UPDATED: Elsevier Online Opinion Survey Reveals Researchers Ready to Push Scientific Search and Discovery to the Next Level

On Tuesday, September 28, Elsevier released the results of a "Future of Search and Discovery” opinion survey that was designed to provide a "quick pulse" of the attitudes of researchers through an informal online opinion poll. While it was not a scientific research study nor labeled as such in the release, we should have included more information about the survey’s methodology and limitations. To avoid any confusion, we have clarified the press release and survey results to communicate more clearly the nature of the survey. The complete, updated release follows.

Amsterdam, 4 October 2010 – Elsevier, a world-leading publisher of scientific, technical and medical information products and services, released highlights from a new online opinion survey that suggests that researchers around the globe are not only ready for the next phase in search and discovery, but also prepared to actively contribute to making it a reality.

In developing SciVerse, Elsevier’s recently launched search and discovery platform, the company conducted a significant amount of qualitative market research within the scientific community. Building on this earlier work, the online “Future of Search and Discovery” survey offers a quick pulse of the attitudes and opinions of 1,200 researchers across the globe. Respondents primarily hailed from academia (79%) with the balance from government (15%) and industry (7%). The survey was conducted as an informal online opinion poll and while indicative of opinions of those responding, it is not intended to be viewed as a rigorous scientific research study on the matter.

This summer, 1,200 academic, government and industry researchers participated in Elsevier’s “Future of Search and Discovery” online survey. A link to the online survey was distributed via email to 11,570 ScienceDirect users on June 22, 2010, with 1,801 users clicking the link. The link was sent to an additional 22,768 Science Direct users on June 28, 2010, 1,223 clicked that link. As multiple subject area lists were used, it is possible there were some duplicate email addresses. A link to the survey was also included on http://info.scopus.com and http://info.sciencedirect.com. The survey was closed to further responses on July 5, 2010 after 1,200 responses were received (the goal was to collect more than 1,000 responses). Respondents came from 100 countries and 20 fields within the physical sciences and engineering, life, health and social sciences disciplines.

Broad-Based Web Trends Poised to Enhance Search Process
The survey investigates the current understanding of the prospective impact of open data and the opening up of platforms through the release of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The results clearly suggest awareness of the potential these trends hold for enhancing search. In fact, almost all respondents agree that “open data is important to the future of search and discovery,” with 71 percent indicating it is “very important” and another quarter (26%) finding it “somewhat important."

Researchers also have a high level of awareness of APIs, seeing them as important components that can foster innovation. Eight in 10 concur the “availability of APIs will foster experimentation and the development of innovative search and discovery applications.”

“The ability to find and access raw data is increasingly critical to research. As the volume of data continues to grow and repositories proliferate, researchers will need new solutions to help them find and use that data,” explains Judson Dunham, Senior Product Manager Science and Technology for Elsevier. “New platforms, APIs and tailored applications can help to release the full potential of that data. The survey suggests that researchers recognize the potential for these trends to accelerate research.”

Taking Application Development Personally
Researchers not only agree that APIs will result in search-related application experimentation, they are also ready to play an active role. More than two-thirds (68%) say they would be personally interested in developing a search and discovery application using scientific content for their own institution. Within this group of respondents, 61 percent identify “the opportunity to help speed up research among the scientific community as a whole” as best describing the driving force behind their interest. Comparatively, less than one third (31%) say their motivation would be to speed up their own research.

Despite their attraction to application building, less than one third of these researchers (31%) feel their institution would be supportive in terms of time and resources. In fact, 41 percent indicate their institutions would expect them to develop applications on their own time, using their own resources. These results suggest development could potentially be curtailed by uncertainty with respect to support.

The survey also revealed technical fluency as another possible barrier. Among those who did not initially indicate application development interest, 66 percent say they would indeed be interested if they could collaborate with others who would handle the technical aspects.

Diversity of Needs Reflected in Specific Application Interest
Perhaps reflective of the diverse needs and interests of researchers, there were no clear leaders when respondents were asked which type of applications would be most useful to the scientific community. In fact, all of the application options in the survey had similar response rates as follows: applications that facilitate more customized search (18%); those that extract data to elicit more meaningful insight (17%); apps that show content which trusted peers find valuable (16%); those that provide personalized content delivery based on my interests and background (16%); and apps offering analytical tools that are able to target trends, look at historical research output and text/data mine to create semantic relationships across scientific content (16%). 

The Future of Search… It’s All in the Network
In an effort to understand where researchers think things are headed, the survey asked respondents what they thought would be the greatest impact of search technology over the next several years. Nearly half (47%) selected “the establishment of collaborative knowledge networks (online groups of trusted peers),” followed by 28 percent who chose “the linking of data sets to published research,” 15 percent who say “improved interoperability of data and content” and 10 percent who agree “the ability to correlate data collected across instruments.”

Further indicating an awareness of the importance of knowledge networks to the future of search and discovery, eight in ten (81%) respondents agree “in the next several years, researchers will use knowledge networks (online groups of trusted peers) as a reliable source for filtering and viewing information.”

“Entering a new era in search and discovery will require new collaboration, with all members of the scientific community participating and embracing new roles,” added Dunham. “Trends like openness and interoperability can empower researchers and developers to build innovative applications for solving specific research pain-points. Researchers also clearly hope and expect to benefit from the social revolution on the web, seeing the formation of knowledge networks that will help filter the growing pool of available and useful content.”

Highlights of the “Future of Search and Discovery” survey were recently shared during an Elsevier-hosted webinar.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey— and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com