NEWS

Science search engine links papers to grants and patents

The Dimensions database promises a financial perspective on scholarly literature.

The marketplace for science search engines is competitive and crowded. But a database launched on 15 January aims to provide academics with new ways to analyse the scholarly literature — including the grant funding behind it.

Dimensions not only indexes papers and their citations, but also — uniquely among scholarly databases — connects publications to their related grants, funding agencies, patents and clinical trials. The tool “should give researchers more power to look at their fields and follow the money”, says James Wilsdon, a research-policy specialist at the University of Sheffield, UK.

The product was created by London-based technology firm Digital Science (operated by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, which also has a majority share in Nature’s publisher). It says that it worked with more than 100 research organizations and funders to build the database, which is an extension of a previous product, also called Dimensions, that focused on indexing grant funding. Anyone can search through publications free of charge, and see associated grants, patents and citation-based metrics. But institutions and funders must buy access to search and analyse grant and patent data, as well as to use an application programming interface (API) that allows automated data queries.

'Battle of the titans'

Dimensions is the latest in an expanding thicket of science databases and research analytics tools, says Steven Wooding, a research-policy analyst at the Centre for Science and Policy, part of the University of Cambridge, UK. Among the free tools available, Google Scholar is the most well-known search engine, although other specialist sites — including Microsoft Academic and Semantic Scholar — also crawl and index research papers and citations. On the subscription side, major products include Web of Science, owned by Clarivate Analytics, and Scopus, owned by publisher Elsevier; both firms also sell separate analytical tools that crunch numbers from these indexes.

Screenshot of a Dimensions page.

A screenshot of a search results in the Dimensions database.Credit: Dimensions/Digital Science

Digital Science, Elsevier and Clarivate all offer scientists many other services, and all are vying to have universities and funders use their tools, says consultant Roger Schonfeld, programme director at Ithaka S+R, a non-profit consultancy based in New York City that advises academia on digital technology. “This emerging battle of the research workflow portfolio titans matters tremendously for academia,” Schonfeld wrote in a 15 January analysis at The Scholarly Kitchen, a blog run by the Society for Scholarly Publishing in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. By offering some data free of charge, Dimensions may be seeking to undercut use of Web of Science and Scopus, he says.

At its launch, some scientists seemed impressed with the new database, although others said that it looked like a work in progress. “It is slick, easy-to-use, and provides rapid access to information that other research discovery services don't,” tweeted Brian Nosek, executive director of the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a free tool for searching the literature, however, “I don’t expect that Dimensions will become a major competitor for Google Scholar”, says Ludo Waltman, a bibliometrics researcher at Leiden University in the Netherlands — although some researchers who want basic analytics may find it attractive, he added.

Wooding says that Dimensions seems more transparent about its data sources than do other subscription databases or search engines, and that its creators say they are keen to work with researchers to improve the software. But for now, he says, the paid-for product is clearly a work in progress, without the finesse of Scopus or Web of Science. Waltman says he agrees. “As an analytical tool, my first impression is that some elements of Dimensions still need to be significantly improved in order to reach a quality level comparable with the more established analytical suites.”

Competitors were circumspect about the tool. Elsevier declined to comment on a competitor’s product. Annette Thomas, chief executive of Clarivate Analytics’ scientific and academic research business, said: “The big issue is not what has been announced this week by one player or another, but how can we all work together towards the longer-term goal of improving a research system that, in certain important ways, is broken. That's completely central for us, and we welcome Digital Science's important contributions to the cause.”

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