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Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 10.2 (2000) 175-188
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Scope Note 38
Bioethics Resources on the Web *
Once described as an "enormous used book store with volumes stacked on shelves and tables and overflowing onto the floor" (Pool, Robert. 1994. Turning an Info-Glut into a Library. Science 266 (7 October): 20-22, p. 20), Internet resources now receive numerous levels of organization, from basic directory listings to elaborate "links" (cross-references to other Internet documents) that flash and glow in the dark. In many ways, the Internet functions as a direct extension of the traditional library. Following linked references across various sites is an electronic version of browsing library stacks, and the serendipitous discoveries made while "surfing the Net" recall the wonders of physically going "book-to-book." Although many of the Internet's best aspects augment library strengths by eliminating physical distance from sources, Net resources pose unique problems for researchers. It is not always clear who is responsible for the content of Web documents, when the document was produced, or how often (if ever) it is updated. Internet resource tools, then, must enable researchers to identify appropriate resources and to evaluate what they find when they get there.
Web Research as Taking "Snapshots"
Given the Internet's visual nature and fluid content, the process of conducting research on the Web has been likened to taking an informal picture of information on a specific date at a particular time. This metaphor also conveys the "zoom-in" aspect of searching through Web pages by going from general to specific categories. In the first section of this Scope Note, National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature (NRCBL) staff present a snapshot of bioethics resources taken during the spring months of 2000. Entries are divided into the categories of directories, electronic journals, full-text documents, news/current awareness, and teaching resources. In the two subsequent sections, this series of categories is repeated for entries on a specific topic within bioethics-genetics-and again for general search and evaluation tools. Where a Web site may contain pages applicable [End Page 175] to more than one category, multiple entries are made for that site with appropriate information for each category.
Much as telecommunication advances have strengthened the relationship of patients and providers as partners, the dynamic nature of the Internet acknowledges that the researcher functions as a librarian whenever accessing the Web. It is our hope that BIOETHICSLINE and the other NRCBL databases not only will enable researchers to search the Web more efficiently, but also will help them to evaluate what they find when they get there.
Bioethicsline on the Web: An International Plan in Progress
Once only available through libraries, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), the funding agency for the ongoing development of the BIOETHICS LINE® database from the Kennedy Institute, has provided free Web access to that database of 63,000 citations since September 1998 through Internet Grateful Med. Plans are now underway to eliminate such specialty databases and incorporate all citations into PubMed (for journal articles) or LOCATORplus (for book-like materials and chapters in books). Both of these databases are likewise available at no cost on the Web. In the transition to PubMed and LOCATORplus some features of BIOETHICSLINE that presently are available may be lost. Researchers are encouraged to contact the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature with search requests or for search strategy assistance with either the current or the future system (email@example.com).
The inclusion of bioethics citations in PubMed and LOCATORplus will have several advantages. First, unique keywords from the Bioethics Thesaurus will be considered for inclusion in Medical Subject Headings (MeSH), the indexing vocabulary for PubMed and LOCATORplus, thereby enhancing retrieval of relevant clinical literature by offering more precise terminology covering ethical issues. Second, it will be easier to identify foreign-language materials, which are not currently included in the scope of BIOETHICSLINE. Third, the updating schedule will become more frequent. On the other hand, there may be some loss of searching precision because certain specialized features...