Science and Law
15th January 2014

7 Reasons Pubmed Trumps Google Scholar

For lawyers, physicians and scientists hunting for medical and scientific literature, the National Library of Medicine’s Pubmed database was the only game in town for years. But when the online search gurus at Google launched Google Scholar in beta in 2004, many professionals switched platforms.

7 Reasons Pubmed Trumps Google Scholar

For lawyers, physicians and scientists hunting for medical and scientific literature, the National Library of Medicine’s Pubmed database was the only game in town for years. But when the online search gurus at Google launched Google Scholar in beta in 2004, many professionals switched platforms.

Since the emergence of Google Scholar nearly a decade ago, users have debated the platform’s pros and cons, and studies have assessed its viability. While Google Scholar has improved since early studies pointed out its deficiencies, recent studies still favor Pubmed.

A recent article by Bramer and colleagues evaluates the body of research and concludes that Pubmed remains the preferred platform overall. While their research focused on the use of these databases for performing systematic reviews, the points that they make are relevant to lawyers conducting scientific research for cases involving complex scientific issues (e.g., toxic tort or pharmaceutical and medical device cases).

Bramer asserts that Pubmed surpasses Google Scholar for the following reasons:

  1. Pubmed displays all results. Google Scholar limits the number of results.

  2. Pubmed offers its Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms. Google Scholar offers no controlled vocabulary.

  3. Pubmed focuses exclusively on medical topics. Google Scholar searches all scientific disciplines.

  4. Pubmed allows users to search using a wide array of fields. Google Scholar does not offer specific fields.

  5. Pubmed offers different date fields. Google Scholar does not allow users to restrict their searches by date.  

  6. Pubmed offers detailed search histories, allowing users to compare or combine record sets. Google Scholar does not offer search histories.

  7. Pubmed allows users to download complete search results in a variety of different formats. Google Scholar does not allow users to download results in bulk.

Although Pubmed provides a more robust and focused search experience than Google Scholar, Pubmed searches only bibliographic data while Google Scholar searches the full text.

However, other studies (such as this one, published by one of Bramer’s colleagues) support the view that Google Scholar is not sufficient for performing reliable systematic reviews.

The insight these studies offer is valuable to attorneys for two reasons: (1) Wading through the vast amount of information available can be a time-consuming task, and a dynamic search tool can improve efficiency; (2) When confronted with an expert who performs systematic reviews, exposing the limitations of the expert’s research database may prove an effective strategy.

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