If ever a topic cries out for the participation (and input) of health librarians, it’s a recently-published comparative study of Google scholar and PubMed in retrieving the drug literature entitled “Google scholar versus PubMed in locating primary literature to answer drug-related questions“. The paper – published in this month ‘s Annals of Pharmacotherapy – is authored by three Pharm Ds and one PhD in Business at Samford University, Alabama.
A brief look at the structured abstract suggests the authors have something important to say about the two popular medical search tools. They cite much of the seminal literature in using Google scholar in medicine, which is commendable. Their objective? To compare Google scholar and PubMed as to the coverage of primary drug literature, # of citations, access to “free fulltext articles” – within the first 100 results.
My problem here is I don’t believe the authors acknowledge the true dissimilarities of Google scholar and PubMed. The databases are, for all of their overlap, apples and oranges. The authors get the search limitations of each database but some subtleties are lost. For example, PubMed is constructed (and searches) very differently than Google scholar; PubMed is a proper medical database & search tool whereas Google scholar is a browsing tool.
The authors should talk to their local health librarians to discern the aspects/concerns/issues of searching these two tools. By comparing the first “100 results” in each database, they touch that PubMed lists articles by when items are received and/or indexed whereas Google scholar lists articles based on link love (and a secret Google algorithm). However, straight counts in GS cannot be done because we don’t know what the database contains, what authority work is done and which journals it indexes.
But can this really be news? Further, they should consider many of Jacso’s critiques of Google scholar as his writing is certainly central to the GS debate. Tut, tut Annals of Pharmacotherapy!
1. UBC Health Library wiki. Google scholar bibliography http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php/Google_scholar_bibliography