The following article appeared in the August 6, 1999 issue of Science on page 811.
DOE Builds a Web Site for the Physical Sciences
By October, if a plan under development at the Department of Energy (DOE) works out, the public will be able to tap into a comprehensive new database of scientific papers in the physical sciences called PubSCIENCE. It will offer Internet access to titles, authors, and abstracts from hundreds of journals, according to Martha Krebs, director of DOE's Office of Science, the project's sponsor. The goal, according to her staff, is to index just about every scientific journal that isn't already indexed in PubMED--the online collection of medical information based at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)--and to link abstracts back to each publisher's Web site. Unlike the E-biosci proposal being discussed by NIH (see previous story), DOE is not asking publishers for free access to the full text of articles.
DOE has already signed up a few major publishers willing to help test the system. The initial participants include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Science's publisher), The American Physical Society, Elsevier Science, and the Institute for Scientific Information. By October, DOE hopes to make available current information from 400 journals. It aims to increase its coverage to 2000 later.
The project has a history that reaches all the way back to 1947, according to Walter Warnick, director of DOE's Office of Scientific and Technical Information, which is curating the database along with the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Half a century ago, the Atomic Energy Commission created "Nuclear Science Abstracts," a compendium of references for nuclear physicists. When DOE took over the portfolio in the 1970s, it broadened the scope and created the Energy Database. Its clients were chiefly the thousands of scientists who work at DOE research centers. Now, DOE is building on this base to create a digital index of all physical science articles in English, linked electronically to their publication sources. This should allow readers to jump from almost any citation that turns up in a literature search to the publisher's Web site.
Most DOE scientists can use this service now to access many full-text articles, either because physical science journals permit free use of archival material or because DOE has paid publishers for online access. Recently, according to DOE, the Government Printing Office expressed an interest in making PubSCIENCE available to the public as well, through the "GPO Access" Web site.
If a tentative agreement works out as planned, DOE says, anyone with access to the Internet will be able to do simple searches on PubSCIENCE records, retrieve abstracts, and jump directly into an archive. Depending on the conditions set by the publisher, the reader may get immediate access to the full text of articles, or be required to pay a fee or provide a password at an entry gate. "We're not trying to replace publishers; we're trying to make it easier to get to the published material," says Krebs.
PubSCIENCE will overlap a bit with PubMED in the titles it indexes, Warnick concedes. Some topics like bioengineering will get double coverage. Publishers have responded enthusiastically, as PubSCIENCE is likely to bring customers to the door. DOE is preparing for a possible surge of interest. Warnick notes that data requests increased rapidly at PubMED when all barriers to public access were dropped in 1996. The number of searches climbed from a modest buzz of about 7.4 million per year to a torrent of 180 million this year. "We might not get that kind of usage at first," says Warnick, but the machines can handle it if it appears.