The picks include the new, promising OECD.Stat, which functions not merely as a portal but as a sophisticated, state-of-the-art federated search engine for the many statistical data sets created by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development. My second pick is the splendidly enhanced Astrophysics Data System (ADS), one of the pioneers of open access bibliographic databases. ADS covers all branches of physics, not just astrophysics as its name suggests. It is a model of how to develop and enhance, with great competence, traditional databases through cited references.
The pan is the very unpromising Wiley-Blackwell database with the serious, long-standing software deficiencies of Wiley InterScience that will also affect Synergy, the far better digital library of Blackwell. Synergy is to cease operations in July 2008-unless librarians mount a campaign to retain it in order to avoid the chaos that they have witnessed with their print subscription since the acquisition of Blackwell by Wiley last year. There should be a moratorium, at least until WileyBlackwell releases a well-tested, state-of-the-art service, which it promises to do only in 2009.
I tested the free beta version of OECD.Stat (http://stats.oecd.org/wbos), which is destined to replace the current browser (Beyond 20/20) for SourceOECD in 2009. Some functions were not yet operational, but the key functions were there. It is interesting and encouraging to see the extension of the concept of federated searching from the bibliographic sphere to the factographic area. The United Nations and World Bank have been doing it, and now OECD is following suit.
OECD.Stat allows searching across 50 statistical databases compiled by OECD. They cover the traditional demographic, economic, labor, health, educational indicators, and then some. You can browse through categories and subcategories (called themes) by smoothly expanding and collapsing them, or just entering a query such as gender to see what kind of statistics are available. Actually, for this query there are 12 hits. One is from a new database dedicated to Gender, Institutions and Development (GID-DB); the others are statistical data sets that have gender-specific variables.
There are statistics for 178 countries and five income groups. Of course, not all the indicators are available for all the countries, although both the choices for countries and income groups include "all of the above" groupings. The tables can be limited by these aspects, and also by eight major predefined regions. The content of the tables are dynamically generated, and the customization is very good. With that said, it would be better if the regions could be saved and customized by users to apply them repeatedly, such as limiting a group to predominantly Islamic countries.
The GID-DB excels not only for its options but also for the specific indicators, which go beyond the usual gender statistics (maternal mortality, marital status). Most of the special indicators-unusually, but understandably-are given on a scale from O to 1. The criteria include traits such as the acceptance of polygamy (from not accepted to entirely accepted); the share of parental authority between mother and father (0=equal, 1=father only); the levels of inheritance practices favoring male heirs (0=no preference, 1=only males can inherit); the existence of laws against rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and sexual harassment ((0=specific legislation in place, 0.50=being drafted, 1=none); women's right to own property (0=full, 1=no); and obligation to wear a veil in public (0=no, 1=mandatory).
The screen is split into three panes, but the left and right panes can be hidden to display more indicators. Each column can be sorted. The tables can be immediately emailed. The results can be downloaded into a spreadsheet or a text file. Access to the complete set of databases will not remain free, but a subset is likely to be offered without subscription. …