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WorldWideScience.org: finding the hidden treasures of science

by Brian Hitson on Fri, 13 Jun, 2008

WWS Alliance members in a row with arms criss-crossed in front of them shaking hands with those on either side


Alliance Members (From Left to Right): Yukiko Sone (for Masayuki Mizukami, Japan Science and Technology Agency); Kirsi Tuominen, VTT Technical Research Centre (Finland); Pam Bjornson, Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information; Walter L. Warnick, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Scientific and Technical Information (WorldWideScience.org Operating Agent); Yang Byeong-tae, Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information; Richard Boulderstone, The British Library (United Kingdom); Jeffrey Salmon, U.S. Department of Energy, Associate Under Secretary for Science; Lee Gul-woo, Korean Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology; Herbert Gruttemeier, International Council for Scientific and Technical Information; Eleanor Frierson, Science.gov Alliance (United States); Jean-Fran?ois Nomin? (for Raymond Duval, Institut de l'Information Scientifique et Technique (France)); Jan Brase (for Uwe Rosemann, German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB))

Not Pictured: Abel Packer, Scientific Electronic Library On-Line (SciELO); Yvonne Halland, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) (South Africa); Susan Murray, African Journals Online; T. Mary McEntegart, International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP)

Scientific history was made today in Seoul, Korea, as 13 founding members of the WorldWideScience Alliance committed their talents and resources to promoting the global sharing of science. 

Ok, it's a big claim to say that "history was made." So, let's back it up.  

First, it's important to talk about the world before WorldWideScience.org.  Countries all around the world, large and small, are "doing" science: from exploring cures for cancer to designing the car of the future to identifying innovative uses of nanotechnology. There's no doubt that wonderful advances in science are happening -   and these advances seem to be happening more quickly. Think about the latter half of the 20th century compared to the first half; think about the 20th century compared to the 19th century, and the 19th compared to the first. It's like an exponential curve.

The electronic age clearly enabled the heightened pace of scientific progress. But the electronic age also put scientists in a big ocean of scientific knowledge without much navigational help. Sure, we have the big commercial search engines which, continuing this ocean analogy, are likely to give you 20 million gallons of salt water, 300 species of fish, a mess of seaweed, and a few tons of sand in any given search on a particular scientific topic. And, because their crawlers can't delve into the hidden treasures of most scientific databases, they often can't pull up the real nuggets of high-quality scientific knowledge.

Walt Warnick and Brian Hitson shaking hands
Then along came WorldWideScience.org.

Dr. Jeff Salmon, the U.S. Department of Energy Associate Under Secretary for Science, illustrated the issue at today's WorldWideScience Alliance ceremony.  "Imagine a scientist in Finland needing a key piece of information, which unbeknownst to him or her, only resides in a national science database in New Zealand. Imagine a researcher in Germany needing to solve a problem, and the small pieces of information needed to solve this problem are scattered across databases in Brazil, Chile, Denmark, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and Egypt. Before WorldWideScience.org, this scientist and this researcher had little or no good options. More than likely, they didn't know of these national science databases outside their own countries.  Traditional search engines could not find them either. If they were aware of at least a few of them, they would still be challenged to simply find the time to search multiple databases."

So, in WorldWideScience.org, we have a first-of-its-kind tool to simultaneously search national scientific databases all over the world. WorldWideScience.org doesn't search every nation's scientific output yet, but it's getting there, going from zero to 44 countries in one year. With today's establishment of the WorldWideScience Alliance, 38 out of 44 of those countries are saying they want to commit their talents and resources to make this global science gateway a true multilateral success. Representatives of these countries have made history because they are securing the long-term sustainability of a revolutionary tool to find science knowledge in globally-scattered databases. If WorldWideScience.org helps scientists find information that they either (a) didn't know existed before or (b) don't have the time to search source by source, then it is a fair and reasonable conclusion that scientific progress will be accelerated as more and more scientists use WorldWideScience.org.  As Dr. Salmon said in his remarks, "the promise of truly unleashing global scientific communication, through WorldWideScience.org, is head-spinning in terms of its impact on accelerating scientific progress."

Brian Hitson

OSTI

Related OSTI Products: WorldWideScience.org (WWS)
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Brian Hitson
Director, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information