Tag Archives: medical information

federally funded censorship about abortion

Jenna Freedman posted an outrageous story about a medical database: Popline has made the word “abortion” a stopword, meaning you can’t search on the term; the database ignores the word as it ignores words like “the”.

Why? Popline responded that “We recently made all abortion terms stop words. As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”

They recommend instead searching “fertility control, postconception”.

I fail to understand this rationale. Was their pressure from within PopLine or outside from the funders to hide information about abortion? Or did they decide for some reason that it was strategically better to hide information about abortion given the anti-choice climate at the Bush administration?

Either way, hiding information is not the right solution.

The contact information is:
Debra L. Dickson
POPLINE Database Manager/Administrator
INFO Project
111 Market Place, Suite 310, Baltimore, MD 21202
ddickson@jhuccp.org
Tel: 410-659-6300 / Fax: 410-659-6266

and more information is available at Jenna’s page.
cross-posted at sivacracy

update fri 3pm:
The Dean at John Hopkins (which manages Popline) has ordered the decision reversed. See statement from Johns Hopkins (link from women’s health news); see also crooks & liars coverage

Calling Doctor Google

As a former medical librarian I thought this editorial by a medical librarian in the BMJ was fascinating.

First this amazing information:

Within a year of its release Google Scholar has led more visitors to many biomedical journal websites than has PubMed (J Sack, personal communication, 2005).

… which certainly lends credence to the pro-tagging, anti- or indifferent-to-cataloging thinkers.

I was particularly interested to see the table from the BMJ’s web access stats, which lists Google as its number one referrer, by far, in November 2005 (345,756), and Google Scholar as its number two referrer (105,185). PubMed trailed significantly far behind — fourth place was PubMed Medline (14,522) and fifth place was PubMed Central (9,616). Of course, one shouldn’t read too much into this relatively raw access-data. A lot of factors must play into the numbers. Who are these searchers? Medical consumers typing in terms in google, hoping for consumer information? If they end up going to the BMJ, that’s probably more than most of them want to know, at least in an initial search. Or are they physicians realizing google is a shortcut to particular articles? Does this set of referrals include, for instance, academic-affiliated researchers? Many of them probably have access to their own institutional subscriptions to BMJ, and if requests are being routed through a local proxy then how is that reflected in these numbers? Still, anyway you slice it, it’s obvious that Google — or maybe it’s better to describe it as “general search” — is becoming significant for medical research. And Google Scholar is more successful than I’d realized.

And then this cropped up in the editorial, too:

In a recent letter in the New England Journal of Medicine, a New York rheumatologist describes a scene at rounds where a professor asked the presenting fellow to explain how he arrived at his diagnosis.[4] Matter of factly, the reply came: “I entered the salient features into Google, and [the diagnosis] popped right up.” The attending doctor was taken aback by the Google diagnosis. “Are we physicians no longer needed? Is an observer who can accurately select the findings to be entered in a Google search all we need for a diagnosis to appear—as if by magic?”

Ten years ago librarians were all a-twitter about the fear that search engines (Yahoo! and Altavista were the big contendahs then) would displace librarians. Most librarians blustered it out: “Nothing can replace a librarian!” but there was definitely some anxiety in the ranks. Now physicians. Relax, docs. Librarians, doctors, and search engines, all will find their place in the brave new world of infinite search. And it’s important that consumers have access to as much information as possible to critically evaluate and assess all the other info streamed at us daily. For example, since the FDA has deemed it acceptable for drug companies to “inform” us about their wares via millions of dollars of direct-to-consumer advertising, consumers get barraged with info about commercial drugs provided by commercial for-profit entities. In that information environment, it’s vital for consumers to have consumer-directed diagnostic information to assess Big Pharma’s claims. Ultimately it will improve healthcare. What did you think all those consumer health awareness services were about if not, ultimately, this?

open content as solution to exploitation of indigenous IP

It’s great to see more info about the rumored the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library — which will publish India’s traditional knowledge:

Indian scientists say the country has been a victim of what they describe as “bio-piracy” for a long time.

“When we put out this encyclopaedia in the public domain, no one will be able to claim that these medicines or therapies are their inventions. Till now, we have not done the needful to protect our traditional wealth,” says Ajay Dua, a senior bureaucrat in the federal commerce ministry.

[I]n most of the developed nations like United States, “prior existing knowledge” is only recognised if it is published in a journal or is available on a database – not if it has been passed down through generations of oral and folk traditions.

The irony here is that India has suffered even though its traditional knowledge, as in China, has been documented extensively.

But information about traditional medicine has never been culled from their texts, translated and put out in the public domain.

A little confusion between “publication” and “public domain” …

No wonder then that India has been embroiled in some high-profile patent litigation in the past decade – the government spent some $6m alone in fighting legal battles against the patenting of turmeric and neem-based medicines.

In 1995, the US Patent Office granted a patent on the wound-healing properties of turmeric.

Indian scientists protested and fought a two-year-long legal battle to get the patent revoked.

Last year, India won a 10-year-long battle at the European Patent Office against a patent granted on an anti-fungal product, derived from neem, by successfully arguing that the medicinal neem tree is part of traditional Indian knowledge.

In 1998 the US Patent Office granted patent to a local company for new strains of rice similar to basmati, which has been grown for centuries in the Himalayan foothills of north-west India and Pakistan and has become popular internationally. After a prolonged legal battle, the patent was revoked four years ago.

The rice patent was new to me. Apparently, we will have to document not just every single preexisting medicinal use, but every single preexisting bit of human knowledge, to prevent companies from trying to enclose human knowledge.

Then they mention the yoga case (now settled favorably for open source yoga advocates):

And, in the US, an expatriate Indian yoga teacher has claimed copyright on a sequence of 36 yoga asanas, or postures.