Quaero and the quest for alternatives

An article in the French newspaper Le Monde presents Quaero (to seek, in Latin) as the future “European Google”. Comments on this article are divided between supporters of this alternative and denigrors that predict another bureaucratic, bloated, ineffective project. My point here is not to argue pro or against this project. But I would like to dwell on American databases and search engines that serve the entire world.

When you need to look at some information on the internet (mainly, the web), I am sure you are using (American) tools like Google, Yahoo! or Altavista. In the life sciences domain, we have a wonderful database, PubMed, a service of the (American) National Library of Medicine that includes over 16 million citations of biomedical articles. When you are preparing a presentation or an experiment on a subject, it’s a great tool to do the bibliography.

I am insisting on the fact that these tools are coming from American companies or government agencies because I am wondering what we are going to do if, one day, for whatever reason, the U.S.A. will decide to stop providing these tools to the entire rest of the world. Or what if they simply decide to filter content delivered outside their country? Are you sure they are not already doing it? It’s the same problem with the satellite positioning system (GPS ; that’s why Europeans are launching the Galileo project), the root of internet domain name servers, the Microsoft Windows operating system, etc.

So, if the goal of Quaero is to achieve a relative independance, I agree with it (I have still some fears it will become a costly and ineffective tool). But I am wondering why isn’t there any free (at least as in “free beer”) alternative to PubMed. For the moment, I only see an alternative in the cooperation, interoperability between Open Access repositories with projects like the Open Archives Initiative, OpenDOAR, GNU Eprints and other software. But, until Open Access journals are widely used by scientists, it won’t be a PubMed replacement. And there is still no alternative for scientific litterature already published in Closed Access journals.