Scirus - for scientific information only ... and then some 
See the article in  Information Today  18(6) June, 2001. 

  The gaps in my knowledge of Greek mythology became evident once again when I assumed that the Scirus project of Elsevier stands for Sciences "R" Us and with the limitations of URL syntax it is a play on words just like TOYSRUS. Well, not exactly. It somewhat lessened the gravity of my ignorance that none of the major encyclopedias had information about Scirus.

 

  To its credit, Scirus provided good explanation for naming the site, and it also whetted my appetite that it claims to exclude sites that contain no scientific content. I sensed that the historical allusion is more likely from someone with a Ph.D. in Hellenistic studies than from a marketing copy writer, but there was no attribution.

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I tried a search about Scirus in Scirus limiting it to the  Brown University site that I knew had a strong Hellenistic program. It yielded no results from Scirus.

 

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  However, I hit gold with Google.

 It seems that the Scirus copy writer -though not the search engine- also found this site as the text on the Elsevier site seems to have been lifted  verbatim from the Brown site.

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The last sentence of the Elsevier etymology was lifted  from another part of the Brown University site, that certainly would have deserved some credit, following good old scholarly conventions, maybe even an entry in the Scirus database.

 

 Notwithstanding, the very promising tagline "For Scientific Information Only" that appears on every page kept me going. I was working on a review of Facts on File's Comparative Religions database and wanted to verify some data, so I looked for a scholarly  site with a good guide to comparative religions in Scirus. It yielded 11 hits - a reasonable amount if you consider the filtering effect of the highly emphasized focus on scientific information.

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 Glancing at the short result list, however suggested that the proud, almost haughty tag line of Elsevier may not be realistic. Items #2 and #4 would not count as hit in my book even if part of the URL and a title word  rhyme with hit. I don't exactly feel the scientific nature of such sites, and Scirus apparently does NOT skip sites without scientific content.

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  I became curious about the volume of non-scientific content, so I made a search for variants of the F-word for a quick check.  

 The results were stunning. The search for variants of the F-word produced 38,737 hits. If you are not offended by the search click here to see the first result. Out of the 38,737 "hits", 125 were scholarly documents, indeed,  but the other 38,612 public Web sites were either XXX-rated sites, or home pages and message boards of graduate and undergraduate students, and occasionally faculty members. Some of the sites would make even seasoned sailors blush. For archiving purposes and as a proof,  I saved the first hundred results that do not exactly support the claim that "Scirus skips sites with no scientific content".

 

 The 125 sites that qualify for scholarly content are mostly from Elsevier journals, where the name of a prolific Brazilian geologist, or  a fungal strain happens to be the same as the most common swear word in English, which of course are legitimate and should not be eliminated. Still, 125 out of 38,737 is a rather unimpressive ratio.

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 There are hundreds of thousands of pages in Scirus that may not be brutally vulgar just utterly pre-pubescent and/or irrelevant sites such as home pages and homeworks of students ( bankrolled by parents to keep them far away from home purportedly to study at Ivy League colleges), mindless musings and other definitely non-scientific stuff,  like that of Michael V. from Harvard University who seems right in saying that  he is a "thoroughly uninteresting individual". Looking at the entirety of his Web site he may remain one in the long run.

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 Just because someone can afford to attend Cornell University does not qualify his page as a Scientist Homepage as Scirus classifies it. I wonder if this guy would qualify for the best science jobs once an employer checks out his Web site, but these days obviously many things may pass as science. 

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 The in-your-face title of his Web site speaks for itself, and speaks the truth. Vulgarity may have its place in art, but the extremely large number of such sites picked up by Scirus have nothing to do with either science or art. 

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Ryan from CalTech should perhaps arrange a meeting with the guys above to spur their minds, and he should indeed wait a little more for choosing a career. I am grateful if he remains a "techer" and does not aspire to be a teacher.  Hopefully, it does not go into his head that Scirus has included his page in its collection that is  "for scientific information only".

 

 Even the relevant sources are often  presented in a disappointing way. Beyond some basic bibliographic data about a scholarly article you don't get any substantial information (except a few words from the abstract at best), unless your library has subscription to one of the expensive Elsevier services, like ScienceDirect.

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  Instead of seeing the abstract of the article when clicking on the title,  you are presented with the authorization menu, that is the end of the story for most users.

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 If you are enchanted by the sheer size of Scirus, think again. There are many duplicates and triplicates, like the three variations of the curriculum vitae on this Scientist Homepage.

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 And when the result list does show substantial summaries as for the search about Scirus and Greece, it becomes excessive. In this case, all the twelve hits have the same summary, quite a record for redundancy. 

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  Back to the beginning. Those who are blessed with the task of formulating vision statements, may feel envious reading the deep thoughts on the About Us page of Scirus (that was revised after I submitted my manuscript, and it now gives credit for some of the thoughts). 

Still, before embracing these deep thoughts and posting them on your office door, it may be worth to study what some of the famous Greeks said about seers - from the very source that the Scirus copywriter used.

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  • King Agamemnon and King Menelaus had scathing opinion about seers - according to Euripides.

  • The same is true for the great philosopher, Demonax, in Lucian's play as you can learn from that excellent site of Brown University that the Scirus engine did not find, but the copy writer did.

  • It remains to be seen how Elsevier's seer idea will go down in history. Will it make money for Elsevier to help you to become a soothsayer? I am sure. Well-placed PR announcements masquerading as "news" will give this Elsevier product much publicity.

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 As of now, it seems just another outlet of business for Elsevier, or for skeptics like Demonax, a bizarre site that may justify these monikers and URLS (don't click on them). 

BIZ-"R"-US (http://www.bizrus.com)

BIZ-"RR"-US (http://www.bizrrus.com) 

 

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