Science Sites Survive Political Challenge

Article excerpt

Among the many salutary effects from last November's election was the salvation of science. We can thankfully expect that science will not be excised from the nation's governance (at least for the next 4 years).

I was developing this review in late October and had to have two separate groups of databases. If the other side had won last fall, you would be reading about BIO-Complexity and World Climate Report. Instead, we are reviewing ScienceDaily, Science News, and PopSci, three excellent websites that report on the progress of science and technology in all their fascinating dimensions.

These three databases have varied origins. ScienceDaily is a relatively young web-only publication. Science News and PopSci are web versions of important print magazines with long and venerable publishing legacies. Nevertheless, all three have much in common:

* They cover all aspects of science and technology. They concentrate on news from the physical and life sciences and technology, but they also cover important developments from the social sciences and from science policy debates.

* Their content comes from authoritative journals, scientists, and research organizations worldwide.

* They are written for general readers. They are popularizers (in the best sense of the term) that bring science research to a very broad audience. Their brief, staff-written articles translate esoteric scientific communication into everyday language. They cover the key breakthroughs in all sciences, but their editors also have keen eyes for topics of broad popular interest (i.e., lots of articles on pandas, Neanderthals, and reproduction).

* They are updated regularly with the latest news and have extensive searchable archives.

* They all have ads--lots and lots of ads. We may not like this, but for now (if you do not pay for content directly), that's the business model for proprietary content in a free public website. On each site, the ad presence is smothering, but you deal with it to get the important and valuable information that it supports. (And of course, somebody has to click on these ads, or the entire thing goes pay-based.)

ScienceDaily

ScienceDaily (SD), launched in 1995, is the largest of the three science sites by the amount of news it covers and by popularity. It provides several kinds of content besides news and serves as an all-around science information portal.

News is the main offering with dozens of new stories added daily, updated every 3 hours 7 days a week. All branches of science are represented, but the coverage of health, medicine, and biology is particularly deep. The articles are concise explanations of the original research study or report, often with links to the original. A full-text news archive extends from 1999.

SD has several other research and reference collections, including the following:

* Links to science articles in Wikipedia for deeper coverage (This is a questionable strategy, since it moves from the rigorous standards of scientific publishing into the dubious Wikipedia model. But in defense of the practice, many science articles in Wikipedia are conscientiously written by qualified people.)

* Hundreds of videos from the American Institute of Physics that cover all branches of science for consumer audiences

* Descriptions of hundreds of recently published science books with links to their Amazon entries

* A set of 23 reference databases, from standard and authoritative sources, on a wide range of science topics (This section uses a clever implementation of FindTheBest's comparison software, which allows side-by-side matching of comparable elements from different data sets. More on FindTheBest in an upcoming review.)

SD is arranged in nine broad, discipline-centered topics; each has a two-level subclassification for precise browsing. The advanced search allows limiting by discipline, date selection, and searching across all content types. …