by Dr. Walt Warnick on Tue, June 24, 2008
I would like to share news of groundbreaking proportion on the subject of accelerating scientific progress. On June 12, 2008, in Seoul, Korea, OSTI, along with national and international partners, formally established the WorldWideScience Alliance, a multilateral governance structure for the global science gateway WorldWideScience.org (WWS).
First, let me provide a brief history. As many of you know, over its 60+ year history, OSTI has built very large collections of energy-related scientific and technical information, emanating primarily from the work of DOE and its predecessor agencies. We have made these collections available through our own sophisticated web products, and their popularity and use among scientists and science-attentive citizens is well documented - with 80 million transactions per year.
In a similar way, other U.S. federal science agencies and, indeed, other STI organizations around the world have built their own databases and other web products to provide electronic access to their own R&D results. While these efforts address individual STI organizations' mandates to provide public access to their R&D information, such decentralized efforts have left the typical scientist/citizen in a dilemma - a dilemma which, we believe, actually impedes the rate of scientific progress.
The dilemma is that no single scientist can be expected to be aware of the hundreds of high-quality STI sources on the web. Moreover, even if a person were aware of all of these sources, he or she simply wouldn't have the time to search them one-by-one to find the scientific knowledge that will help accelerate his or her own efforts. And, finally, this scientist will not be able to find the large majority of these resources through typical search engines (such as Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc.) because most scientific databases are only accessible in the "deep web."
A partial solution to this dilemma, at least as it relates to U.S. federal science databases, was developed in 2002 with the interagency portal Science.gov. It was made possible by a novel web architecture, called federated search. Over the six years since its introduction, Science.gov now provides a single point of access to the databases and web resources of 13 federal science agencies - some 50 million pages of research accounting for 98 percent of the federal science budget. Developed and maintained by OSTI with the able assistance of Deep Web Technologies, Science.gov uses federated searching and precision relevance ranking technology as a cost-efficient means of providing simultaneous access to decentralized information resources. The rapid maturation of web based federated searching has been made possible by funding from the DOE Small Business Innovation Research Program.
With WorldWideScience.org, the solution for government information resources is now complete. Two years ago at the annual conference of the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information (ICSTI), I proposed a vision for a "Science.world," a global extension of the national model of Science.gov. Later that year, the British Library expressed a desire to partner with the Department of Energy in this endeavor, and in January 2007, U.S. Under Secretary of Energy Ray Orbach went to London to sign a bilateral statement of intent with the Chief Executive of the British Library, Dame Lynne Brindley. The two officials invited other nations to join in this partnership.
Six months later at the 2007 ICSTI conference in Nancy, France, OSTI debuted the realization of "Science.world" in the global science gateway we had named WorldWideScience.org. At the time, WWS.org performed federated searching of 12 databases and portals across 10 countries. Science.gov was the U.S. resource searched by WWS.org.
Without WWS.org, searching across numerous national portals was for, practical purposes, impossible. With WWS.org, searching across such portals is easy.
With its successful launch and the resulting publicity, several other countries approached OSTI seeking to have their STI databases added to WWS.org. Also after the launch of WWS.org, discussions ensued among participating countries and ICSTI to transition the bilateral (U.S./U.K.) governance of WWS.org to a multilateral structure, and a Terms of Reference governance document was drafted.
In February 2008 at the ICSTI winter meeting in Paris, the Terms of Reference was ratified, defining the purpose, objectives, terms, conditions, and structure for a WorldWideScience Alliance, where OSTI would serve as Operating Agent for WWS.org and secretariat to the Alliance. In addition to its member organizations representing various countries, the Alliance would be closely affiliated with ICSTI.
With the Terms of Reference in place, membership in the Alliance gained momentum, and, at the same time, WWS.org continued to grow in terms of both the number of sources searched and its geographic diversity. A year after its launch, WWS.org had grown from searching 12 sources across 10 countries to searching 32 sources across 44 countries - a geographic mix covering nearly half the world's population on all six inhabited continents. When a search is performed in WWS.org, the content searched is about the same amount of content searchable through the largest conventional web search engines, such as Google. Equally significant, the content searcher by WWS.org is mostly scholarly. It is complementary to the content searchable by conventional web search engines.
We officially and symbolically launched the WorldWideScience Alliance on June 12 at the annual ICSTI conference in Seoul. The launch marked a key milestone, where organizations representing 38 of the 44 countries, have agreed to take part in the governance and funding of WWS.org. Our Korean counterpart organization, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) hosted a WorldWideScience Alliance signing ceremony, where DOE Associate Under Secretary for Science Jeff Salmon congratulated Alliance members and predicted that WWS.org "will become . . . the Alexandria Library of the 21st century." He emphasized the underlying goal of WWS.org in stating that ". . . spreading scientific facts and ideas will speed up the pace of discovery."
The importance of sharing science knowledge is not new, but its realization, even in the Information Age, had not been possible on such a large scale until the development of WorldWideScience.org. And, while WWS.org will constantly seek to improve with new features, sources, and functionality, today it represents a groundbreaking development in access to global science resources. The broad participation in the Alliance indicates that a similar view is shared by many countries.
None of this would have been possible without the dedicated work of folks at OSTI.
Walt Warnick, Director