Google Tries for Transparency

Two Google initiatives over the past few months resonate particularly well with information professionals. Google Scholar added a "Public access" section to track and manage public access mandates and Google Search can now detect when a topic is rapidly evolving and warn people to check back late.

Writing on the Google Scholar blog, Akash Sethi, Kyu Jin Hwang, Alex Verstak, and Anurag Acharya announced on 23 March 2021 that added the Public access section to Scholar profiles to help authors track and manager public access mandates to their articles. The section on the author’s profile shows a scholar’s total number of articles and which ones are openly available based on funding mandates. Clicking on an article title will show all the mandates, which could be from a variety of sources, including the publisher or a repository as well as funding agencies.

How the Public Access Feature Works

Acharya, Google Scholar’s co-founder, provided more details in his interview with Richard Van Noorden in Nature. He explained that, behind the scenes, Google Scholar looks for some 2,000 wording variations in the text of an article that its machine learning algorithms lead it to believe there’s a funding agency involved. If a freely available version is on a website, it’s automatically flagged. If not, the author is contacted to confirm (or not) that it should be publicly accessible. Acharya admits that the automated process isn’t always correct. Human intervention, generally on the part of the author, is encouraged.

In The Libvine, a Dalhousie University Libraries blog, on 18 June 2021, Melissa Rothfus reviews the requirements for open access of research funded by agencies in Canada. She reminds researchers that depositing articles in the university repository fulfills the funder mandates and that making research publicly available increases its impact. Google Scholar itself does not qualify as a repository in the eyes of most funding requirements and some controversy has surfaced over Google Scholar’s suggestion about using Google Drive to make publications open.

Flagging Rapidly Evolving Topics in Search Results

Unlike most scholarly literature, topics of general interest can often change very quickly. As Google’s Public Liaison for Search, Danny Sullivan, explains in his 25 June 2021 blog post   “sometimes the reliable information you’re searching for just isn’t online yet. This can be particularly true for breaking news or emerging topics, when the information that’s published first may not be the most reliable.” 

Google Search will give the searcher notice about these evolving topics where many sources haven’t yet weighed in on them. Searchers will now see a warning that they should probably check back later when more information from a wider range of sources will become available. The notices are rolling out in the U.S. in English to start but will hopefully be expanded to other areas and languages soon.

Sullivan went on to note that Google has had similar notices to let you know when Google hasn’t been able to find anything that matches your search particularly well. The recently-launched About This Result panel provides information about sources on Google Search that indicate if they’re likely to provide helpful or trustworthy information.