Magazine article Searcher

Biographies of Scientists: A Search Exercise in Futility?

Magazine article Searcher

Biographies of Scientists: A Search Exercise in Futility?

Article excerpt

Over the years, while wearing several hats--chemist, information specialist, member of the American Chemical Society--I had come to depend on the reference source, American Men and Women of Science (henceforth AMWS), when I needed biographical information on scientists. The title implies a narrower coverage than it really has. "American" seems to cover scientists with any connection to the U.S., especially a current U.S. address. Of course, coverage is limited to those who choose to fill out and update a current vita for publication. And yes, women scientists were covered before the title was changed from American Men of Science years ago.

I first used AMWS as a print reference in both corporate and public libraries whenever I needed relevant information on scientists of interest. Later, I began to also use it online on Dialog. It has carried a listing for me for decades and I could only hope that other scientists in whom I was interested had also entered listings and kept them up to date. However, in the last few years, the Dialog loading had severely deteriorated. First, it was combined with other biographical resources into Dialog File 236, Bowker Biographical Directory, which diluted some of the advantages of having a file exclusively on scientists. Next, it was not updated--I estimate that it is now 5-10 years out of date. Of course, most of the blame for the latter falls on the publisher for not sending out routine requests for listees to update their information.

In early May, coincidental arrival in my mailbox of the Dialog Database Catalog and a form from Gale Group, the company that had acquired AMWS in October 2001, requesting that I update my AMWS listing prompted me to again examine the state of affairs of AMWS. Imagine my chagrin when the catalog indicated that file 236 was "closed" and the file coverage went up "to 1997." I called Gale and was eventually routed to Kathy Nemeh in the editorial department. I asked about Gale's plans for updating the file and their relationship with Dialog. The best information she could come up with at that time was that the Dialog file would not be updated and that the digital version of the file would appear only on Gale's Web site in the Biography Resource Center. Pricing for Bio RC starts at $6,010 for two users.

Getting angry, I immediately e-mailed my favorite editors (and yours too, I hope) at Information Today -- Paula Hane and Barbara Quint. They reminded me that Barbara had written a NewsBreak a month earlier about the announcement of a joint marketing effort between Dialog and Gale, both Thomson companies. They were just as perplexed as I was and suggested that I write a NewsBreak. Before leaving on a long weekend trip, I requested more information from Dialog and Gale and also placed alerting notices on two list servers for the reactions of other users. The latter requests met with silence with one exception: I heard from Roger Summit for the first time in years. Still "Chairman Emeritus" with Dialog, he provided me contacts at Dialog to further examine the issue. This development was news also to Dialog and, as I found out a few days later from others at Gale, the preliminary information I had received was false. When the update survey is complete, Gale will publish a new edition of AMWS, make AMWS a separate file on Dialog, and update it.

This new information -- received just before my deadline -- made writing a NewsBreak moot. However, I have long complained to all who would listen about the searching inefficiencies of looking for information on more than one source, especially when not necessary especially when one of the sources is the ultimate information Superstore -- Dialog. The phrase I used was "Balkanization" of information resources (a term which political developments of the '90s unfortunately has given more current relevance than it had just a decade before). Such wordsmithing prompted Barbara to encourage me to write a more general article on searching niches for biographical information on scientists and, more generally, the Balkanization of information access. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.