Google Scholar

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Google Scholar is a database which makes the task of researching a specific topic in the medical literature considerably easier as search results are weighted based on several key features. [1]

The most important difference is that instead of an untargeted keyword search, Google Scholar produces results in a manner similar to the Page Rank algorithm used by the main Google search engine. In this system, a web site which is frequently linked to will appear higher in the search results than a website which is rarely linked to. In a similar fashion, a journal article which is frequently cited by other scholarly works will appear higher in the search results. There is similar consideration given to more popular authors and journals. This tends to make it easier for users to find the most referenced articles on a given topic, which are felt to be more useful than those which are less referenced. Searches can be customized by Boolean strings and other modifiers. Google Scholar will also provide direct links to full text articles in a user's library collection. [4]

When the National Library of Medicine released Medline to institutional users in 1972 it was so popular that it had to charge fees in an attempt to control the overwhelming demand. [1] Ready ability to search the medical literature has been one of the foundations of the evidence-based medicine revolution which changed the face of medicine in the past several decades.

However, as the size of Medline continues to grow, now having become the largest bioinormatics database in the world containing over 19 million citations[2], it has become increasingly difficult to effectively search this database. Searching for "myocardial infarction" returns 158,375 abstracts, limiting the usefulness of the database for clinicians, as obtaining focused information requires complex searches.[3] Entire textboks and courses are directed exclusively to the "art" of Medline queries.

The downsides of this resource include what is felt to be a less complete snapshot of the medical literature compared to Medline as a whole, less transparency about what is contained in the search database, a lack of transparency about how the search engine algorithm, and the absence of advanced search feature support (nested Boolean searches, publication-type limits, etc).[5] In addition, some authors criticize the tendency of older, more cited articles to predominate in search results. [6]

Overall, Google Scholar can be a useful tool in the researcher's armamentarium but it does not have the scope or comprehensiveness of the impressively large yet unwieldy Medline database. Despite these limitations, Google Scholar provides a valuable alternative method for the average medical user to obtain focused, usable information from the medical literature.

Submitted by (Shawn London, MD)


  1. Bourne C. A History of Online Information Services, 1963-1976. MIT Press, 2004.
  2. Mayer D. Essential Evidence-Based Medicine. Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  3. Website:
  4. Website:
  5. Vine R. Google Scholar. J Med Libr Assoc. Jan 2006; 94(1): 97-99
  6. Henderson J. Google Scholar: A Source For Clinicians? CMAJ. 2005 June 7; 172 (12): 1549-1550