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On DOI: Epiphanies that make me feel very silly…

January 31, 2011

I was always aware of DOI numbers, but never gave them much thought. I didn’t quite realize it was a standard for identifying digital objects and that all the research publications [that I know of] use it to identify all of their articles. Even when I did realize it, I wasn’t aware of any pertinent way to use it.

Then, when trying to find an easier way to scrape info for papers I had collected, I stumbled upon dx.doi.org

Honestly, up until that point if someone sent me a paper as a PDF and I needed to get to the webpage for it to grab the bibtex info or to easily click through references, etc. I would have copied the citation info and popped it into Google Scholar or Web of Science, which worked maybe half the time as easily as I hoped; other times I would have to dig for the article or tweak my search parameters, and sometimes it would never even show up. I never realized that all I had to do was copy the DOI number, go to dx.doi.org/{doi number} and I would be painlessly redirected to the page for that article. Damn.

Now, the reason I decided to write about this painfully obvious epiphany is the follow up that just occurred to me: nearly all my BibTeX entries have the DOI field filled. Doing a “grep -L -i doi papers/bibtex/*.bib” yields only a single entry without a DOI number. And with RefTeX in Emacs, getting the DOI number of a paper is simple, which means I’m minutes away from an Emacs function that will jump me to the webpage of a paper I select in RefTeX.

Update: Well, I thought this was going to be easy, but is proving difficult. RefTeX can insert text into the buffer containing any of the fields in the BibTeX entry, but as a function will only return the BibTeX key (as far as I can tell…). My searches have also not turned up any easy way to read fields using this key. I could implement something or use a BibTeX extensions, and so on, but the appeal to me of this approach was it’s potential ease of implementation/use.

I could have RefTeX insert a second link that links to dx.doi.org/[doi], which is what I will probably end up doing. Not quite as appealing as what I originally hoped, but still potentially useful.

Return of the Update: I have been trying to find a way just to insert the DOI link into my org-mode file, but it seems RefTeX doesn’t allow escaping any arbitrary field it doesn’t know about, and it doesn’t know about a DOI field…

On the bright side, I did learn about “reftex-format-cite-function” which returns the string it would insert into the buffer. This would allow me to implement my original function if I can figure out how to get that damned DOI field…

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