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Kohn, Alex (2010): Professional Search in Pharmaceutical Research. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics



In the mid 90s, visiting libraries – as means of retrieving the latest literature – was still a common necessity among professionals. Nowadays, professionals simply access information by ‘googling’. Indeed, the name of the Web search engine market leader “Google” became a synonym for searching and retrieving information. Despite the increased popularity of search as a method for retrieving relevant information, at the workplace search engines still do not deliver satisfying results to professionals. Search engines for instance ignore that the relevance of answers (the satisfaction of a searcher’s needs) depends not only on the query (the information request) and the document corpus, but also on the working context (the user’s personal needs, education, etc.). In effect, an answer which might be appropriate to one user might not be appropriate to the other user, even though the query and the document corpus are the same for both. Personalization services addressing the context become therefore more and more popular and are an active field of research. This is only one of several challenges encountered in ‘professional search’: How can the working context of the searcher be incorporated in the ranking process; how can unstructured free-text documents be enriched with semantic information so that the information need can be expressed precisely at query time; how and to which extent can a company’s knowledge be exploited for search purposes; how should data from distributed sources be accessed from into one-single-entry-point. This thesis is devoted to ‘professional search’, i.e. search at the workplace, especially in industrial research and development. We contribute by compiling and developing several approaches for facing the challenges mentioned above. The approaches are implemented into the prototype YASA (Your Adaptive Search Agent) which provides meta-search, adaptive ranking of search results, guided navigation, and which uses domain knowledge to drive the search processes. YASA is deployed in the pharmaceutical research department of Roche in Penzberg – a major pharmaceutical company – in which the applied methods were empirically evaluated. Being confronted with mostly unstructured free-text documents and having barely explicit metadata at hand, we faced a serious challenge. Incorporating semantics (i.e. formal knowledge representation) into the search process can only be as good as the underlying data. Nonetheless, we are able to demonstrate that this issue can be largely compensated by incorporating automatic metadata extraction techniques. The metadata we were able to extract automatically was not perfectly accurate, nor did the ontology we applied contain considerably “rich semantics”. Nonetheless, our results show that already the little semantics incorporated into the search process, suffices to achieve a significant improvement in search and retrieval. We thus contribute to the research field of context-based search by incorporating the working context into the search process – an area which so far has not yet been well studied.