EBM and Clinical Support Librarians@UCHC

A blog for medical students, faculty and librarians about their use of evidence based medicine, clinical literature, Web 2.0, sources and search strategies

Research, Decisionmaking, Libraries: Search or Find? Fishing or Virology?

Many folks who are dedicated fishermen/fisherwomen just like to be out on the water, in the day’s weather (on a lake, river, ocean, wherever) and don’t mind all that much whether they just Fish or whether they Catch. Many who do catch anything immediately release it back into the water, and no harm is done to the fish or the person’s ego. Then there are certain type-A people who don’t want to Fishthey only want to Catch… and catch the biggest, rarest or hardest critter to land, at that. (But this post isn’t about fishing. I failed fishing anyway… my brother said I talked too much and scared all the fish away).

On Nature Networks, a blog called Lab Life is written by a PhD student from Harvard, Anna Kushnir. Ms. Kushnir is working on completing her dissertation in cell biology and virology this spring. This is what she wrote in her “About” page:

My research interests are focused on virus-cell interactions, specifically cell signaling and gene transcription. However, I would much rather write about science than actually do it. Science writing/editing are my goals post graduation.

She has spent time using medical search engines, and wrote a post on her blog on Mar 22 2008, entitled “I hate PubMed“, voicing frustration with the complexities and frustrations of using that database versus other sources, including Google Scholar.

Ms. Kushnir is one of those who wants only to catch, not to learn how to fish… saying “Why should I have to?”

<sigh>. This whole discussion highlights just how many users dislike using PubMed. They find it difficult to use, difficult to retrieve relevant citations, and apparently just don’t want to keep struggling with it. I think this is why so many people like Google Scholar: easy to use, free, easy to locate some articles. However, an essential point which Ms. Kushnir and many others miss is this: if a publisher has signed an agreement with Google to provide access to their full-text articles from a highly-selective list of journals… then – and only then – will you or I find those articles in Google Scholar.

PubMed is a tried-and- true daily workhorse for the work that information professionals do – which essentially is to sift through hundreds of citations to come up with the five or ten near-perfect articles that the individual clinician or student needs to:

  • provide outstanding patient care that will save a life
  • gain an overview of the historical development of a disease management breakthrough
  • write a grant proposal that will be a winner and start a successful career
  • locate a 2008 review on state-of-the-art medical care for a specific patient with multi-organ medical problems
  • to sift and filter through a lifetime of work that an individual researcher has produced
  • or… learn to set up a “news alerts” on specific individual researchers or articles, eliminating the need to frequently scan newly-published literature
  • and for any other reasons you can name…

These are only a few reasons why health science librarians provide professional searches or train clinicians how to search for themselves.

If you are a virologist, and there are four or five key, critical journals which you must use for your work… but IF those journals are not indexed in Google Scholar then that source will be of little use to you.

You’d miss reading key research essential to the work that you are involved in. Unless, of course, you decide to branch out and learn to search other subscription databases such Scopus, Biosis, Web of Science, etc. You’d also miss key research published in open access journals such as PLoS (Public Library of Science) or BioMedCentral.

You’d be missing a lot.

There are currently more than 30 comments about this blog post: from fellow scientists, researchers, medical librarians offering assistance or advice.

Ms. Kushnir, please take some kind and gentle advice from the librarians who have posted on your blog. Meet with some of us, take 2 hours to learn what is available through the large university library which you are a part of – and become a better searcher.

Your career – and your scientific discoveries – might even depend on it.


One response to “Research, Decisionmaking, Libraries: Search or Find? Fishing or Virology?

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