Most of the audience for this blog will be familiar with the use of "Google" as a verb to describe searching the World Wide Web for information on a given topic. "I googled a half-dozen mojito recipes which we tried out on the Fourth". "Did you google your blind date/new postdoc to make sure he isn't a psycho?". "You got dinner plans after the conference sessions end for the day? No? Lemme google up some restaurants."
The applications of "to google" are endless and endemic. Many, if not all, readers will admit to the fact that the ability to nearly instantly seek out a large amount of data (some accurate, some not, some misleading, true) on any topic of interest has become a default part of daily life. Those of you with iPhones, well, a part of hourly life perhaps?
Lagging well behind this transformation of our information-age lives, but assuredly steaming right along behind, is the verb-ification of PubMed. For some of us, it is here already. This is the area where I am sympathetic to the antics of the Open Access Acolytes™.
A recent foofaraw (including offerings from YHN and PhysioProf) arose over an ill-advised tone struck in an attack editorial thinly veiled as an analytical news item published in Nature. The discussion has brought Open Access science [several tomes on OA linked here] back to the blog-table for discussion. I have another thought, beyond my reaction to the sneering tone of the aforementioned attack editorial. One of the ways I think the Nature piece may possibly have gone astray is in not recognizing the depth to which their customers, research scientists, are reflexively sympathetic to the notion that our product--the primary scientific observation--should be freely available to all. I have been interested to hear some perspectives on why Open Access trips the trigger from some bloggers not previously on the OA Nozdrul or wackaloon lists.
As one pertinent example, JuniorProf discussed the merits of Open Access science from the perspective of supporting the needs of scientists in developing world countries in his post on why he supports Open Access.
I got an email from a young, female scientist in Nigeria. She had trained in Belgium and decided to go back to her home country to start up her own research lab. She emailed me because she wanted to use adult trigeminal neuron cultures to address her research aims and she had some questions about the details of our protocols...she informed me that she had found many other papers on the topic (trigeminal culture) but did not have access to the majority of them (as one might imagine). The primary reason she contacted me was because she had access to our paper (for free) and she could tell from the manuscript that we would be able to help her out. ... She further informed me that she felt that we had made the correct choice in publishing in an open access journal because in many cases it was the only way that people like her in developing countries could gain access to the scientific literature.
This approach is not just limited to active scientists nor to developing countries. What about the smaller institutions in the developed world? Should not college professors from community college to the liberal arts colleges and the smaller state universities be able to teach the primary literature? To teach students to assemble all of the best and most-relevant articles on a given topic, instead of merely those they can readily access?
This is not the issue for today though. I have been reflecting on the near universal response in my household to questions which might be informed by research science. Pregnancy/childbirth/childrearing? The system is fraught with contradictory opinions, mysterious lab results paired with inadequate clinical knowledge/communication of likely risks and probabilities. Relatives, friends or neighbors a bit unnerved by some sort of "possibly malignant" observation from a primary care physician and a week(s)-away specialist appointment? Vaccination risks? The list goes on and on. Since our household features two scientists who are reasonably familiar with searching the primary literature and assembling a degree of knowledge about a topic from the literature and recent reviews, our default option is to take a few minutes to "pubmed it". Since we also enjoy remote, nearly instant access to most of the scientific literature found, because of our institutional affiliations, it takes only a little extra time to obtain the actual articles and reviews.
This pubmedding process has many benefits, for mental health if nothing else. At a simple comfort level, this can fill the time gap between the primary care observation and the date with the specialist. Clinicians don't really seem to appreciate that 4 or 7 or 10 days between some interesting ultrasound findings and the appointment with a so-called genetic counselor is agonizing for parents-to-be; merely reviewing the literature on what might be implicated is comforting. Ditto some strange bump on the skin that might possibly be cancerous. Why exactly did someone think your kid should be evaluated for ADHD or Gramma for Alzheimer's? What options might be available for treatment?
"I'll pubmed it and find out."
The ability to pubmed primary research articles is a default part of our household. Perhaps not used as extensively as the google, but certainly an important and palpable feature of our normal lives. I see no reason not to extend this benefit to everyone. Especially to the benefit of taxpayers of the US and other countries who have already paid for this information to be generated!