A bureaucrat's approach to providing nanotechnology information

(Nanowerk Spotlight) As we reported today in our news coverage, the UK and the U.S. are to work together to develop a global science portal, making scientific information from many countries available via the internet. In contrast to the various national databases that already exist today, the new portal, to be known as "science.world", will build on the U.S. portal science.gov. The project has the goal of making the science offerings of all nations searchable in one global gateway. Given this comprehensive goal, and the rapidly gaining importance and wealth of nanotechnology related information, anything nanotech will have to be a significant part of this new library. One can't help but ask, though, if this effort by various nations' government agencies, led by the U.S. Department of Energy, is tax money well spent. Google, after all, is already developing such a service, called Google Scholar, and it beats all the existing government portals hands down.
The stated rationale for science.world is "to make the science offerings of all nations searchable in one global gateway" and to
– search dispersed, electronic collections in various science disciplines;
– provide direct, seamless and free searching of open-source collections and portals;
– build on existing and already successful national models for searching;
– complement existing information collections and systems;
– raise the visibility and usage of individual sources of quality science information.
Looking at some of the existing national portals, and comparing them to Google Scholar (which still is in beta), does not exactly create a "can't wait to get my hands on it" expectation for the science.world portal. We just ran a (very unscientific) test and typed the term "nanotechnology" into the various search engines and looked at what they came up with.
Google Scholar
Google Scholar provides a simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. Searches can be across many disciplines and sources: peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles, from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations.
Typing "nanotechnology" into Google Scholar returns 117,000 results, including a highlighted link to see various definitions for the term from such sources as wikipedia or answer.com. These results can be easily narrowed down by adding additional search criteria.
The U.S. search engine for government science information and research results science.gov showed just a tiny number of results for the search term "nanotechnology". The service was launched in December 2002, bills itself as a "gateway to over 50 million pages of authoritative selected science information provided by U.S. government agencies, including research and development results" – and came up with exactly 901 results.
The government sponsored vascoda internet portal is an electronic library for scientific and scholarly information.
A search for the term "nanotechnology" returned 8,275 items. Searching for the German term "nanotechnologie" came up with 8,462 items, most of them in German but also some in English.
France, one of the leading European countries for nanoscience and nanotechnology research, has its own government run search portal called science.gouv.fr. It provided the by far worst results: 11 hits each for both the English and French spelling of nanotechnology. At least there is no need for further search criteria to narrow down the results...
Would it be too provocative to ask why the parties involved in trying to set up science.world not just simply make all their information available on the internet, if it's not already there anyway, so that the leading search engines can capture it? I'm sure that Google Scholar, and similar services that Yahoo, MSN and others will come up with, can be improved; but I find it hard to believe that an international committee of government officials can come up with something better.
At any rate, it will be interesting to see how useful science.world will be once it's up and running (in a few years?) and what cost will have gone into its development. And then we'll run another comparison with the then available version of Google Scholar and its brethren.
Michael Berger By – Michael is author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: The Future is Tiny, and
Nanoengineering: The Skills and Tools Making Technology Invisible
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