Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Information Retrieval (but not as we know it)

Last month, James Wallace bravely volunteered to lead a discussion based on his project work.  In so doing, he proved the title of this post to be wrong.

He is the second member of the chemoinformatics group to post on this blog (after Ben Allen) and he did an excellent job of helping the rest of us to understand the kind of work the group does.

There are occasional signs of bemusement amongst members of the iSchool about the position of chemoinformatics.  It is not always obvious how its work relates to that of others in the school who deal with the organisation of libraries, and the management of information in businesses.  But James began his talk with a few words that fitted chemoinformatics firmly at the heart of the iSchool: words such as 'classification', 'organisation', 'information retrieval' and 'database'.

It quickly became clear that he was using tools with which we were all familiar, but applying them to a subject that most of didn't understand (the classification of molecular structures).  What was interesting though, was the extent to which the nature of information retrieval (IR) he was discussing seemed historical.  Anyone involved with IR pre-Google would have found themselves on familiar territory.  One of the questions raised was whether or not a Google-type approach would be relevant to chemoinformatics.  The feeling was that it probably wouldn't - in part because it may be necessary to have a critical mass of users before a system such as PageRank could be useful.  I don't know whether or not that's true, but if it is, it would be interesting to know what the critical mass might be, and what factors would cause it to vary.

No comments:

Post a Comment