An odd stopword: “abortion”

7 04 2008

From several resources, including and Women’s Health News

First it was noticed by medical librarians, then it went out on librarian list-servs, medical librarians wrote to the media, contacted women’s groups and went online.

It only happened last week that several librarians noticed that entering “abortion” as a search term in the POPLINE database returned zero results. On inquiry it appeared that all abortion terms were made stop words. Stop words are words like “a”, “on” and “the” that are ignored from the search. Usually only very extremely commonwords are left out in order to speed up searches (no indexing required). Abortion however is a very meaningful word especially in the POPLINE database, which provides evidence-based (!) information on reproductive health and family planning and is the world’s largest database on these issues.

Why was “abortion” blocked from the database, because this was what essentially happened?

It is assumed that abortion was removed under political pressure. POPLINE is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which has rules against using federal funds for any activity that lobbies for abortion. Or as Dean Giustini puts it: a lack of transparency and openness in organizations does arise when targeted donated funds are attached to projects with conditions.

Dean also brings into remembrance that POPLINE once belonged to PubMed. He states “that the decision to remove POPLINE from PubMed in 2001 was a poor decision, a Bush era decision. If POPLINE content were merged into MEDLINE we wouldn’t have this problem”.

Luckily -under media pressure- the block was removed Friday afternoon.



One response

11 04 2008
Banning “abortion” in POPLINE now in BMJ « Laika’s MedBiBLog

[…] controversial affair of “abortion” being deleted as a search-term from POPLINE (see previous item on this blog) is covered in the latest issue of BMJ: BMJ 2008;336:792-793 (12 […]

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