Peter Suber notes a talk by Google co-founder Larry Page at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San
Francisco. As reported by news.com:
[Page said] “Science has a real marketing problem. If all the growth in world is due to
science and technology and no one pays attention to you, then you have a serious
To that end,…[he] said that scientists should get in the habit of investing
part of their scientific grant money to marketing budgets, in order to get the
word out to the media about their research….
Finally, he called on the scientists to make more of their research available
digitally. Even though Google Scholar tries to open access to scientific work,
it still falls short.
“Most of the works you guys have done are not represented in those searches.
We have to unlock the wealth of scientific knowledge and get it to everyone. I
don’t care what we do, but we need to do something,” he
It is great to see awareness at the top level within Google of the information barriers faced by scientists, and the shortcomings of the current channels through which scientific results are communicated. It’s not simply that what is published is typically hidden behind subscription barriers – it’s also that many useful results are not published at all, and even those results that are published are generally not available in a form that will facilitate future reuse.
Google can make a difference on this issue. Below is a list of three practical things that Google could do to improve the communication of scientific research:
- Highlight universally accessible articles on Google Scholar
Users of Google Scholar keep asking for this, but right now there is no way to tell which articles on Google Scholar are available to all. PubMed, for example, handles this well, showing a green icon for articles which have universally accessible full text, and a gold icon if that article is the publisher has made the article available for redistribution (via PubMed Central). Google’s main web search index does at least offer the ability to filter searches to Creative Commons licensed content only (example), all of which is free and reusable, but so far Google Scholar lacks this functionality. By highlighting universally accessible research, Google can both help readers to find accessible research, while providing additional motivation for scientists to share their work openly.
- Generate alternative citation metrics for the scientific literature
Journal citation metrics from a single company currently dominate the research evaluation process. This is unhealthy in all sorts of ways. When (and whether) a journal gets tracked by Thomson Scientific is something of a lottery, and even once a journal is tracked, it typically takes 3 more years before an official impact factor is made available. Google Scholar could generate citation metrics more rapidly and more comprehensively than this, and in doing so would help level the playing field between established journals and innovative new journals which, while highly cited, do not yet have impact factors..
- Build search tools that take advantage of the semantic web
Many scientists are well aware of the need to move beyond simply churning out the equivalent of printed articles in online form. Seringhaus and Gerstein’s recent article in BMC Bioinformatics identifies interesting possibilities, and computational linguist Mark Liberman outlined related ideas in a blog post. BioMed Central is engaged in various projects, such as Neurocommons, and the Journal of Medical Case Reports, which aim to use semantic web technologies to make scientific knowledge available in a form that is rich with computer-readable semantic structure. But there is a problem – unless good tools are available to work with this structured data, researchers lack the motivation to publish results in semantically-enriched form. By providing retrieval tools that take advantage of structured semantic data where it exists in standard form, Google could encourage such developments. Google Base is an interesting step in the right direction, towards making inherently structured information retrievable. How about a project to extend Google Base to scientific datasets?
Our current publications though revered as the trusted stanchion in the advancement of Scientific Communication have reached their apex. Stuber¿s comments on Page¿s talk at the AAAC meeting tease the surface of the potential of such electronic tools. Their acceptance will exponentially increase the pace and gain of scientific knowledge. The inclusion of a metric to validate Editorial/peer review would do much to solidify the process.
Hurdling the proprietary/economic interests of publishers as well as the egocentric positions of certain groups is now the biggest challenge to scientific advancement. These barriers will eventually implode as; the individuals¿ quest for knowledge is the common character of the scientific community. It is why we entered the field and it is what pushes us forward. As the crescendo of modern communication tools becomes realized even our most jaded colleagues will not be able to resist inclusion.
Interesting how Google are positioning themselves in regards to open access in light of their digitization projects. The recent AAAS meeting highlighted that the digitisation of eminent libraries and their content will mean that Google will own the means to control access to this digitised content. A similar call is to make such digitised content ‘open’ to all users on the net, not only those that use Google as their access portal.
The urging by Larry Page for scientists to market their information, and to budget for this, is interesting but hindered by two aspects. First, many top rate scientists are not necessarily good communicators of their new found knowledge. It would be folly for them do this themselves or supervise marketing. Secondly, where would the money for marketing come from? Extramural grants from nonprofit sources are difficult to come by, and limited. Many good scientists are exhausted by the task of simply funding the work that enables them to generate new important knowledge and apply for subsequent funding. Asking them to budget for marketing of their new information would require re-thinking of the mechanisms currently in use at the institutions that employ scientists.