A free AI-based scholarly search engine that aims to outdo Google Scholar is expanding its corpus of papers to cover some 10 million research articles in computer science and neuroscience, its creators announced on 11 November. Since its launch last year, it has been joined by several other AI-based academic search engines, most notably a relaunched effort from computing giant Microsoft.
Semantic Scholar, from the non-profit Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) in Seattle, Washington, unveiled its new format at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in San Diego. Some scientists who were given an early view of the site are impressed. “This is a game changer,” says Andrew Huberman, a neurobiologist at Stanford University, California. “It leads you through what is otherwise a pretty dense jungle of information.”
The search engine first launched in November 2015, promising to sort and rank academic papers using a more sophisticated understanding of their content and context. The popular Google Scholar has access to about 200 million documents and can scan articles that are behind paywalls, but it searches merely by keywords. By contrast, Semantic Scholar can, for example, assess which citations to a paper are most meaningful, and rank papers by how quickly citations are rising — a measure of how ‘hot’ they are.
When first launched, Semantic Scholar was restricted to 3 million papers in the field of computer science. Thanks in part to a collaboration with AI2’s sister organization, the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the site has now added millions more papers and new filters catering specifically for neurology and medicine; these filters enable searches based, for example, on which part of the brain part of the brain or cell type a paper investigates, which model organisms were studied and what methodologies were used. Next year, AI2 aims to index all of PubMed and expand to all the medical sciences, says chief executive Oren Etzioni.
“The one I still use the most is Google Scholar,” says Jose Manuel Gómez-Pérez, who works on semantic searching for the software company Expert System in Madrid. “But there is a lot of potential here.”
Semantic Scholar is not the only AI-based search engine around, however. Computing giant Microsoft quietly released its own AI scholarly search tool, Microsoft Academic, to the public this May, replacing its predecessor, Microsoft Academic Search, which the company stopped adding to in 2012.
Microsoft’s academic search algorithms and data are available for researchers through an application programming interface (API) and the Open Academic Society, a partnership between Microsoft Research, AI2 and others. “The more people working on this the better,” says Kuansan Wang, who is in charge of Microsoft's effort. He says that Semantic Scholar is going deeper into natural-language processing — that is, understanding the meaning of full sentences in papers and queries — but that Microsoft’s tool, which is powered by the semantic search capabilities of the firm's web-search engine Bing, covers more ground, with 160 million publications.
Like Semantic Scholar, Microsoft Academic provides useful (if less extensive) filters, including by author, journal or field of study. And it compiles a leaderboard of most-influential scientists in each subdiscipline. These are the people with the most ‘important’ publications in the field, judged by a recursive algorithm (freely available) that judges papers as important if they are cited by other important papers. The top neuroscientist for the past six months, according to Microsoft Academic, is Clifford Jack of the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.
Other scholars say that they are impressed by Microsoft’s effort. The search engine is getting close to combining the advantages of Google Scholar’s massive scope with the more-structured results of subscription bibliometric databases such as Scopus and the Web of Science, says Anne-Wil Harzing, who studies science metrics at Middlesex University, UK, and has analysed the new product. “The Microsoft Academic phoenix is undeniably growing wings,” she says. Microsoft Research says it is working on a personalizable version — where users can sign in so that Microsoft can bring applicable new papers to their attention or notify them of citations to their own work — by early next year.
Other companies and academic institutions are also developing AI-driven software to delve more deeply into content found online. The Max Planck Institute for Informatics, based in Saarbrücken, Germany, for example, is developing an engine called DeepLife specifically for the health and life sciences. “These are research prototypes rather than sustainable long-term efforts,” says Etzioni.
In the long term, AI2 aims to create a system that will answer science questions, propose new experimental designs or throw up useful hypotheses. “In 20 years’ time, AI will be able to read — and more importantly, understand — scientific text,” Etzioni says.
The AI-based 'Semantic Scholar' is led by Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle, Washington.
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After hours spent scrolling through Google and pulling up endless clickbait results, you’re frustrated with the internet. You have a paper to write, homework to do and things to learn. You know you won’t get away with citing Wikipedia or Buzzfeed in your research paper. Even the big news engines aren’t scholarly enough. You need reputable sources for your homework, and you need them now.
With so many resources online, it’s hard to narrow it down and find ones that are not only reliable and useful, but also free for students. We’ve saved you the time and picked out our 15 best free search engines for research.
15 scholarly search engines every student should bookmark
1. Google Scholar
Google Scholar was created as a tool to congregate scholarly literature on the web. From one place, students have the ability to hunt for peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, abstracts and articles from academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories, universities and other scholarly organizations.
