Monthly Archives: July 2014

Oh, PubMed.

How you never cease to confuse and anger me.

Here is what I think I know about your chameleon nature:

You are not really a database. You are a search engine. Why are you in the list of iCONN databases? I don’t know. It makes it sound like it’s awesome that you’re on their list of stuff, but really, you’re free for anyone to access.

You are good friends with MEDLINE, which provides some, maybe most, of the journal articles that come up in your search. MEDLINE doesn’t include everything out there in the medical world, but what it does have is nice and shiny and has been graced with the glory of a controlled vocabulary. (That’s MeSH.) It’s like the difference between searching a blog for keywords or title and searching for tags that the blog author uses.

In addition to MEDLINE, you also search for articles in different stages of the publication process, and older articles that just haven’t been indexed yet by MEDLINE. And stuff that MEDLINE will not condescend to include in its biomedical clique.

So you can find all this information in the articles, but what if you want the article itself? That’s where the riddle gets wrapped up in the enigma inside a Snickers wrapper. Sometimes the writers, or publishers, or somebody out there, will make it available for free. Then PubMed will give you directions to it. But it really comes down to your institution’s subscriptions, and I guess if you’re part of a medical library, those directions will magically appear. Do you need to be searching PubMed from that library’s IP address? Is there a login you can use at home that acknowledges your affiliation to the library and lets you download offsite? No idea.

So the nice Yale Medical affiliated lady who called earlier asking if we had PubMed? Yes, we do. But PubMed isn’t what she was really after. Access to PubMed is access to MEDLINE but not access to actual articles.

Argh, what is the point of having such search engines?!

To further confuse things, PubMed Central is a search that will bring back ONLY full-text articles. And MedlinePlus is a cruel, cruel doppelganger. You would think it’s MEDLINE, and it’s Plus, so maybe it’s going to offer everything full-text or somehow be better and shinier than MEDLINE, right? No. It’s consumer/patient info, which is all well and dandy and needed, but I don’t know why it’s implied as the superlative of the health professional/researcher info. It’s like how some generics will brand themselves as “Great” or “Super” to make up for the lack of quality compared to name brands that just call themselves Stubb’s or Heinz or something about farms or whatever.

So why is this so confusing, with catalogs of catalogs and opaque access rules? I think knowing that it’s a .gov extension explains it quite well.