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How’s Features Help Improve Access to Scientific and Technical Information Across the Federal Government

by Walt Warnick on Fri, August 09, 2013, the gateway to federal government science information and research results, is commemorating 10+ years of service to the American people.    

The portal was launched in December 2002 and is an interagency initiative of 19 U.S. government science organizations within 15 federal agencies.  These agencies form the Alliance, which governs on a collaborative basis. Many of the of the agencies that participate in are members of CENDI, an interagency working group of senior scientific and technical information managers, which provides administrative support and coordination for

 I am very proud  that the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) has played an important role in conceiving, developing and hosting  I am grateful to the many OSTI federal and contractor employees who have helped CENDI and the Alliance make truly “Your Gateway to Federal Science Information.” enables a user to access more than 55 databases and 200 million pages of science information via a single search box.  The content for is contributed by its participating agencies; it places no new burdens on them but offers each agency a government-wide resource where it can display content in which it has already invested.

 All of this is generally familiar to science-attentive citizens who are served by, including science professionals, students and teachers and the business community.  What may be news to some is that also can make it easier for users to find and access information contributed by participating agencies – and there are personal stories of the benefits such access brings. includes a number of capabilities that improve search and retrieval of information.  It features real-time relevancy ranking, which OSTI developed through the DOE Small Business Innovation Research program to help users of our information tools sort through the government’s reservoirs of research and return results most likely to meet individual needs. also offers an Alert service that allows users to sign up for and receive email alerts about the most current science developments in their areas of interest.

 One of the personal stories of benefits is my own.   When I was a toddler, I had ear troubles known as otitis media.  My parents took me to Johns Hopkins Hospital.  Back then, the state-of-the-art treatment offered at Hopkins involved briefly placing an ampule of radium or radon up inside the child's nose.   The radiation killed the tissue that was subject to chronic infection, thus obviating the need for surgery.  The technique, which is called nasopharyngeal irradiation, was completely effective.

This technique for treating otitis media was subsequently abandoned when people became concerned about potential long term effects of radiation.  Eventually, my parents wondered if I might suffer delayed adverse effects from my treatment.  Actually, they rather tormented themselves about this possibility, so much so that for many years they tried to conceal from me the depth of their concern.

Today, the National Institutes of Health has a great database of journal literature called PubMed, which is available to the public – both at and via  PubMed is widely believed to be the most heavily used science-oriented database of the federal government. 

For the casual user, however, PubMed poses a bit of a challenge in that it sorts search results in reverse chronological order versus by relevance, and it does not offer  an alert service.  Fortunately, the extensive offerings of PubMed are made even more accessible and useful through, which brings back hits in relevance rank order and also offers patrons an alert service whereby patrons receive a weekly notice of new items posted in the past week.  

So partly to test the alerts system and partly to satisfy a personal curiosity, I have used to access PubMed and send me an alert regarding nasopharyngeal irradiation.

One morning, I received a Alert e-mail with a hyperlink to a PubMed item, which reported the results of a massive study about potential long term adverse effects of nasopharyngeal irradiation.  The PubMed article concluded, reassuringly, "No convincing evidence for a causal relationship between childhood nasopharyngeal radium irradiation and head-neck tumors or hormone-related disorders later in life; a retrospective cohort study." 

I am glad to report that coupled with PubMed came through for my mother and for me.  Of course, its benefits are available for science-attentive-citizens everywhere.

 Dr. Walter L. Warnick is Director of the Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI).


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Page last updated on 2016-04-25 06:02

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