Google Scholar Dystopia

12 April 2012, 2233 EDT

Guest Post by Deborah Avant

Anyone remember that 1980s Terry Gilliam film Brazil – a futuristic dystopia where overreliance on bizarre and mostly broken machines led to equally bizarre social maladies? Well, I’m having a Brazil moment.

According to Google Scholar, I am no longer the author of my 2005 book. If you search my name, it has disappeared. If you search the title a (very well done) review article comes up but no book. The book – and my relation to it – has disappeared even when you search subject terms.

According to an article in the Academic Newswire, this is a common occurrence. And a quick email to six of my blogger friends revealed at least one similar recent incident.

The clincher? While the Google Scholar team was quick to get back to me, apologized, and promised to “keep this example in mind as the update the indexing algorithms” given that “our system is entirely automated” they could not fix it (!) I’m annoyed – and ever more so as I realize how many times in a day I check Google Scholar. It is free, it is easy, no need to log in. Precisely because of the ease, many programs also rely on its results. So do many students.

According to librarians, we shouldn’t. A nice page on Northwestern Library’s website reminds us we should use more than one source -for gathering information about citations as well as general research (read it here). It also explains strengths and weaknesses of each.

None, though, are as easy as Google Scholar. We need another free and easy tool and maybe one that takes advantage of “all the good metadata generously offered to them by scholarly publishers and indexing/abstracting services” mentioned in the Academic Newswire article.

Zuckerberg – what about Facebook Scholar?