Academic related browser extensions : Browser extensions (Scite/Scholarcy)and improvements to Zotero

Aaron Tay
Aaron Tay
Jul 20, 2019 · 5 min read

Exciting things are afoot in the world of academia and research workflow.

There has been a resurgence in browser extensions in the past few years, which looks to me like the custom toolbar invasion all over again of the mid 2000s. The later eventually died out because it became a haven for Adware & Malware and people learnt to never install one.

Of course Browser extensions have almost the same risks if one isn’t paying attention so one would wonder if eventually they will fall out of favor, but as of today, I’m seeing many academic workflow tools offer browser extensions (Chrome and Firefox usually).

The most prominent of such tools right now are browser extensions that sit quietly as you browse the web and will popup/redirect you to papers which you have access either via Open Access and in some cases even to subscribed versions you have institutional access.

Browser extensions that find OA/free to read copies of papers

Unpaywall is the most famous one right now, but there are others such as Open Access Button, JISC’s Core Discovery etc. See my comparison of 6 of them that incorporate OA + Institutional Access features.

6 Browser extensions that provide access to OA and subscribed versions (via institutional access)

But of course they are not the only academic related tools that employ browser extensions.

In this post, I will cover some of the newer academic related browser extensions that have caught my interest

1. scite browser plugin

First up, we see the launch of a Chrome browser extension for scite. What is scite you say? This is how I introduced it , in my interview piece with the CEO.

One of the startups that caught my eye recently is scite. One of the long unsolved problems of citation analysis is that while it is easy to obtain citation counts, the context of each citation is difficult to determine without reading the paper. Is a citation to your paper a mere mention? Or does the citing paper have results that support or even contradict your paper?

scite attempts to solve this problem at scale by processing millions of full text articles, applying deep learning models to try to classify citations by whether they are “supporting”, “mentioning” and “contradicting” .

Of course chances are you won’t likely be remembering to go to the website to check citations, so something more convenient would be needed.

How about installing the extension for scite? Install it and when you go to any page with an article it recognizes you will see a popup on the right showing number of papers that support (green tick), contradict (red cross) and mention (grey icon).

Scite extension — look at the tiny scite popup on right

Clicking on the popup will bring you to the scite site where you can see more details

Scite details page

Since I last reviewed it, scite has ingested quite a bit more citations and papers though it is still Life Science/STEM heavy.

The nice thing about scite browser extension is that it is open source, which helps reduce the chances it is doing something dodgy.

scite also gives thanks to the unpaywall team for making their own extension open source, so it is also probably based off that.

Still, one might still be reluctant to install yet another browser extension just for scite, this is where we go into our second extension.

2. Scholarcy plugin — enhanced with scite

Scholarcy is a service with the tag line, “Read Less. Learn more”. It has quite a lot of features but the main one is to serve as an article summarizer of a PDF, to quickly highlight interesting parts.

Other features includes the ability to extract tables, figures and citations.

As you can see before, Scholarcy enriches the extracted references with links to services like Google Scholar, Unpaywall, and scite (the blue S button).

By clicking on the scite icon, you will see stats on number of supports and mentions.

scite statistics in Scholarcy

3. Improved functions in Zotero — retraction watch, exploring open citations & improved pdf retrieval

One well known class of academic related browser extension is those offered by Reference Managers.

Zotero is one of the most well known reference managers together with Mendeley , Endnote etc and as such also has a well established browser extension

But Zotero has recently added a ton of exciting features, which I will cover here.

Firstly the latest versions of Zotero now tie up with Retraction Watch Database and warns you if you have added a citation that has been retracted!

Zotero warns you of a retracted paper

I have done some tests and it is not foolproof, for example currently, it wont alert you if the citation has no dois/PMIDs.

Zotero is unable to detect a retracted paper even though it is in retraction watch database due to lack of DOI

It’s a fairly complicated issue sometimes with retractions also.

Another feature in Zotero currently isn’t built-in but you can install it yourself

Open Citations is a new developing area, and the Zotero plugin that you can install allows you to right click on citations in Zotero and search for ad add citations from open citation sources such as OpenCitations, Wikicite and Europe PMC

In a way this reminds me a bit about CitationGecko that allows you to explore citations using seed papers.

Lastly, Zotero has always been able to do a find full text from citation but this has been enhanced with Unpaywall

Somewhat interestingly, you can configure Zotero to use other custom pdf resolvers beyond Unpaywall and presumably it can work with Core Discovery, Open Access Button’s API etc.

It will be interest to see how other Reference Managers like Mendeley will respond to these improvements.

Conclusion

There are other browser extensions of course useful for academic work, but these are some of the more major ones I have seen in the last months.

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