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The Significance of Science.gov

by Dr. Walt Warnick on Fri, 14 Dec, 2012

When I became Director of the DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information in 1997, we had a grand vision for a new era of global discovery. The way we provided access to scientific and technical information could be revolutionized. The internet showed promise, unbelievable promise. How exciting it was to become OSTI’s leader at that point in time.  

Although the development of the Department of Energy’s web-searchable databases greatly enabled our scientific community to access R&D collections, the search technology was inefficient. How could we make the information more easily accessible to the public? Somehow we had to wrap our arms around and embrace new technologies. We had the talent, we had the motivation, and we definitely had the energy. We knew there was a better way to improve the Government’s service to its people.

Other U.S. agencies were struggling with the same challenges. Each agency had amazing scientific collections and databases, but there was no tool for the public to locate and navigate through this disconnected information. The first parallel searching of government databases and websites was developed by OSTI to solve this dilemma. More work had to be done. Somehow, we had to merge scientific disciplines across agency organizational boundaries to provide a useful science resource for America.

During the May 2000 Workshop on a Future Information Infrastructure for the Physical Sciences and the April 2001 Workshop on Strengthening the Public Information Infrastructure for Science, both led by DOE OSTI, an alliance was formed. Participants forged a consensus on how the public infrastructure for science information could be improved and how public access to scientific information of the federal science agencies could be enhanced. It was believed that a comprehensive, well-organized gateway to science information would provide a coherent government R&D presence on the web. Science.gov was born.   

For the first time wide public access and a unified search of the government’s vast stores of scientific and technical information became possible with OSTI’s groundbreaking distributed precision searching technology. Users need not know ahead of time which agency has produced what information to find what they are looking for. The possibilities were endless.  Eleanor Frierson of the USDA, and the Alliance Co-chair at the time, said that Alliance meetings were like a potluck picnic where each of the 10 new Alliance members brought their very best to the table. How good it was.  It still is.

Science.gov has always been on the move and it doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Since it debuted December 5, 2002, development of new technologies have continually been championed by OSTI to help users find their way through the rich pool of government resources. The first relevancy ranking of government-wide science was added in 2004. Now, users can search Science.gov using Science.gov Mobile. Multimedia is integrated into the basic and advanced searches and it includes images as well as videos. Just a few weeks ago, the Alliance announced the launch of the Spanish version, Ciencia.Science.gov.   Besides the forward-thinking federal agencies in the Science.gov Alliance, our key partners, since the beginning of Science.gov, have been the innovative thinkers at Deep Web Technologies and the federal and contractor staff at OSTI.

While Science.gov searches DOE scientific and technical information in technical reports, e-prints, patents, videos and more, it also searches an amazing scope of information from other R&D agencies.  You can find life-saving resources at Million Hearts, Curiosity’s mission at the Mars Science Laboratory, fuel economy guidelines at www.fueleconomy.gov, or emergency resources at FEMA’s National Preparedness Coalition. A search for flu returns thousands of topics and helpful resources.  A search for the mysterious dark energy returns complete background information and the latest federal research. You can talk to a real scientist or build a teaching curriculum at NEWTON Ask A Scientist!. The multi-agency Data.gov offers machine readable datasets from crime data to the latest product recalls. Science.gov is the comprehensive gateway for federal science.

I have witnessed the Science.gov Alliance grow to include 17 scientific and technical organizations within 13 federal agencies – representing approximately 96 percent of the federal government's R&D budget and now co-chaired by the Department of Interior and the Library of Congress. Content has grown over the past decade from 47 million pages to more than 200 million pages; the number of scientific databases made accessible has increased by 30 percent; and the annual page views now top 34 million, a 45-fold increase from the earliest days. Science.gov, your gateway to U.S. federal science, is supported by CENDI an interagency working group of senior scientific and technical information managers.  This is a wonderful success story for our U.S. government.

Science.gov is celebrating its 10th anniversary in December 2012.  I can only imagine what will happen in the next ten years.

 

 

 

 

Related OSTI Products: Science.gov
Other Related Topics: CENDI, ciencia.science.gov, Data.Gov, FEMA

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About the Author

Dr. Walt Warnick's picture
Dr. Walt Warnick
Former Director, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information