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Social Science Citation Index
If you're on deadline, the right CD-ROM can be an instant lifesaver. The retrieval time is usually about one second, so if you know what you're looking for, you've got it... to scroll, download or print.
If you're not on deadline, the right CD-ROM disc can make you forget time. When I booted the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and searched under "cell", I came up for air two hours, 94 records and nine pages of printout later.
Did I say come up for air? It was actually to come up for lunch, when I came across an abstract of an article that suggested skipping meals can insult cells in the lining of the digestive tract and possibly make them more susceptible to cancer. I also resolved to eat more regularly.
Since my task was reviewing this ISI disc, my experience is a typical. Yet others I've talked with who access these discs find themselves equally fascinated with the byways they stumble across.
They're not really byways, and in one sense we don't stumble upon them. The data in an excellent disc such as SSCI have been edited and sorted with the care that only a company in the database field for many years can provide.
But the unique "take" on the world inside the head of each of us provides the magic in the word "stumble". Myriad thoughts and memory banks are stimulated. And that's where the time goes.
Take the case of the 94 social science articles (from 1,400 journals spanning 50 disciplines, for the period January-March 1993) on the SSCI disc in which the word "cell" figures. The meanings of cell include jail cell, biological cell and management cell.
This breadth enables the browser to find articles about the effects of alcohol consumption (on rats, so I didn't take it too seriously) and the extent of public knowledge about malignant melanoma (sadly lacking, considering it's the fastest-growing of the cancers). I also learned about jail suicides (many of them can be precluded by relatively simple administrative changes, such as not leaving prisoners alone in cells), and how to improve productivity in manufacturing cells.
Perhaps the single greatest strength of the CD-ROM databases published by ISI is the citation feature, explained in the preceding review.
ISI's SSCI indexes every article from the social science journals covered, as well as significant items such as letters, corrections, notes and editorials. Also included are selected items from 6,000 other journals covered in the ISI's multidisciplinary database.
In the case of ISI's Science Citation Index (SCI, reviewed above), there are two discs, one with full citation indexing and the second carrying abstracts of about 50 per cent of the articles. About the same percentage of abstracts are included in the one SSCI disc.
The Arts & Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI) fully covers more than 1,100 journals across 25 disciplines. This will be reviewed in a future edition of sources SELECT RESOURCES.
You wouldn't expect such a wealth of information would be free. Your expectation would be both right and wrong. The SCI with abstracts for 1993 costs US$16,000, so you're not going to put it on your VISA. On the other hand, you can call or visit your local university library to access these data free of charge, and you'll have a librarian to aid your search.
Needless to say, I'm loathe to return our review discs. The way it strikes me, there's a world inside each of them. Take one of my interests, psycholinguistics. The articles I find on the SSCI disc whet a hunger to check the basic science research into how our brains function vis a' vis language, on the SCI disc. I have access to the first SCI disc, but not the one carrying the abstracts. Grrrr. My appetite is likewise whetted to check out the work Noam Chomsky has done on language, but that's on the A&HCI disc, which I can't see until later.
The instantaneity of these CD-ROM searches is addictive. In my checking out "stress", a single keystroke identified 781 records, "stress AND Circadian rhythms", three. Bringing up the first of these, again with a single keystroke, showed that two further keystrokes away are 15 related records and 58 cited references.
A much smaller number, namely two, covers the shortcomings that I could identify. There are abstracts for about 50 per cent of the articles. It's easy enough to check out an abstract and find it doesn't contain what you're looking for. But finding no abstract leaves an uneasy, even unfulfilled, feeling. Abstracts are missing because the authors or publications do not provide them. One can only hope that ISI is exerting all reasonable pressure to bring the other half into the fold.
One finds a few typographical errors in the abstracts. In one case, only, I couldn't figure out what the mis-typed word should be. It didn't matter to me, but it could to someone else.
Overall these discs arc well worth the money for university and other purchasers, and especially for their clients. I recommend these discs for their user-friendliest provision of current data on an incredibly diverse range of topics and for the cross-referencing which leads easily to the human contacts whom we can interview to tell us more.
Published in Sources, Summer 1993