2. Google Books
Google Books allows web users to browse an index of thousands of books, from popular titles to old, to find pages that include your search terms. Once you find the book you are looking for, you can look through pages, find online reviews and learn where you can get a hard copy.
3. Microsoft Academic
Operated by the company that brings you Word, PowerPoint and Excel, Microsoft Academic is a reliable, comprehensive research tool. The search engine pulls content from over 120 million publications, including scientific papers, conferences and journals. You can search directly by topic, or you can search by an extensive list of fields of study. For example, if you’re interested in computer science, you can filter through topics such as artificial intelligence, computer security, data science, programming languages and more.
WorldWideScience, which refers to itself as “The Global Science Gateway,” is operated by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information—a branch of the Office of Science within the U.S. Department of Energy. The site utilizes databases from over 70 countries. When users type a query, it hits databases from all over the world and will display both English and translated results from related journals and academic resources.
Science.gov is operated and maintained by the Office of Science and Technical Information, the same department that collaborates on WorldWideScience.org. This search engine pulls from over 60 databases, over 2,200 websites and 200 million pages of journals, documents and scientific data. Search results can be filtered by author, date, topic and format (text or multimedia).
6. Wolfram Alpha
A self-described “computational knowledge engine,” Wolfram Alpha does not so much provide search results as it does search answers. Simply type in a topic or question you may be interested in, such as, “What is the function of the pancreas?” and the answer will show up without making you scroll through pages of results. This is especially handy for those in need of math help.
With its minimalist design, Refseek doesn’t look like much. However, the engine pulls from over one billion web pages, encyclopedias, journals and books. It is similar to Google in its functionality, except that it focuses more on scientific and academic results—meaning more results will come from .edu or .org sites, as well as online encyclopedias. It also has an option to search documents directly—providing easy access to PDFs of academic papers.
8. Educational Resources Information Center
Populated by the U.S. Department of Education, the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is a great tool for academic research with more than 1.3 million bibliographic records of articles and online materials. ERIC provides access to an extensive body of education-related literature including journal articles, books, research syntheses, conference papers, technical reports, policy papers and more. With more than eight million searches each month, it’s no wonder why this search engine is a great web source for education.
9. Virtual Learning Resources Center
The Virtual Learning Resources Center (VLRC) is an online index hosting thousands of scholarly websites, all of which are selected by teachers and librarians from around the globe. The site provides students and teachers with current, valid information for school and university academic projects using an index gathered from research portals, universities and library internet subject guides recommended by teachers and librarians.
iSeek is a great search engine for students, teachers and administrators alike. Simply ask a question or enter search topics or tools, and iSeek will pull from scholastic sources to find exactly what you are looking for. The search engine is safe, intelligent and timesaving—and it draws from trusted resources from universities, government and established non-commercial sites.
ResearchGate is a unique social networking site for scientists and researchers. Over 11 million researchers submit their work, which totals more than 100 million publications, on the site for anyone to access. You can search by publication, data and author, or you can even ask the researchers questions. Though it’s not a search engine that pulls from external sources, ResearchGate’s own collection of publications provides a hearty selection for any inquisitive scholar.
The Bielefeld Academic Search Engine (BASE) prides itself as being “one of the world’s most voluminous search engines especially for academic web resources.” Utilizing 4,000 sources, the site contains results from over 100 million documents. The advanced search option allows users to narrow their research—so whether you’re looking for a book, review, lecture, video or thesis, BASE can provide the specific format you need.
13. InfotopiaInfotopia describes itself as a “Google-alternative safe search engine.” The academic search engine pulls from results that have been curated by librarians, teachers and other educational workers. A unique search feature allows users to select a category, which ranges from art to health to science and technology, and then see a list of internal and external resources pertaining to the topic. So if you don’t find what you’re looking for within the pages of Infotopia, you will probably find it in one of its many suggested sites.
14. PubMed Central
This site is perfect for those studying anything related to healthcare or science. PubMed Central is operated by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a division of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The database contains more than 3 million full-text journal articles. It’s similar to PubMed Health, which is specifically for health-related research and studies, and includes citations and abstracts to more than 26 million articles.
15. Lexis Web
Researching legal topics? Lexis Web is your go-to for any law-related inquiries you may have. The results are drawn from legal sites, which can be filtered by criteria such as news, blog, government and commercial. Users can also filter results by jurisdiction, practice area, source and file format.
Pulling up an Internet search might be second nature to you by now. But a little forethought into where you begin your hunt can make your life much easier. Save yourself the time wading through basic Google search results and utilize some of these tools to ensure your results will be up to par with academic standards.
Do you know of any useful educational search engines that aren’t on this list? Let us know in the comments below!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in December 2009. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2017.