by Dr. Walt Warnick on Tue, September 23, 2008
Compared to the pre-Web world of the early 1990s, OSTI now enables about a thousand-fold more information transactions. An information transaction occurs when the customer receives information he requested, such as delivering the results of a search or following a link clicked to display a document. But the mind-boggling growth in the number of transactions is only part of the story.
Today's information transactions often deliver full-text to the OSTI customer, as opposed to bibliographic information. A 100 page report may contain 1000 times as much information as a bibliographic entry. Thus, not only has the number of transactions mushroomed, so has the depth of knowledge conveyed by such transactions. The multiplier is a million or more.
Back in the old days, OSTI's flagship product was "Nuclear Science Abstracts," which provided abstracts of documents and journal articles together with information about where the document or article could be found. To be of the most value, the customer had to obtain the full-text document or journal article, but the technology of that day meant that the customer was left to his own devices to obtain the full text. Typically, only users on the premises of a large university library or other major library could access full text. Being able to visit and use such a facility was, and remains, a privilege available to only a small number of people.
The situation today is starkly different. Today, the typical user of an OSTI product has immediate access to full text. No longer need the user be on the premises of a major library. All he or she needs is internet access anywhere in the country, even around the world. This includes the researchers that DOE funds at hundreds of colleges and universities. It includes the tens of thousands of researchers who use DOE facilities, the million working researchers and tens of millions of students in America, and many more millions around the world.
The upshot is that OSTI is providing cutting edge science to millions of people for whom such privileged access would have been impossible just 15 years ago. And prospects for the future are even more mind boggling. Thanks to the pioneering work of OSTI, the stage is set for the world's cutting edge science and technology to reach billions of people, rather than "mere" millions. And the depth of the science and technology they will enjoy will exceed even today's accomplishments.
Thomas Jefferson frequently said that the diffusion of knowledge is the key to prosperity. His vision has held true, for a large fraction of economic growth is due to scientific and technological progress. The American dream and Yankee ingenuity go hand in hand.
What then of the future? How will equal access to science transform our world? Equal access makes the best use of the best minds. Where this new creative power will take us we do not precisely know, but one thing seems certain, that our world will look as primitive to our descendents as Jefferson's world looks to us. And OSTI is at the forefront of this transformation.