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(No.28) A Pitfall of Internet Search Engine

In modern society, internet access through search engines is indispensable, which instantly provide the gamut of information in any major language. It is a function without competition. Don't you agree?

Forty years ago when I started my research career, searches consumed about 30% of my research activity, which meant that most of my time other than actual research work was spent reading papers related to the research topic. I owed much to a few well-known reference magazines, which listed most of the articles published in major journals around the world.

There is another methodology in which we merely keep watch on special journals. Each specific research field has a few journals of world renown. Most researchers try to publish their articles in those journals; as a result, the journals contain many superior papers. If a paper doesn't fit a specific research field, or the subject cannot be confined to a narrow research field, two likely outlets for publication are " Nature" in Great Britain, and " Science" in the US. Other well-known publications are IEEE journals, a group of journals published by The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in the US, which cover both the electronic and software fields.

Continued reading of these periodical journals is useful for cultivating research intuition and maintaining top-level knowledge. We have easy access to top-level publications. If we continue to access this information, we can cultivate a perspective view or an insight view on which to base future research plans.

Before reading a paper, we normally glance at the Table of Contents, then check the abstract and decide whether or not the article is worth reading. Most articles are now written in English, which consumes much of the researcher's time if English is not the mother tongue. Many articles must be read to cover a wider view. Even if a researcher is good at English, it is not easy to keep reading articles not closely associated with the researcher's field. Because magazines like Nature and Science cover myriad topics, it would be good if researchers could read those articles in their native language.

Because of our interest and also to meet the potential needs of society, in 1995 we organized a volunteer group to continually provide Japanese abstracts of those world renown journals, with the approval of the publishers. Initially, we tried to create our own abstracts, but the effort was too great and success difficult. As a result, most abstracts are merely translated from English to Japanese. As expected, our web page continues to capture a large audience. The following summarizes our activities for the past 13 years.

During the initial period of 1995 to 2000, most site visitors were from universities or research organizations. Visitors then gradually began shifting to anonymous persons and average accesses hit 250,000 per month in 2005. This number has not grown since then. At the same time, sharp drops during weekends or vacation seasons became less obvious after 2005. People may access this site more often at home. I know that more than two-thirds of the accesses are Japanese abstracts of Science. This makes sense because major accessing universities have departments of science, medicine or biochemistry.

Here are some examples obtained directly through messages to us:

  • Translation request for complete article » we always refuse.
  • Request to borrow the original journal » positively responded just once.
  • Explanations that some Chinese or Korean students studying in Japan owe their understanding to Japanese abstracts, so they request us to upload translations without delay.
  • Apparently, housewives, too, enjoy hot scientific news.

It is now common practice for most researchers to use on-line search engines, which are universally available. Because of the ease, I believe that researchers now spend less than 10% of their time on searches. But on-line search engines have one problem according to most recent research articles. Reference articles before 1998 differ greatly with those after this year. "As more journal issues come online, the articles referenced tend to be more recent, fewer journals and articles are cited, and more of those citations are from fewer journals and articles." "Searching online is more efficient, and following hyperlinks quickly puts researchers in touch with prevailing opinion. This may, however, accelerate consensus and narrow the range of findings and ideas built upon." See, James A. Evans; "Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship," Science, 321 (5886), p. 417, 18 July, 2008.

(Ej, 2008.08)