The New York Times (of all places) wrote about the chore of keeping track of all the scientific papers on your desktop: all those PDF files cryptically named 1998A+A__338_781M.pdf and fulltext.pdf . Or worse, 0903(4).3037v1, because it’s faster to re-download the PDF each time you need it, than to find it in your download folder. Mac’s Searchlight tool is useless for finding PDF papers, because it doesn’t understand that titles and author lists of PDFs are most important. So a search for “Arnett” will find papers citing Arnett, not the actual paper by Arnett.
Astronomers describe elaborate schemes for keeping track of papers: renaming each file with an author name and year; sorting PDFs in descriptive directories; printing out hundreds of papers per year and filing them in a cabinet.
I’ve been trying Papers for OS X ($43, free 30-day trial), an application that searches for scientific papers (through ADS), then organizes those papers for you.
The best part of Papers are “Collections”, which are like iTunes playlists. Say I want to write a new proposal, so I’m reviewing the literature on the topic of… the hard X-ray luminosities of ultraluminous IR galaxies. I make a new collection, “ULIRGs in the X-ray”, then drag in the papers I’ve found. Some papers I’ll drag to several collections. Now, a year later, when I start writing a paper on that subject, I simply open the Papers collection (screenshot below), review my old literature search, add new papers, and quickly grab citations. Pretty cool.
If you search ADS from within Papers, the program keeps track of the metadata (author, ADS link, bibcode) and associates them with the PDF file. However, this requires using Papers’ ADS interface. Searching for Rigby et al. 2008 would be Rigby[1AU] 2008[yr], or maybe Rigby[AU] Papovich[AU] 2008[yr]. The syntax isn’t hard to learn, but you have to learn a new syntax.
You can also import papers that are cluttering your desktop. However, most PDFs lack metadata, so Papers doesn’t know what they are. (ADS, CAN THIS BE FIXED?) As a result, for every “Unknown” paper, you have to type in the author name and date, have Papers search ADS, find the right paper, and hit “Match” to link the metadata to the paper. This is a pain, and is why I’ve been slow to switch to Papers.
Also, I’ve heard good things about Zotero — maybe an AstroBetter reader could review it, and/or compare it to Papers?