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  • 03.12.15

A Google For Scientific Articles, For The Next Time You’re Locked In A Debate About Vaccines

Stop spouting nonsense and dig into the research.

A Google For Scientific Articles, For The Next Time You’re Locked In A Debate About Vaccines
[Top photo: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

Arguing about scientific topics is always a fraught endeavor. Part of the problem–whether you’re discussing GMOs, the measles vaccine, or some other controversial topic–is that finding relevant research isn’t easy for people who don’t spend their days poring through scientific journals.

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Search for “measles vaccine” on Google, for example, and you’ll get the standard CDC information along with a series of news articles about the recent Disneyland measles outbreak and the autism/measles vaccine myth. Good luck finding any real research.


Sparrho is like the Google for scientific papers–and patents, posters, events, and grants. Just type in keywords, like “GMO food,” and you’ll soon have access to all the latest research. Here’s a snapshot of what comes up when you search for GMO food:

As you can see, the latest results are up-to-date (I performed the search on March 6). Some are accessible to laypeople, some are not. That’s because Vivian Chan, Sparrho’s CEO and co-founder, originally designed the platform for herself. “I was doing my PhD at Cambridge University, and realized using search engines for science doesn’t work. There are all of these databases out there, but you have to know exactly what it is you’re looking for,” she says.

Sparrho’s other co-founder, Nilu Satharasinghe, is an expert in machine learning, which is what the recommendation engine uses to scan through tens of millions of scientific documents during every search. So far, Sparrho’s pulls its data from between 18,000 and 20,000 sources. Users can indicate when search results are relevant or irrelevant, helping Sparrho to personalize its recommendations over time.

Oftentimes, journal articles aren’t available without a subscription or a heavy fee. But users can at least read abstracts, which generally provide the gist of an article’s contents.

“Staying on top of science isn’t just relevant for scientists,” says Chan. “We see academics, industry. … We also see individual professions that include patent attorneys, technology and strategy consultants. We have quite a lot of mothers that use the site to stay on top of the latest research for their kids’ diagnosis.”

Sparrho is free, but eventually Chan hopes to monetize the platform for corporate users having “trouble with the dissemination of internal R&D data.”

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Check out Sparrho, and make sure your next scientific debate is an informed one, here.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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