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Digging for Nuggets of Wisdom

MICHAEL N. LIEBMAN knows his limitations. Even with a Ph.D. and a long career in medical research, he cannot keep up with all the developments in his area of interest, breast cancer. Medline, the database that already houses more than 10 million abstracts for journal articles, is adding 7,000 to 8,000 abstracts per week. Only a fraction of these are about cancer, but the volume of information is daunting nonetheless. There is just too much literature to be able to go through it all,” said Dr. Liebman, the director of biomedical informatics at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. Yet Dr. Liebman is convinced that new cures could someday emerge for breast cancer if only someone could read all the literature and synthesize it. So he has found a solution: enlisting a computer program to read the articles for him. “The software is not going to get tired,” he said. It also happens to be a speed reader: The product he is using, from a Chicago-based software company called SPSS, can zip through 250,000 pages an hour. Another product, from the text-mining company ClearForest, boasts a speed of 15,000 pages an hour, still far surpassing the human rate of a mere 60 pages. Full Story

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