The LCGC Blog: Unanticipated Benefits of Keyword Searching the Scientific Literature

Aug 21, 2014

When a scientist needs to search through scientific literature, which is the preferred search engine? While there is quite a bit of variety in available search engines, LCGC Blogger Kevin Schug has a definite preference. Here's what it is, and why.


Photo Credit: Selimaksan/Getty Images
I am not the most computer savvy individual, but through a lot of practice I have become pretty good at searching the scientific literature. If you ask scientists, it does not take long before you realize that there is quite a bit of variety in the different search engines that they prefer. These days you can basically search anything or any content on any site. For finding papers on a subject, biologically oriented people tend to favour PubMed, but I have never really been a fan because it always seems difficult to find the way to directly get to the full paper. I think a lot of people like to search directly on Science Direct. Given the number of journals indexed there, that approach seems to work fairly well. In fact, in the past I liked to use a search engine called Scirus, which was run by Elsevier and would easily allow you to select whether you wanted it to search for PubMed or Science Direct articles. I would always filter by Science Direct, because more often than not it provided an easy path to full articles from journals for which my institution had a subscription. Search results could be easily refined as you went along. I recommended Scirus quite a bit to my students and colleagues; however, late last year I went to visit Scirus and encountered a notice that said it was going to retire. I believe that it actually mentioned that a reason for this end had something to do with the success of Google Scholar, but I am not sure if I just imagined that or not. In any case, I was compelled to go and check out Google Scholar, and I have to say that there are many things that I really like about it — it is definitely my new "go to" search engine for scientific literature.

I like Google Scholar not just for its ability to search, but for its ability to collate my papers through a personalized page, to collate papers into a library on a particular topic I set, to track citations of my articles, and especially to send me email alerts when new articles are published that contain keywords that I have specified. Although I have not fully refined my alerts, one that I set on "hydraulic fracturing or unconventional drilling" has been extremely beneficial for keeping me up to date on that quickly evolving field of research. Of course, I am most interested in aspects of this topic related to environmental analysis and impact, but I have also been alerted to really interesting articles peripheral to this focus. I have enjoyed reading about the economic benefits of unconventional drilling. I have enjoyed studying about how the rest of the world is carefully evaluating how it can responsibly engage in this practice. I have enjoyed learning more about how the engineering has evolved to continually improve unconventional drilling. I believe this might be the first time my group has entered on the ground floor of a rapidly evolving field of research;1 it is absolutely crucial that I am constantly apprised of new publications that can inform and develop our work. This alert system certainly does the job — even this blog article will now appear in a forthcoming email alert to me.