PubMed and The Veil of Illusion, The Illusion of Sufficiency

Foto: (c) pinksherbert

Peter Suber spricht im aktuellen SOAN Newsletter über die Limitierung von PubMed im Lichte von Open Access an und die Illusion des Forschers, dort alles finden zu können.

However, similar kinds of bias have actually arisen and done harm. Ellen Roche died in June 2001 when she inhaled hexamethonium for an asthma experiment. The physician supervising the experiment researched the safety of inhaling hexamethonium, but apparently limited his research to one contemporary textbook and PubMed. Some journal articles from the 1950’s documented the risk of death from inhaling the drug, but PubMed’s coverage didn’t start until the 1960’s.

Here the problem is not any bias in the literature, but the limited scope of one OA resource, a side-effect of incrementalism.


…Fourth, I’d urge researchers to draw the conclusion that relevant information may exist without being online, let alone free and online. When easy searches fail, we do not have a bona fide negative result
from which we can draw scientific conclusions. Instead we must spend the time and calories to undertake a more arduous search.


Let’s also admit that PubMed doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. Its scope does not go back to the 1950’s or extend to the rulings of federal administrative agencies [which showed that the US Food and Drug Administration withdrew its approval of hexamethonium in 1972]. What it does, it does very well….If it appears to a researcher through a veil of illusion, the illusion of sufficiency, then it is the researcher’s illusion.

The same is true of a print library.