Accelerating access to biomedical evidence

What’s wrong with a free sample? Plenty, when a sample is insufficient

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It was brought to my attention by an academic colleague that faculty were receiving an invitation to try out an “Open Access Library” of “125,546 openly accessible articles“:


Sure enough, if you visit the site and try a search for a biomedical topic, you will be rewarded with a search result of articles from open access biomedical publishers, including Hindawi and Public Library of Science (PLos). As far as I can observe, all the retrieved articles are licensed for Creative Commons attribution to copy and redistribute.


So there is nothing wrong with this kind of project as a proof of concept for assembling a searchable database with metadata harvesting tools that link to openly accessible articles.  In a very clean interface, one can rapidly access articles on contemporary research topics.

Yet I still have questions about this website.

  • To a less knowledgeable user, that 147,824 number seems pretty big.   But in fact there are more than 2.5 million biomedical open access articles freely available in PubMed Central, the free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine.
  • The check boxes in the Open Access Library interface do not appear until after an initial search is run. The Open Access Library interface cannot combine facets such as publication type or date, compared to the advanced search capability of PubMed Central.
  • Given the much smaller pool of open access articles in the Open Access Library, what were the selection criteria for including certain journals or publishers?

To do at least one comparison search, I entered ischemic stroke” into the Open Access Library search box.   515 articles were found.  Although I was expecting a reverse chronologic retrieval, the first eight articles were from 2011.  Then two 2012 citations appeared.   So even the search mechanism seems to be a work in progress.

Then I searched “ischemic stroke” into the PubMed Central search box36683 articles were retrieved, along with links to refine the search.

So it seems at present time that Open Access Library is really just retrieving a specific sample of free open access articles, compared to the breadth and quantitative depth of PubMed Central. Most clinical decision makers would always prefer to have more material, and as I suggest, the selection criteria used by Open Access Library are neither transparent nor understandable at this time.

My concern is that Open Access Library is beginning to market itself by email as a “premier” collection to  faculty  with no familiarity with true premium open access collections, such as PubMed Central.  I would maintain that their free sample is just a sample, as well as insufficient for clinical practice or accurate accounting of the state of biomedical research.



Thu, February 14 2013 » Uncategorized

One Response

  1. Jeffrey Beall February 14 2013 @ 11:01

    Thanks for this excellent analysis.

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