Vast Active Library and Information Science blog. From a recent library science graduate in Wellington, New Zealand. A focus on reference and current awareness tools and issues, especially free, web-based resources.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005 - This is the Google side of your brain  
USA Today suggests that Google is taking the place of our long-term memories - we apparently don't need to remember such trivia as the capital of Turkey and how to get red wine out of the carpet now.

Which is OK as far as it goes. But the article misses a crucial point - that memorising facts hasn't been truly important since print became widespread. What's important is knowing where and how to search. For example:

[block] Even such veteran memorizers as physicians use Google. "It's a little embarrassing, coming from a really rigorous academic program," says Eric Swagel, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco. But often, he says, a Google search is far faster than plowing through PubMed, the authoritative medical literature database.

Recently, a colleague told Swagel the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommend that adults get the whooping cough vaccine because the immunity from childhood vaccinations wanes.

But the thought of going on PubMed was daunting. "If you plugged in 'pertussis booster in adults,' you'd get a hellacious collection of articles" — none of which would have told them the news.

Instead the doctors typed the same phrase into Google and got the CDC's press release and a news article with a quick overview — maybe not at profound depth, but enough that they understood current medical thinking. [/block]

The fault is not in PubMed. The fault lies in the fact that the doctors don't understand how to search. Of course PubMed is not going to include this information. It's an academic database, not a source for press releases. I duplicated the searches as described - PubMed returned 120 hits. Not too daunting, though none of them were the required article. A Google phrase search produced only the USA Today article, and the same search (without quotes) produced many hits, some of which were relevant - but it took some digging. The quickest way of finding this information? Going to the CDC website and browsing their press releases. Quick, simple - and guaranteed to be authoritative and authentic.

And.... [block] In the midst of packing for her family's move from New Jersey to Las Vegas, marketer Cynthia Mun had a revelation: "I was going through my files and I thought, 'Why do I need this stuff anymore? If I need something, I'll just Google it.' " She and her husband were in the process of turning a decade or so's worth of clippings, files and reports into packing material when their overheated shredder gave up the ghost. [/block]

Because of course everything is available online, for free. Especially commercial reports.

Obviously, I love Google as a free information retrieval tool. But it surprises me to see it constantly held up as the be-all and end-all, and especially to see the dichotomies set up between (e.g.) Google and the library, Google and PubMed - as though one had to choose to use one or the other.


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