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Creating the Meta Layer

Creating the Meta Layer
By Mustafa Sultan • Issue #35 • View online
I thought I’d update you on explainthispaper, an idea I’ve spoken to you about before.

A Refresher
Do you keep up with medical literature, or are you like me — and tell people that you do but cannot remember the last paper you read?
Dr Eric Topol told me that reading papers was the single most important habit for his career success.
So me, Stu and Chris are trying to make medical papers easy reads—
Genius, but for medical papers
Genius, but for medical papers
The Meta Layer 🧠
But there’s more—
Making easy-to-read summaries of papers is cool. Some journals (and grants) already require you to write a layperson summary of your research. Not particularly revolutionary.
Where I really see potential?
The meta layer we’re working on. If you’re not active on academic Twitter, you may not be privy to all the discussion that happens around papers.
Here’s a Twitter thread from a high profile medical AI researcher critiquing a recent paper—
Luke Oakden-Rayner
The authors of the letter spend about 2/3rds of it complaining that they can't reproduce *the model*.

Even when they talk about data access (their only other argument), they are mostly focused on the data "the models were derived from".

Why is this So. damn. weird?

This is really cool and completely unfindable unless you happen to follow the right accounts.
What You're Missing
So broadly, what are you missing when you open a PDF from a journal website? (And what can our meta layer offer?).
  • Understanding: Why is this so dry/unintelligible!?
  • Context: Where does this study fit into the bigger picture?
  • Education: What do all these terms mean!?
  • Discussion: What do other experts in the field think of this?
  • Hidden insights: Is there any interesting behind-the-scenes information?
  • Next Steps: This is cool. Where can I go/what can I read next?
The Hero: The Meta Layer
How we're applying the meta layer
How we're applying the meta layer
So it starts simply. You can click the green highlighted text and see our annotations on papers.
This is very cool. But what we’re working on next is even cooler—
The Hero #2: The Author
We’re getting authors to annotate their own papers. It’s not immediately obvious why this is interesting… I mean… they wrote the paper after all. Why do we need more space for them?
Consider this paper from DeepMind—
Clinically applicable deep learning for diagnosis and referral in retinal disease
Clinically applicable deep learning for diagnosis and referral in retinal disease
From interviewing one of the authors, I know that they actually started with a database of 1.3M scans before cutting down to just 14,884 scans.
Why? (I thought big data was 🔥??)
‘Big data’ gets a lot of hype — but what’s more important is dataset quality. 14,884 high quality/relevant images are far more useful than 1.3M unsorted ones.
^ This is an example of the behind the scenes/educational content which is missing from papers — and something we’re bringing to our meta layer.
The Hero #3: Debate and Discussion
Currently, if you take issue with a paper you can a) write a letter (which might be published in a couple of months) or b) vent on Twitter (see previous Tweet).
In the future, I see academics coming to explainthispaper to discuss/critique new papers. As anyone on Reddit knows — you never read the linked article — you come for the comments.
This, I hope, will be petrol on the fire.
So What Next?
We’re working on making explainthispaper as beautiful and curated as Blinkist, with all the community of academic Twitter and the UI of Genius.
More importantly, we need prominent authors to buy into our vision. We’re going top-down, because wherever the authors go — the community will follow.
That means lots of emails, lots of “hey you know X, can you intro me?” and lots of 6AM #hustle.
Other Cool Stuff
I enjoyed this article from Sahil Lavingia (founder of GumRoad):
Instead of pretending to be some sort of product visionary, trying to build a billion-dollar company, I’m just focused on making Gumroad better and better for our existing creators. Because they are the ones that have kept us alive.
#038 Ferraris to Fitness — Dr Yusef Smith (Propane Fitness)
All the best,
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Mustafa Sultan

What I'm thinking about.

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