These past days, Google has launched the beta version of Google Scholar. It lets you "search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research." (About Google Scholar) I tried it out by searching for papers by my brother, who's an authority on cosmic ray air showers. The search string "Drescher Cosmic" brings his papers up nicely. It does not list his homepage, since that isn't regarded as a scholarly article. That's arguably correct. The string "Cosmic Ray Air Shower", however, pops up his paper "Cosmic ray air shower characteristics in the framework of the parton based Gribov-Regge model NEXUS" only on the second page, as number 12. Even without the quotes, it should be further up. Google Simplu, as we in Romania would say, pops up his webpage but not the papers. So it works, eh?
But there is some criticism in the scholarly world. German readers can find more about that in this article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Some problems are simply teething pains -- like googling for "Aristotle" will get you a bunch of molecular papers by Aristotle Arapostathis, instead of something by, well, Aristotle. A bigger problem is that articles are not sorted chronologically. On the first page of hits for "cosmic ray air shower" is an article from 1963. It stands to reason that it may be a bit outdated. However, Google says that a feature that will let you sort by date will come soon. Another problem is that the top hits often lead to subscription magazines or papers. Until now, papers and articles in password protected areas could not be spidered and therefore were practically non-existent to those working online with search engines. Google is working with publishers to remedy this -- which is a mixed blessing. Suddenly, researches can locate articles which had been "invisible" before, which is great. But then they find that they are required to subscribe, register and/or pay a fee to view the article. Sometimes, those fees are quite high and it can be frustrating to click on countless links, only to discover that once again, someone wants you to pay. A feature that would let you search for articles in order of accessibility would be nifty, but I'm not sure how doable that is. Duane Webster, head of the Association of Research Libraries, criticizes that Google has not made public "how it determines what is scholarly". Well, OK. (That seems a very scholarly critique, if I might say so. I like scholars but they can be a bit anal.) Another often criticized factor is the citation feature.
The new search service also provides citation information about the articles retrieved by stating how often a paper has been cited in scholarly literature, Google said. But the company conceded that "your search results may include citations of older works and seminal articles that appear only in books or other offline publications." Nor is it entirely clear yet how the citation ranks given by Google relate to those on more established services. "I think [the citations are] a potentially very valuable tool," said Tim Mark, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries. However, "I think the research community needs to test drive [Google Scholar] for a while," [..].Via The Scientist. All in all, I think that Google Scholar is a great tool. It's only a beta version at the moment, so many of the above mentioned problems will be solved when the final version is launched. I say, good work, Google!