Searching for literature is something that every scholar does, and sometimes I wonder, am I the only one who finds it the least attractive part of conducting research? According to PubChase’s promotional video I am not, and this is why I decided to write this post. Of course Open Access helps people who:
a) are not staff or students of the world’s top universities (and especially those who live in less wealthy countries, where universities and libraries have less money for subscriptions)
b) are staff or students of the world’s top universities, but are too lazy to go to the library or do not like meeting their colleagues.
Ok, so we have thousands of articles accessible on-line, for free, from various sources, even public networks. But how do you find the most relevant articles? When doing research we have to get the most complete information on our subject and sometimes it is not possible to rely on Open Access literature only; sometimes we will be requested to pay or to go to well stocked library (the sad thing is that for some of us it means going abroad). But lets have a try.
First of all, a large number of peer-reviewed articles are, in principle, available in the Directory of Open Access Journals, thanks to the article searching option provided by this service. You should keep it mind that DOAJ is not a complete database of Open Access journals. In order to be indexed in DOAJ, a journal has to apply and be accepted. It is worth mentioning that DOAJ had recently raised the inclusion bar (if you are interested in the criteria you may have a look here).
Let’s try it out. For a specific (but not rare, or bizarre) search query “coping strategies mental disorder” DOAJ returned 13 articles. This is a very poor result. Filtering options may be used to find only records specified by language, publisher, journal, subject, or license. This is useful to examine, for example, which journal of a publisher is closest to our requirements.
Fortunately, we have CrossRef Metadata Search, which indexes the DOAJ database too, but it operates better and returns many more results. You can check the “DOAJ” box on the right sidebar of the CrossRef search page and, using the previous example “coping strategies mental disorder”, you will get more than 12 000 results, all in peer-reviewed, free to read journals. CrossRef offers the same filtering options as DOAJ and feels like a much better tool, but I think it is very important to use both of them for each query, since direct DOAJ search results do not appear in initial CrossRef results.
The next step is searching repositories. The easiest and most efficient way is to use the OpenDOAR service, which offers a Google-based search engine for almost all Open Access repositories in the world. Remember that not all records are peer-reviewed works, but in fact every repository has some quality standards. What is more, in some of them you can find, not only papers or books, but also documents, graphs or data sets. My search query gave back 60 300 documents and some of them are very relevant to my interests (mostly ones from PubMed).
Since we are dealing here with a problem that lies at the intersection of the humanities and medical science we may look at the Social Science Research Network and PubMed Commons websites, which are large disciplinary repositories. Unfortunately, to find anything on SSRN I had to change my keywords and even then I found only few, less relevant articles. That is strange because “coping strategy” is a term taken from social science, but still there is not many items on this subject in SSRN. Searching PubMed directly was for me again a less efficient search strategy than OpenDOAR.
Finally, I decided to try out quite a new search tool, for which the creators promised me that I would read more and search less, and also encouraged me with a lovely video. Everyone loves Facebook, so PubChase has a navy header and offers us a lot of social options – we can invite our friends, follow work of selected participants, join communities connected to a subject and read essays of other users (published in a Facebook-like stream) or publish your own. PubChase gives us an opportunity to search its database, which is based on PubMed, and in fact contains only PubMed Commons entries, which are published under non-restrictive licenses. Service creators claimed that they want to include more databases in future. Searching PubChase is an efficient way of finding articles, maybe even more efficient than searching PubMed itself. Thanks to PubChase I have found several interesting publications, including several which turned out to be crucial.
When you find something on PubChase you may add it to your personal library and after you collect a few dozens of papers, the service will start to offer personal recommendations. The service also gives you an option to synchronize your Mendeley library, which is useful, but did not work perfectly for me. Some of the articles from my Mendeley appeared in PubChase, and others did not. Now I have 23 articles in my library (which is “public”, but I am afraid that it is available only for other PubChase users) and I have my first recommendations. They are totally irrelevant, but this is just the beginning of our (mine and PubChase’s) cooperation, so I am lenient about that. Anyway, even if it does not improve, I think it is a good idea to try out Pubchase since it is good search engine and further developments are possible. Oh, and of course there is the option to use PubChase on mobiles and tablets, with applications for Android and iOS. Hmm… no thanks, I am waiting for Ubuntu Touch!