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Nature Magazine: Big Data, Environmental Data

[Note: this was cross-posted on Free Government Information]

The Journal Nature has a special issue about "Big Data" with articles by Clifford Lynch, Cory Doctorow, and others. The whole issue is worth reading and is freely available online for a short time.

Coping with floods of data is now one of science's biggest challenges. In this Nature Special, we assess the need to complement smart science with smart searching; look at what the next Google will be; talk to the pioneering biologists who are trying to use wiki-type web pages to manage and interpret data; and recall that the first mass data crunchers were not computers, but the remarkable women of Harvard's Observatory.

In the area of government information, David Goldston, the former chief of staff of the House Committee on Science, writes about environmental data.

He notes that there is no set of environmental indicators that is regularly updated -- something akin to economic statistics -- and that a report by the Heinz Center on the State of the Nation's Ecosystems ( is chock-full of lists of subject and geographical areas for which few if any data exist.

He calls attention to the Data Quality Act, which, "has been anathema to environmental groups, which have seen it as a way to stymie regulation. And it has been primarily invoked by corporations questioning studies that raise alarms about their products." (The act is less than half a page in a public law of more seven hundred pages (Public Law 106-554 Sec. 515; Statutes at Large volume 114, pages 2763A-153 to 2763A-154, available online as plain text and as pdf).

He also says that, "Even when instrumentation is regularly funded, as some kinds of satellites are, money is often lacking to maintain the data or to make them sufficiently accessible or digestible."

Writing Nature: Discourses in Nature, Culture, and Technology (Spring 2008)

Librarian Information:
Malgorzata Schaefer, Information Center, mschaefe AT stanford DOT edu
Kathleen Gust, Engineering Library, kgust AT stanford DOT edu

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not just a Research Guide; it is a Research Strategy Guide. Your research topic may not fit the general description of your course or the examples of resources may not fit your topic, but the strategy for finding resources on your topic will be the same.

  1. Identify your topic of interest
  2. Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the key for searching for information about your subject in library catalogs, online databases, and other resources.
  3. Utilize a variety of sources

    Information can come from anywhere. The type of information you need will change depending on the research question you are trying to answer but you DO want to use various sources in order to conduct a comprehensive research.

  4. Start Searching!


Note: To open any link in a new window or tab, simply right click on the link and select Open in New Window or Open in New Tab.

The Basics
To find books and films, use the online catalog, Socrates.
To find journal, newspaper and/or magazine articles, use a Database.

Gathering Background Information

Use reference books like encyclopedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, indexes etc. to get a general overview of a topic, to find major themes or differences of opinion and to spot new key words. Reference books usually include bibliographies - look up the author's sources and you've saved yourself some research time.

How To find Reference Books

Use Reference Universe, a database you can search to find sources at Stanford.

Search Socrates to find reference books or consult a librarian at the Information Center in Green Library or at a branch library reference desk.


Books and Films

Use the library's online catalog online catalog to locate books, films, microforms, and other materials in the library. Target your search by using Subject Headings.
NOTE: To find a Subject Heading

  1. Type in a few keywords to describe your topic. Use Simple Search and Search Everything.
  2. Find an interesting book in the list of results. Look at the Detailed Record. Note the Subject Headings (LC) and the Call Number/Location. Click on Nearby Items on Shelf to find other books on similar topics.
  3. Click on the link for Subject Heading (LC), or use part or all of the subject heading in a New Search, selecting Subject instead of Search Everything.

Use the Call Number to find the book on the shelves and browse in the area for other related books.

Examples of Subject Headings:

Books of Interest:

IGO/NGO custom search engine

Using the Google Custom Search Engine (CSE), a couple of colleagues and I have built:

Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) custom search engine.

It's really quite simple. Give a set of urls to the free CSE utility, google goes and builds an index of those sites and creates a search engine to search over those sites specifically. Voila you have a google search engine for more focused results of a specific subject area.

This CSE includes IGOs like the United Nations, World Bank, UN Development Program (UNDP), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), European Union, Organization of American States, the Asian Development Bank and NGOs like AARP, Earth Watch Institute, International Crisis Group, OXFAM, the World Agricultural Forum. It will enable users to research a wide range of topics such as human rights, development, environment, education, HIV/AIDS, health, women's issues etc.

This is a project of the International Documents Taskforce of the Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT), American Library Association (ALA). Stanford Library staff who worked on the project include James R. Jacobs, Barbara Celone, Tony Angiletta and Karim Arsalane. For more background on this project, including a growing list of IGOs and NGOs included in the search, please see the IDTF wiki.

Please try out the search and let us know what you think.

Q&A: Bali climate change conference, December 2007

How do I find out about the December conference in Bali about climate change?

A good place to start would be the official website of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Bali, Indonesia, from December 3-14, 2007. This includes all sorts of reports, webcasts, and links, including information on the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. See also the pages of the United Nations Environment Programme, which sponsored the conference.

Other sites open to all include the Environmental News Network, which is a great source for environmental news.(Search under Ecosystems or Climate.) See also Greenpeace under Topics: Global Warming and Energy. The New York Times public site has a lot of information. It also has a blog.

Grist is another helpful environmental blog.

We also subscribe to some databases that would be good for this topic, including Global Newsbank (See Special Reports - World Environment - UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). See also America's Newspapers.

Stanford has many books (browse especially the subject Climatic changes) including Architectures for agreement: addressing global climate change in the post-Kyoto world (Cambridge University Press, 2007) at the Law School Library. Other resources are available at the Biology Library.

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