If you're looking for accurate, authoritative scientific information using your web browser, an excellent starting point is Scirus, a new science-only vertical search engine from Elsevier and FAST. Combining a targeted crawler from FAST that focuses only on web sites with scientific content, such as university web sites and author homepages, with Elsevier's massive scientific information resources drawn from thousands of journals and books, Scirus offers a hybrid service that's useful to amateur and professional alike.
FAST is best known for its search engine boasting one of the largest indexes of the web at http://www.alltheweb.com. Elsevier is one of the largest publishers of peer-reviewed scientific information in the world, and has an undisputed tenure: Founder Isaac Elsevier published Galileo's Dialogues in 1638, bravely ignoring a papal edict that forbade publication of the Italian astronomer's works.
The partnership between the two companies is one of the first between a web search company and a provider of proprietary electronic databases. Northern Light pioneered this model several years ago, though its Special Collection is broad-based, not narrowly focused on a specific topic like Scirus.
Scirus currently covers scientific resources available on the web, including the National Institute of Health's Medline database, and four "membership sources" including Elsevier's ScienceDirect database, BioMedNet, ChemWeb, and Neuroscion. The source of each result is clearly indicated, as either a freely accessible Web page, or a resource from one of the membership sources.
Web site results are automatically classified, allowing users to search within subject related areas. For information that is not freely accessible on the web, Scirus presents titles of articles, author information, source, and some lines of text indicating the content.
The breadth of content covered is impressive. In addition to an index of more than 55 million science-specific web pages, Scirus provides access to 1,200 online journals, with 1.2 million articles, 30 million article summaries and 6.8 million links from citations.
FAST receives raw copies of Elsevier's documents, which are being indexed in full, according to Tom Wilde, Executive Vice President of Marketing for FAST. This allows Scirus to integrate results from both the web and Elsevier's proprietary collections in a set called "all results." Tabs allow you to select results from either membership sources or web sources only.
You can set a few customization options, including which sources to search (web, membership, or both), subject areas (all, or by using check boxes for any of the 17 subjects available), and the number of results to be displayed (10, 25, 50 or 100).
Scirus offers three different search interfaces: the basic search on the homepage, advanced search and expert search. Each provides at least some level of Boolean searching capability.
Using the basic search form, you can choose to search using all of the words (AND), any of the words (OR), or for an exact phrase using a drop down box. The advanced search page offers these options combined with another drop down box that with explicit AND, OR, and AND NOT limiters that can be applied to a second part of a query. The expert search form allows you to construct your own Boolean query, and since it supports parenthesis this can be as complex as you care to make it.
Both advanced and expert search options also support field searching, allowing you to limit your query to the author, title, keywords, URL, domain name, author affiliation(s), or ISSN number fields. You can also limit your search to articles or scientist homepages, and for documents in the membership sources, by date.
"We spent a lot of time testing Scirus with scientists before the launch," said Sandra de Gelder, Marketing Manager for Scirus, adding that scientists are demanding users, requiring both high-quality information and tools to find and access that information.
Nonetheless, Scirus has a few weak areas that will likely be fixed in future releases. For example, field searching doesn't seem to work well when you restrict your search to Web documents. Only the URL and domain name fields seem to be implemented, with searches restricted to title or keywords typically returning no results, even for common words such as "glucose" or "polymer." This failing seems more like a growing pain because restricting a search to title or keywords using the same terms works very well with the advanced search form for the full FAST database.
Elsevier Science is currently in final negotiations with other scientific publishing companies to make their proprietary databases searchable through Scirus, according to Nicolette van Dijk, Content Acquisition Manager for Scirus. Upcoming additions include patent searching, access to print archives, and other high-quality scientific resources.
As Scirus expands the content it makes available, it would be nice to see them experiment with different pricing schemes, tempting Web users to sample premium content that they might not have previously considered paying for. Currently, you must subscribe to each premium content source individually before you can access content. Scirus is considering alternatives that would simplify access by allowing a user to create a single account, according to Scirus' de Gelder.
Scirus is an excellent resource for searching for scientific information. Even if you're only interested in material freely available on the Web, Scirus will often serve you better than a general purpose search engine, since it can recognize non-text files such as pdf, postscript, tex and word, with other formats to be supported in future releases. In the scientific world, where you will often find papers in pdf-format, this allows you to locate information that's often invisible to other search engines.
SciSeek is a focused web directory created by human editors. While much smaller in scope than Scirus, it's a useful tool for browsing for information in a specific scientific area.
Science Search Engines
The science search engines listed here let you find information within different scientific fields.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.
That's it for this issue. Thanks again for subscribing, and watch for tomorrow's issue with a roundup of numerous search sites and tools that are all worth taking a look at.