Appraisal of: Fangerau HC. Finding European bioethical literature: An evaluation of the leading abstracting and indexing services. J Med Ethics 2004; 30 (3): 299–303.

Short description: 

The aim of the article is to ascertain indexing of medical ethics publications in commonly used bibliographic databases. The purpose of the author is to introduce a set of databases which provides the highest possible quantity of bioethical journal publications to researchers as well as the added value of each database considered.

The article provides information on the methods of collecting the existing Medical Ethics journals, the searching for coverage of these by bibliographic abstract and indexing services, the evaluation results, and finally the conclusions for doing literature searches on medical ethics journal publications.

The search for Medical Ethics journals yielded in 290 periodicals. Thereof 173 journals (60%) were identified in at least one of the considered databases; the remaining journals were not indexed. The highest coverage rates were found in Current Contents (23%) and Medline (22%). A maximum quantity of Medical Ethics journals (45%) was obtained when combining the 10 databases with the highest coverage: Current Contents, MEDLINE, Research Alert, Social Sciences Citation Index, EMBASE, AgeLine, CINAHL, E-psyche, Sociological Abstracts, and Family Index.

A tendency to index more North American than European journals was observed (=bias). EMBASE seems to cover the highest number of European journals.

However, the author recommends that “a medical ethics literature search has to be carried out in several databases in order to reach an adequate collection of literature.”

Limitations stated by the author(s): 
  • The analyzed set of journals is a representative sample, not the whole range of journals possibly comprising articles on medical ethics.
  • Current Contents cites literature from the last five years.
Limitations stated by the reviewer(s): 
No national / supranational services (as European databases) were included in the study. Due to the high turnover in existing relevant journals as well as indexing services (e.g. Current Contents now is part of the ISI Web of Science) the presented results couldn’t be reproduced in detail today. Nevertheless the main results and the recommendations are still valid.
Study Type: 
Single study