIT Press, 2019)

There are the tips and tricks that you’d expect from a book like this—the tactics that great online searchers know, but there’s much more to know about search than knowing about when to use double quotes. That’s just a little tactic you should have under your fingertips. Instead, knowing the big strategies of search can shift your searches from merely okay to truly great.
At the heart of this book are 17 compelling search stories—each one starting with a question that you (or a student) might have, something that you find curious or startling about the world. How you go about answering that question is the story for each chapter.
In the spirit of Connected Learning, one of the most important strategic things great searchers do is to rely on their personal set of connections to amplify the range and scope of what they can find. This message resonates throughout all of the stories and is an important lesson: One of the properties of great researchers is that they have a great set of connected people they can contact with questions.  

Serendipity amplification
As you know, serendipity can be amplified by social networking—just letting people know of your interests can open up connections you might not have known about. Networking casts a broad net on your behalf and suddenly you’ve got dozens of eyes and ears scanning the world around you for your research questions. It pays to have friends.
Mudejar Stars
Mudejar stars are a common design feature in Spain. Where do they come from?
For instance, I’d mentioned my interest in Mudejar stars (a kind of Moorish visual design element) to a couple of friends, and sure enough, just a few days later, one of them emailed me this link to a podcast on that very topic. (To be honest, I hadn’t thought of looking for a podcast about Mudejar stars—I’d assumed it was just too obscure a topic for someone to dedicate an entire podcast. How wrong I was!)
The point is, social media and social networks are big players when researching online content, if only for the powerful effect that recommendations have on people. When you’re doing online research, your social network (and implicitly, all of the social media systems and tools) can be an incredibly valuable ally in your research. Your Personal Learning Network is the golden circle of friends. The players and the platforms may change over time, but it’s worth cultivating your personal network of friends-who-know that you can ask for help. That network should transcend the particularities of whatever platform happens to be in fashion at the time. (Anyone remember the MySpace social media site? You still have those friends, right?) In my studies of really extraordinarily skilled researchers, one striking thing I noticed was that they all had (and used) deep and broad Rolodexes, or what would today be called “social contact lists.”

Writing a mini-essay is useful to organize your thoughts
A useful strategic trick to get to a deeper understanding of your research question is to write up a mini-essay that presents all of your information and frames what it is you’re trying to figure out. I’m 99% convinced that having to write something down (and have that writeup make sense) is a great method to making sure that all of your ducks are in a row. If you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll pick up all KINDS of mistakes in your reasoning and data.
Naturally, the simplest, fastest way I know to write a mini-essay is a social one: send an email to a friend who shares your interest—ideally, someone who doesn’t know TOO much about the topic so you’re forced to explain the idea in some detail. In my case, I bombard friends with emails that start out “I bet you didn’t know that…” and then I write on and on about. The key thing is that in order to write that mini-essay (or email), YOU have to make sense of what you’ve found. You won’t just write gibberish to a friend (at least, I don’t recommend that), but you’ll see any gaps or inconsistencies in what you’ve discovered.

Content continues to grow in quantity and kind
The Joy of Search is also about the future of online content and how to be future-proof in your online research skills.
There’s every reason to believe that content will continue to grow, both in the amount of online content and the different kinds of content. A perpetual challenge as new kinds of resources become available will be how well they can be indexed. Although it doesn’t make much sense to create a new kind of online content that can’t be found by search engines or online catalogs, it happens every day, leaving unhappy researchers having to manually track down the content without the aid of an online index. One side effect is that media literacy will be an ever-evolving concept. How media is used will continue to change, and as new kinds of media evolve, so too will the way they’re used.

Content continues to splinter 
It’s not much of a prediction to point out the obvious— new content providers will arise, new media types will continue to be invented, and walled-gardens of all kinds will continue to operate and flourish. The side effect of these forces is that searchable content will continue to be in unsearchable silos. The good news here is that there are also shifts towards increasingly open access publication. But as the publishing industry continues to search for an effective funding model, we, the researchers, should expect information to still be in repositories, some of which are open, some of which are not. Some will require payment to read their content, others will be free and open to the public. The more you know about these trends, the more you know about what you can find and what’s possible to research online.
For instance, local historical societies and libraries often have great historical information. For more than one piece of research, I’ve used the “look for a county historical society” trick to locate a nearby cache of archival photos and materials. Keep that in mind when you’re searching for this kind of information. Often, their archival content is splintered offline or is difficult to search. A phone call and a visit in real-life will often give you great results through the help of friendly librarians and archivists.

And yet..
But at the same time, one of the surprises (and delights) of my work has been learning about the vast quantities of information that’s available on an immense variety of topics. Want to learn about different diseases of abalone  (Viral? Bacterial?), it’s simple to do. How about dressage style of the 16th century? Sure. Not a problem. Want to see 19th century records from Ellis Island immigration? That’s simple too. There is just an amazing amount of content online.
In other words, the kinds of research that used to be a huge hassle is now fairly straightforward as more content becomes available. This stuff is either “born digital” content, or becomes available as older content is scanned and indexed. That’s how you can learn about 16th century Italian dressage; the Google Books project scanned and then indexed the original text. Sure, it’s in Renaissance Italian, but if you’re not up on that, at least you’ve got the pictures.
One of the consequences of this is that new content is popping up all the time—new web sites appear minute-by-minute (there were 1.3 million new website domain names registered in the first three months of 2017, up 3.7% from 2016). 
New online applications let us see content in new ways (such as the site, which specializes in this kind of seeing-in-new-ways of data, or Google Earth VR, which lets you fly through a 3D model of the Earth, including many city buildingscapes).
And the side effect of that is that you can’t really keep up-to-date on what’s newest and greatest in your field. Instead, you’ll have to keep your eyes open, and periodically search for new content in your area of interest. We have shifted into an age of information triage—separating out what’s useful and important from the stuff that isn’t.
These skills are something we should all command. Having the methods of online search, and understanding the range of what’s possible to search for—that’s a potent combination. That’s what these stories are all about. 
May you search bravely, with skill and alacrity in the future.
Search on.