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JAMA 100 Years Ago
January 9, 2002


Author Affiliations

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2002;287(2):164. doi:10.1001/jama.287.2.164

The publishers of the Bibliographia Medica, the European successor to the Index Medicus, have issued a circular in which they state that unless they obtained 250 subscribers before December 31 last, at the newly raised annual subscription price of $24, they will have to suspend its publication. It would seem that there ought to be at least 250 who are sufficiently interested to pay the price, to say nothing of the public libraries to which it is so valuable. We have to remember, however, that this is only history repeating itself; the Index Medicus in its last years went through the same experience. The fact appears to be that medical literature is increasing and that the difficulty and expense of collecting and publishing its bibliography have correspondingly increased, while the number of those calling for it in its completeness is not enlarged in proportion. If the Bibliographia Medica goes under, as there seems to be reason to fear, we may conclude that what is demanded is not such a comprehensive all-exhausting bibliography, but rather a more limited and discriminating one. Much of the medical literature of the day, as indeed of all time, is ephemeral, and its preservation is, in itself, not a matter of importance. Much of it contains nothing new; some of what is novel is only error, and a great deal too much consists in duplication, triplication and still further multiplication of the repetitions of the same facts. There are authors who seem to think that reiteration is the only way to put their work before the profession and they do this so extensively and effectively that an astonishingly large amount of print is spread over a very limited modicum of fact. Sometimes the authors publish their articles unaltered in as many different publications as will receive them; sometimes they paraphrase them slightly or extensively, but make them cover the same facts. Some have a faculty of making a small amount of material go a long way and there are medical writers whose articles can not safely be briefed in summaries of current literature for this reason. When a subject becomes popular, so to speak, like appendicitis or tuberculosis at the present time, the amount of literature produced is appalling and the culling out of what is of value in it is itself a tremendous task. There is no medical or surgical subject of importance that has not its bibliography thus encumbered with a mass of papers which, while not always without an ephemeral utility as stimulants of discussion in medical societies, etc., have no lasting value and could well be spared from the literature. Their enumeration only confuses the investigator and wastes his time and energies in useless bookwork to his disadvantage. It will be a misfortune if the Bibliographia Medica is discontinued and if, as it appears may be the case, such publications can not succeed, let us hope that a less expensive and more discriminating one will have better reception. Even if Bibliographia Medica should cease its publication there would still be many resources for the student of medical literature remaining. What is being done in this country is well known, but it is of interest to note that similar plans of keeping up the record of local or national as well as general medical literature are being carried out abroad. The Revista Med. del Uruguay has undertaken the task of publishing an index of original articles appearing in its South American exchanges. The Rousski Vratch is doing the same for Russia. The Deutshe and the Muenchener medical weeklies review a large part of the contemporaneous field in Germany, and certain journals are accomplishing the same in their specialties for France. None of them, however, have appeared so far to even aim at the completeness with which current literature has been indexed in THE JOURNAL for the past two years. The usefulness of the German "Jahrbücher" has long been appreciated and with all the means at his command the medical worker of the present day has altogether unprecedented facilities.

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