Saturday, April 16, 2005

ATLA vs. Google Scholar

There has been an interesting thread on Xtalk recently on the relative advantages of the ATLA Religion database and Google Scholar. Well, to be honest, I started the explicit thread, piggy-backing on a question about Todd Penner's Contextualizing Acts, because I was interested in seeing what others' perceptions might be. Bob Schacht expressed a strong preference for Google Scholar:
1. Google Scholar is free
2. Google Scholar is not limited to Religion

I used Google Scholar the other day to look up references on the work of a colleague in whom I had an interest but no information. It not only found many references that I was interested in, but didn't know about, but it also found some of them available online, and guided me to those websites. Groovy!

Google Scholar will also tell you who's citing who. I found out that an article I co-authored more than 10 years ago has been cited by 5 people I've never heard of before. Thus, Google scholar can be used to do research on quoting circles (For example, who is this Mark Goodacre, what has he published, and who quotes his publications? Do they quote each other, too?) Embarrassment is a likely result, however, if you find out that
(a) no one has ever cited your article, or
(b) the only one who has ever cited your article is yourself! . . . .

. . . . .I am also startled by the number of people with my last name who have been busily expounding on everything from anthrax and bosons to leptons.
It's difficult to argue with Bob's (1) -- that Google scholar is free. I am one of those lucky to be able to access ATLA's Religion database through an institutional subscription, but Google Scholar is free for all. The second point, about its comprehensive reach, is also useful if you publish widely outside of the religion area. But within the religion area, it is still a very long way from comprehensive. And its citations are often interesting but are not yet working really well. I took Bob's advice and looked for myself on Google scholar and found that Case Against Q, for example, has just the one citation, from friend of the NT Gateway Weblog Holger Szesnat. The citation comes in his New Testament Study Booklet (incidentally: what a useful, well-written module booklet!). But Google Scholar does not yet pick up in its Citations context the other citations of Case Against Q that it does in fact subsequently list. I suppose here one does see how far it is a beta.

Let me add that one of the big advantages I see with Google Scholar is the fact that you can click "web search" next to a given entry and have a realistic chance of finding good information on the item in question; and sometimes, Google will dig out the actual article in question if it happens to be available on a scholar's homepage, or similar.

Now, Zeba Crook continued the thread on Xtalk, asking whether he might be a better "test" than me because of the "modest and testable amount" of his publications:
YET, Scholar Google came up with only 1 item for me: a reference in Kloppenborg's review article on your The Case Against Q. It didn't even pick up my book. Now, one might argue it's too early for that, but when I do a regular Google (ego-surfing) I get several pages of results, many of which are scholarly, including my book. Mind you, ATLA comes up with 6 items only: the limitations of ATLA is that it's not super up-to-date, and it journals have to be registered with it in order to appear.
I think that that sums up the situation pretty well. The shortcomings of ATLA are clear -- not bang up to date, not free etc. -- but it does win over Google Scholar, at least for the time being, even though the latter has certain quirky pluses. I wonder for how long? It's something we'll definitely be returning to.

Update (Monday, 15.49): Danny Zacharias comments on Deinde.

1 comment:

Brad said...

Title search for "Jesus"

Google Scholar: 3400 results
ATLA (via Silverplatter): 20700 results