Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Navigating across medicine's electronic landscape, stopping at places with Pub or Central in their names

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 10 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1120
  1. Tony Delamothe, editor, (
  1. BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Attempts to use the internet to free up access to the world's biomedical literature have resulted in several similarly named initiatives emerging over the past two years. PubMed Central, BioMed Central, and the Public Library of Science have joined the slightly older PubMed, which has a different function but a name similar enough to add to the confusion.

    The debates around free access are some of the most important that have taken place in the three centuries of scientific publishing.1 Yet confusion about who wants to do what to whom is hampering this debate. This attempt to dispel some of the confusion was up to date at the time of writing, but given the speed at which medicine's electronic landscape is changing, it is likely to date fast.

    Summary points

    Several initiatives have recently emerged to provide free access to biomedical literature though the internet

    Traditional publishers have been reluctant to join these initiatives because of fears about lost subscriptions

    PubMed Central's “decentralised model” could be the trigger for greater publisher participation

    The advent of free electronic journals—paid for by authors' charges—could profoundly change the publishing landscape


    PubMed provides access via the world wide web to over 11 million Medline citations dating from the mid-1960s to the present. It covers 4300 journals devoted to medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, healthcare systems, and the preclinical sciences. PubMed also provides access to life science journals that are not indexed by Medline but have submitted their full text to PubMed Central (see below).

    As well as providing access to these abstracts and citations, PubMed links to more than 2000 websites that provide full text articles (figure). Access to these full text articles usually entails registration, subscription fees, or some other form of payment, although is free.

    In the four years since PubMed was …

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