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Science on the Web: Authoritative Yet Free Resources
By
Volume 42, Number 3 - May/June 2018

HEALTH AND MEDICINE

One of the most common types of questions asked via web search engines concerns health and medicine. People routinely consult Google before asking for their doctors’ opinion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC; cdc.gov) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM; nlm.nih.gov), both U.S. government resources, contain authoritative information that even your doctor will trust.

Strep throat. Epilepsy. Shingles. We all have questions about common and not-so-common maladies that affect people’s lives. Fortunately, there is a solid health authority that provides medical information in layman’s language. The CDC is an operating component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, providing freely accessible information on health and medicine. The CDC’s Diseases and Conditions index is an A–Z database of maladies, providing extensive resources regarding treatment, research, and statistics. PDF reports, articles, and brochures related to these conditions are easily downloaded. For instance, the information page for influenza also contains information regarding symptoms, treatments, and methods to prevent the flu, including vaccination information. The website provides large amounts of data about the flu, including mapping which states have low, moderate, or high flu activity, as well as data revealing influenza-associated hospitalizations and deaths. The CDC includes many PDFs in Spanish.

The NLM, an operation of the National Institutes of Health, is the biggest biomedical library in the world. The NLM provides multiple medical databases for public use, including the ever-popular PubMed (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed), as well as MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov), ClinicalTrials.gov, and TOXNET (toxnet.nlm.nih.gov). A recent PubMed search for aortic stenosis resulted in 50,123 results in peer-reviewed medical literature. One click narrows this to 12,080 freely available full-text articles, and a second click narrows these results even further, to 4,431 freely available full-text articles published in the last 5 years. ClinicalTrials.gov provides data regarding hundreds of thousands of clinical studies. For instance, you can view the results of a mindfulness-based stress reduction trial for Gulf War Syndrome, as conducted by the Veterans Affairs (VA) Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle. MedlinePlus is a user-friendly digital encyclopedia of symptoms, conditions, drugs, and supplements. TOXNET chronicles the empirical studies that detail the toxicity of chemicals, such as nicotinic acid and asbestos.

THE NATURAL WORLD

Science isn’t limited to peer-reviewed articles. The Macaulay Library (macaulaylibrary.org) is a crowdsourced compendium of birds and other wildlife. The University of Florida Herbarium (floridamuseum.ufl.edu/herbarium) expands your knowledge of plants, while The Linnean Society of London (linnean-online.org) shows off its collection of biological specimens.

What kind of nuthatch is that? The Macaulay Library, part of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, is one of the world’s great collections of wildlife multimedia. This online resource indexes millions of photographs, video recordings, and sound recordings from thousands of different species. While the collection’s largest contribution is in ornithology, the library also provides online media for thousands of amphibian, mammal, arthropod, and fish species. A simple catalog search for blue jay returns more than 10,000 images, 822 sound recordings, and 71 videos. Videos and sound recordings play conveniently in the browser, a great resource for wildlife identification. The library catalogs each image and recording, so users know when the image was added and its geographic location. Each image has a credit to its author. The results can be filtered by place and date, as well as by specimen age and sex.

The University of Florida Herbarium, developed by the Florida Museum of Natural History, has an excellent database of botanical specimens. The online database includes 100,000-plus plant specimens and many thousands of images. You can search for specimens by family or genus name. Results can be narrowed by country, state, and county. Fortunately, the collection contains a common name database, allowing you to locate poison ivy as opposed to Toxicodendron radicans. Database records include specimen images and taxonomic data. The herbarium also includes an imaging database, where you can browse the collection’s images. In the digital imaging projects database, you can perform a targeted search or browse by themes, including endangered plant species in the United States or insectivorous Florida plants. The herbarium is a great reference for plant identification.

The Linnean Society of London, founded in 1788, is a premier scientific community. The Society has an excellent online collection of biological specimens, providing high-quality photographs and historical depictions of thousands of specimens. Browse species of plants, fish, and insects on the site. Metadata associated with each specimen identifies its family, genus, and species. The works of important scientists, including James Edward Smith and Alfred Russel Wallace, are also available online, allowing researchers to digitally comb through these handwritten manuscripts. An advanced search option gives researchers a focused tool to search for specimens by order, family, genus, and species.


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Jeffrey Meyer is library director, Mount Pleasant Public Library.

 

Comments? Contact the editors at editors@onlinesearcher.net

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