David Picken

DSTL, Farnborough, UK

Do you remember the early days of Inspec?

I had been using the paper copy version of Science Abstracts for some time and valued it. The Inspec database became available online via evaluations being done by the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the local university. I was invited to take part. So it was a combination of opportunity and relevance of the database to my company’s interests. Inspec provided the breadth of coverage that was needed in a defence and aerospace research environment. On a specific point, it was one of the few databases that offered any coverage of operations research – an important area of interest.

In the early years it was pretty marvellous to be able to search online at all – using a terminal that was purely an impact printer – long before the general availability of ‘proper’ interactive terminals with screens.


Why do you continue to use Inspec 40 years on?

It still offers the same breadth of coverage that is needed and has evolved in accuracy and coverage. It has developed across a number of platforms – I find it particularly useful at present to have it available as part of the Web of Knowledge that Dstl makes available to all staff.  It has proved of value not just in the purely technical and scientific fields, but has been very useful as a tool in competitive intelligence, allowing the tracking of competitors’ products.


What are the unique aspects of Inspec that you particularly like?

I like the quality aspects of the input. I find the classification and treatment codes of considerable use. Overall I like the feel of assurance that comes from the control and development that is applied to the metadata.


What would you say is the main advantage of having a database that spans over 40 years of scientific publications?

Most searching of Inspec focuses on recent material – however recent is defined. But it is essential to have the ability to track back on how developments have come about and their provenance. Areas of science differ in terms of the direct relevance of older material, but it is certainly the case that in the physical sciences the value of having access to older material has been proved many times.


With so much material now freely available on the internet how do you view Inspec’s role in providing information?

Inspec has built a reputation for quality and breadth of coverage. It is true that you can pick up all sorts of information openly on the internet, but you always have the problem of evaluating it for quality and accuracy. If you have an intermediary such as Inspec worrying about that on your behalf, you can use information with much greater assurance of validity. Inspec also provides valuable metadata in a consistent and developed form – something that is lacking from many free sources.


Can you say what Inspec means to you in just three words?

Quality, range, authority.