McGill Grad Launches Curated List of Useful Science Articles

A quick peruse over the both stimulating and everyday-useful articles at UsefulScience can find something for everyone.

In fact, I’ve already bookmarked a few articles the newly-launched website offers: “People are generally less happy while their minds are wandering, compared to when their minds are not,” or maybe “Fiction readers who favored romance or suspense novels showed greater abilities to detect verbal and nonverbal emotional cues in others.

The site was launched last week by Princeton University PhD student Jaan Altosaar, a McGill Math and Physics graduate originally from Ottawa. He and a team of 17 current McGill students curate the website with all kinds of interesting (and importantly, accessible) articles from a cross-section of topics, including: creativity, education, fitness, happiness, health, nutrition, and more.


The motivation came from “seeing a lot of mainstream media fail to cite the right studies and misinterpret those studies, like causation versus correlation and stuff like that,” said the 21-year-old Altosaar. “We’re trying to provide a counter point to that and provide a really good resource for any member of the public to get science-backed information that applies to every day life, because right now that’s hard to find.”

The team of McGill students he assembled to curate the article typically use RSS feeds and eureka alerts, or “basically anything we can get our hands on.” They use current and older articles that are still relevant and well-produced. The site currently acts as a non-profit but Altosaar is trying to solicit donations to eventually make it sustainable. Ideally he wants to hire a few full-time staff to run the site.

For anyone who experienced the long and often laborious search for solid journal articles to back up research papers in their undergrad, the tool can be pretty useful. Altosaar said he’s really interested in seeing the site act as a tool for both journalists and the public, “because its hard to find a good signal to noise ratio in what’s out there right now.”

I also mentioned that often while trying to find solid journal articles while at school, many of the ones I’d come across were unaccessible (unless one wanted to pay a lot of money). UsefulScience is still working on that part, as it is a challenge. “We’re trying to work around that, so we cite open-access papers wherever possible and if we can’t, we try to find the PDF. There’s still room for improvement and it’s still a step in the right direction.”

He’s also toying with the idea to link up to the API so that anyone can print any sentence from a journal article on a t-shirt. (I’d probably do it).

Along with his current PhD studies in physics, the Ottawa-born student is also set to launch his own mobile app in a few weeks. He also has been working extensively with the federal government for an up-coming mobile app that we can’t talk about yet.