Over at the Scholarly Kitchen, Kent Anderson writes of his frustrations regarding PMC, PubMed and MEDLINE and non indexed journals (particularly the start up journal eLife) in his post, “Something’s Rotten in Bethesda — The Troubling Tale of PubMed Central, PubMed, and eLife.”
I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing with Anderson.
I agree there is a big problem with the blurring of the lines in the minds of most people (mainly doctors and researchers) regarding PMC, PubMed and MEDLINE. PubMed houses the citations for PMC articles as well as the citations to articles in journals indexed within MEDLINE. The problem is that to most normal people PubMed = MEDLINE. I mention the blurring of the lines between PubMed and MEDLINE in post “Back Door Method to Getting Articles in PubMed: Is Indexing so Important?” In my post I mention that doctors and researchers think of PubMed and MEDLINE as the same. I likened it to ordering a cola. “PubMed and MEDLINE have become the Coke/Pepsi of medical databases. Two different products but people use the terms interchangeably when ordering a cola soft drink.” I even posted the email of a researcher friend further illustrating how they don’t distinguish between PubMed and MEDLINE and if the article is PMC it is in PubMed and that in their minds it is in MEDLINE. At the time of my orginal post I questioned the point of actually indexing journal articles since researchers don’t search by index terms and they erroneously think PubMed is Medline. All they have to do is get into PMC and it can be found in PubMed via keywords (which is how everybody searches these days).
Anderson’s main argument is NLM is acting as competitor to publishers and technology companies, by allowing certain journal publishers to bypass rules for inclusion into PMC and PubMed. In his argument he brings up the journal eLife a “fledgling funder-backed journal” that was allowed include articles in PMC despite not having published the required 15 articles, not being indexed in MEDLINE, and PMC acting as the sole provider of the articles. Not only is NLM circumventing the rules for inclusion to its databases but he believes that NLM is acting as the primary publisher to eLife because their articles can only be found on PMC. Anderson uses JMLA and Journal of Biomolecular Techniques as other examples of journals that NLM acts as the primary publisher. I don’t know anything about the Journal of Biomolecular Techniques but I disagree with JMLA serving as an example similar to eLife. As I mention in my comment to his post on Scholarly Kitchen, JMLA has been around since 1911 so it has fulfilled the 15 article requirement and is published by a publisher (who is not PMC) and sends me the print 4 times a year. The journal is indexed in MEDLINE (since 2002). Additionally the printed edition clearly states that the digital archives of JMLA are on PMC. I went to PMC today (October 22, 2012) and the October 2012 issue is not available. So the most recent issue is not online and PMC is acting as the a digital archive. Therefore NLM is not acting as the publisher of JMLA in the way he describes. In the case of JMLA NLM’s PMC is the secondary publisher that he describes, which is the case of many indexed MEDLINE journals.
Unfortunatley I think Anderson’s argument misses a bigger issue. The question of quality within the PubMed database. As I mentioned there is confusion among PMC, PubMed, and MEDLINE. People searching PubMed will find an article from the PMC that is in a journal that is not indexed in MEDLINE. However people will erroneously think the article and and journal are in MEDLINE when in fact they are just in PMC. By allowing non indexed journals into PMC, NLM is basically allowing a back door into PubMed, and by default into MEDLINE. Of course NLM doesn’t see it as that, because they are one of the few people who can still see a distinction between PubMed and MEDLINE. Their users (doctors and researchers) do not see the distinction. To them PubMed is MEDLINE. This calls into question the quality of the articles in PMC in journals that are not indexed in MEDLINE. If the journal isn’t good enought to get into Medline then why is the article good enough to be found in PubMed?