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Science on the Web: Authoritative Yet Free Resources
Volume 42, Number 3 - May/June 2018

The body of scientific knowledge demands rigorous vetting and peer review. The internet, on the other hand, does not require any such controls. Does this mean that all you can find on the internet are pseudoscience sites and crackpot theories? No, there are many scientifically authoritative gems to mine online without paying any subscription fees. This is particularly attractive to those libraries unable to afford Web of Science, IEEE Xplore Digital Library, CINAHL, or Engineering Village, just to name a few.

Finding authoritative science resources on the internet can be a challenge. However, it is much easier to navigate this information jungle with a good map in hand. The paths I outline lead to authoritative scientific resources that are freely available online, enhancing research options for librarians and providing recommendation possibilities for patrons. Some of the information comes from nonprofit organizations, such as the Public Library of Science, and other information comes from governmental agencies, including NASA. Some of these entities, such as the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences, disseminate the most respected scientific literature in the world and have been central to key moments in scientific progress.


Both the Public Library of Science (PLOS; and the Royal Society ( cover a wide array of scientific disciplines, although the former is considerably newer in origin than the latter. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS; is extremely prestigious in scientific research circles. For a different approach, try viewing instead of reading. The University of California Television (UCTV; has free videos on any number of scientific topics.

What better place for a librarian to begin a science search than with the aptly named Public Library of Science? PLOS is a nonprofit enterprise, founded in 2000, that puts its respected, peer-reviewed literature in an open access (OA) environment. Much like public libraries, this scientifically rigorous organization has, as its core value, the free transmission of information to the general public. PLOS offers several OA publications. The journal PLOS ONE publishes research in a variety of disciplines. PLOS ONE gives researchers the opportunity to browse many different fields, including anthropology, computer science, and ecology. In addition to a standard search box, searchers can easily peruse various topics with a graphical search option as the Browse capability. Articles are downloadable as full-color PDFs. PLOS also offers other peer-reviewed publications in biology, medicine, computational biology, genetics, neglected tropical diseases, and pathogens.

The Royal Society, Britain’s famed scientific society, formed in 1660, provides many peer-reviewed OA resources. Two of the Society’s journals, Open Biology and Royal Society Open Science, are made available for the public at no cost. The Society’s other journals, including Biology Letters and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, contain many OA articles. Free articles can be found by selecting the “open access articles” box when in advanced search. A search for mitochondria resulted in 234 full-text OA articles. These articles can be downloaded in PDF format. Browsing options exist to find journals by subject. Alternatively, you can browse by the most-read and most-cited articles, a handy tool in finding high-impact literature. Advanced search is another option. Access to much of the Philosophical Transactions’ archival material is now freely available. Simply select either Philosophical Transactions A or Philosophical Transactions B from the society’s list of publications, and then select “All content” from the Content menu. It should be noted that the Philosophical Transactions includes works by such historical figures as Isaac Newton and Benjamin Franklin.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) is one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. Much of the content is OA, and all of the Academy’s material becomes available 6 months following publication. Full-text articles date back to the journal’s beginnings in 1915, giving researchers access to a long tradition of high-quality, peer-reviewed science. PNAS covers a diverse range of topics, including biochemistry, plant biology, engineering, and statistics. Search the journal with an advanced search tool or browse the massive collection by subject. For instance, a search for deoxyribonucleic acid yields 561 results, and a search for Kuiper Belt yields 20 results.

Why not invite a guest lecturer into your classroom or library? The University of California allows you to do that with its veritable collection of free lectures, which conveniently run in a web browser. You can select from dozens of topics, including anthropology, chemistry, computer science, genetics, global warming, and physics. You can also browse videos by series name, including Alzheimer’s Disease, Ancient DNA and Human Evolution, and the Computer Science Channel. For instance, the CARTA series (Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny) provides fascinating lectures on human origins from practicing scientists.

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Jeffrey Meyer is library director, Mount Pleasant Public Library.


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