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Chinese scientists recalibrate Google's evil scale

Scientists in China overwhelmingly choose Google over Baidu for their research, which AllThingD's John Paczkowski sees as lending credence to Google's original decision to enter China despite the known censorship minefields.

Evidently, Baidu isn't nearly as effective an academic research tool as Google, because the latter's threatened withdrawal from China has got the country's scientists pretty worried.

A survey of 784 Chinese scientists by the journal Nature (PDF), found that many feel the search engine is indispensable to their work, particularly if it requires English-language searches for material outside China.

Of those surveyed, 80 percent said they regularly use Google to find academic papers and nearly 60 percent said they use it to keep abreast of new research. Why Google and not Baidu, which is used as a primary search engine by only 17 percent of respondents? Because Google casts a wider net, indexing information that its Chinese rival does not.

"Research without Google would be like life without electricity," ecologist Xiong Zhenqin told Nature.

An interesting perspective on Google's China debacle, eh? Certainly, it lends credence to the company's claims back in 2006 that offering a censored version of services in the country was better--and more importantly--"less evil" than not offering them at all. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt said at the time, "We concluded that although we weren't wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all. We actually did an evil scale and decided not to serve at all was worse evil."

But the question of to serve/not to serve is more binary in these days of highly sophisticated and targeted attacks on the corporate infrastructures of American companies. And that's too bad, particularly for Chinese scholars whose work may end up as collateral damage in Google's battle with China.