Google comes with a new serviceable solution for researchers. The Google Scholar Button has become a hit in the past few weeks. It also almost made me cry with joy. What is so useful about it?
The Google Scholar Button extension is currently available for both Chrome and Firefox browsers, which means for the majority of Internet users. The add-on has already been installed by more than 374 thousand Chrome users and 27 thousand Firefox users (there are plenty of scholars around the world, right?) What is more, the extension is highlighted among “the hottest” on the official Firefox add-ons website. The button grabbed almost everyone’s attention as a tool for speeding up the search of full text articles in the Google Scholar database, which provides links to millions of free papers. Although, in my opinion the really nice thing about the Google Scholar Button is that it makes managing references even easier than it is now.
I will confide my little secret to you. I hate the moment when I need to add a reference to my text, but I do not remember all the biographical data of the work I want to cite. Usually, I only remember the author’s name, or in the worst case, what the text was about and some essential keywords. When I was an undergraduate student I did not have my own computer (yes, it was in 21st century), and I had to go a library to borrow several books or journals and scan them manually to find the texts I needed and to create proper references. It got a little bit better when I started using a PC with Internet connection, and a lot better when I learned about BibTex (read more here about how to manage a bibliography with BibTex). But the Google Scholar Button, which appeared last month, almost made me cry with tears of joy.
Citing is a piece of cake now!
Let me show you how it works with an example. I write a sentence down in my notebook that I want to cite, but, oy gevalt! I forgot to write down the source of the sentence. Then I start my browser, I click on the Google Scholar Button, which is on my toolbar and type in the small, elegant window the phrase I want to cite. Google Scholar shows me the search results in the same window, then I click cite and get a ready BibTex entry, which I can add to my bibliography file. This way, I have a properly formatted citation in my text just a few clicks away from the point when I could hardly remember the name of the author that I wanted to cite.
When you find the academic text mentioned on the website (the title of an article, or some phrases cited) and you want to find the full text of the source article, you can just highlight the text and click on the button. It will provide you with a link to the full text (if it is available in the Google Scholar database) and use the “cite” option in the very same, elegant window.
Not the first add-on of this kind
There are other add-ons, which offered similar possibilities before the launch of the Button (i.e. search in Google Scholar). However, the GS Button has a really great interface, which makes searching and citing even quicker than in the case of former extensions of this kind. The exception is Lazy Scholar, an extension for Chrome, created by an individual developer, Colby Vorland, much earlier than the launch of the Button, which has some very similar features, but in my experience it searches less effectively for content. Often I find no results when searching for a text with Lazy Scholar, but I do when using the GS Button (I really do not know the reason for that). Although maybe Lazy Scholar is seen as a good alternative for researchers working in other fields.
Is it wise to use the Google Scholar database in research work?
Since there has been a lot of criticism towards Google Scholar and its limitations as a source for academic work are well known, is it a good idea to use this database at all? Is Google Scholar Button a nice addition to a useless service?
Google Scholar indexes everything that is cited in articles or books, which it treats as “scholarly”, and scholars cite not only other scholars but also other kinds of literature (as far as press articles, etc.), which they might use as research material. Website owners may also have their websites crawled as trusted sources of academic content, which results in their content being added to Google Scholar. We do not know anything about the criteria Google Scholar uses for this procedure. We only know that journalism, opinions, blog posts, pseudo-science and very low quality academic articles are indexed there (have a look here for more information). Jeffrey Beall, a well known opponent of open access, recently called Google Scholar “the world’s largest index of junk science”, which immediately resulted in him being accused of hypocrisy, since he is promoting his very own profile on Google Scholar on his website, as I understand, to publicise his research works.
And this is all true about Google Scholar. This database simply indexes a lot of works (including Beall’s ones). What is wonderful about it, is that it allows us to quickly search, and immediately access biographical data and, very often, the full text of an article, which can otherwise be very hard to find. Almost every good academic article is indexed in Google Scholar, which make the database an irreplaceable tool for every scholar. Not every article indexed there is scientifically sound, and some of them are science fiction. But for me this is only a reason not to use Google Scholar to count citations, and to not use it mechanically and uncritically.
To sum it up, I am not surprised that the discussed extension is installed in around 400 thousand browsers. Google Scholar and its Button will make the lives of a lot of researchers much easier.