Saturday, April 05, 2008

Popline's selective search engine (or, One more reason to hug your librarian)

Heard of Popline? Me neither, until one of our eagle-eyed readers directed us to a recent story in Wired. Turns out that Popline--as in, presumably, "population online"--is part of the INFO (Information & Knowledge for Optimal Health--don't ask me about how this acronym works; I don't get it either) Project. The INFO Project is funded by USAID, the US Agency for International Development.

Popline calls itself "your connection to the world's reproductive health literature." As the Wired story explains, though, it's your connection to only some of the world's reproductive health literature. What's missing? Access to the database info that concerns abortion. A librarian at UCSF noted that using "abortion" as a keyword yielded no results--odd, to say the least, for a reproductive health database.

When she wrote to the site administrators at Johns Hopkins, she was told that abortion-related terms had been made "stop words." This was consistent with current federal policy, which bans funding or promotion of abortion as a method of family planning in nations that receive US aid.

Hooray for the librarians of the world, I say: pointing out that it's wrong to restrict access to research data for political reasons (and doing lots of other good stuff too).

A subsequent update to the original story notes that the keyword has since been put back in play. Interesting to read, given how hard the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins (which administers the site) tries to distance itself from the harebrained censorship strategy.

Thanks to tipster David Kugler.

Another edit, 4/9/08, to include this audio update from NPR.


SabrinaW said...

It's a good thing that in the Blogosphere no one can hear you scream.

... because that is what I am doing right now.

Kelly Hills said...

I thought *something* woke me up this afternoon, Sabrina...


A said...

I blogged about this - yes, Johns Hopkins was totally in the wrong. But they are also in a really tough position - - the moral of the sotry to me is not to get yourself stuck in the position Hopkins is in.