Clinical Reader, a Fancy New Aggregator – But All is not Gold that Glitters

3 08 2009

Before I went on vacation (July 14th) I started a blogpost about Clinical Reader, a new aggregator. However, a Twitter riot -started July 13th- drastically changed my view of Clinical reader and I decided to await further developments till my return. Alas, things have only worsened.

The adapted blogpost consists of two parts: a neutral look from the outside (original draft) and a look behind the scenes: how social media and web 2.0 tools should not be used.

I submit this post to the Grand Rounds, not only to inform you about a potential fancy aggregator, but also to warn potential users to “look before you leap”.

Please note that the figures shown in the first part are all screendumps taken at July 13th or earlier and might no longer exist in this form (note added after publication, as all sentences in this color)


Earlier this year (see post) I compared PeRSSonalized Medicine, a new aggregator, created by Bertalan Meskó to various other aggregators: Amedeo, MedWorm and Libworm, Netvibes, I-Google and RSS-Readers, (i.e.) Google Reader.

Most of these readers (can) track medical journals or news, some (can) also track blog posts and web 2.0 tools (like PeRSSonalized Medicine and MedWorm).  PeRSSonalized Medicine excels by the input from the readers (doctors, health 2.0 people and patients), Amadeo and especially Medworm have large lists of journals to choose from. All these aggregators can be personalized. Of course Netvibes, I-Google and RSS-Readers give the utmost freedom in compiling list feeds, but one first has to learn how to use them. And although it is not difficult, it means a hurdle to many.

June 29th, a new aggregator was launched, Clinical Reader, specifically designed for busy clinicians to reduce the information overload.

1. From the Mission Statement:

We are building a user-friendly platform that will enable medical professionals around the world the ability to easily interact with the latest developments in their respective specialties. Our aim is to bring academic content together and create a semantic digital medical library.

10-7-2009 9-16-36 Clinical Reader node——————

2. What it is and what it isn’t.

Clinical Reader is website that syndicates content via RSS/Atom (aggregator), enabling busy clinicians to easily browse top medical journals, health news sources and multimedia without having a clue what RSS is about (and for free). The same is true for other aggregators discussed previously: PeRSSonalized Medicine, Amedeo and MedWorm. In fact the presentation of the feeds looks pretty similar (see Fig. for comparison of Clinical Reader and Perssonalized Medicine). Disadvantage of these kind of aggregators is that only the first items are shown, and as these often are editorials, comments, correspondence and news, the physician still has to follow the link to the journal to see most of the (true) articles.

3-8-2009 0-51-08 clinical reader vs pss medicine

In contrast to the aforementioned  services, the “RSS-feeds” of Clinical Reader cannot be personalized (a personal selection of journals). There is however the possibility to select an entire clinical section, each with its own selection of specialist journals. And according to Rashada Henry, associate editor of (commenting on Bertalan Mesko’s post), open or closed personal pages may become an option in due course.

10-7-2009 10-13-21 Clinical reader sections

3. What’s new?

As said, the idea isn’t new, Clinical Reader is an old concept in a new guise. But what a guise. It is a glimmering site with prints of the main journals on the home page. It has the appearance of an i-pod touch: you can scroll the sources with your mouse and click the ones you would like to read. Wow, I was immediately taken by it.

10-7-2009 9-21-33 Clinical Reader

4. Coverage

The emphasis is on medical journals and news. But there is also a page for with a selection of 14 Medical Blogs. There are also plans to include top Twitter doctors worth following (spreadsheet prepared by Ves Dimov, MD), for nurses, open access … and top medical librarians blogs (worth following for doctors). Following Ves’ example I made a spreadsheet of useful medical librarian blogs, open to editing here

The original spreadsheet looked like this:

10-7-2009 0-30-55 excel top medlib

The preview of the medical librarian page (how it would look when incorporated) looked like this.

10-7-2009 9-05-43

The address was: – but when I came back the link was dead?!….

The other side of the coin

Apart from the fact that the site was not as revolutionary as suggested, there were some basic things about the site that were of some concern. The “About us” section contains no names, picture, verifiable info, etc. It only says: “Clinical Reader was brought to life in 2009 by a junior doctor and a small group of forward thinking young tech programmers spread across London and Toronto.” Furthermore I wondered whether NLM would ever give stars to commercial tools like this. I wondered, but no more than that….

1. Starry ethics fail
Nikki Dettmar, a medical librarian at the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) did take a closer look. In a blogpost Starry ethics fail she says that:

it is with concern that I’ve heard about some of my colleagues promoting and collaborating with the newly launched company, Clinical Reader.

Why? (red scrawl emphasis mine)

This above-the-page-fold graphic is intentional (not accidental, this is clear marketing intent to lend quick visual credibility to the organization) and currently displayed everywhere (homepage, sections pages, multimedia page, the newsletter, etc.) throughout the resource.

It is bogus as far as the National Library of Medicine (NLM) is concerned since the U.S. Government doesn’t endorse or grant 5 stars to anything. The NLM Copyright Information page offers more elaboration, ….

Later Ben Goldacre (MD, columnist for the Guardian) concludes in a Twitter discussion regarding the endorsement by the Guardian (source

bengoldacre @ClinicalReader so youre supported by the guardian in the sense that you went to an event they organised and some people gave you sm advice? 2 weeks, 5 days ago from TweetDeck in reply to ClinicalReader

2. Infringement of copyright

Nikki was also the first to notice the use of two copyrighted, unattributed images:

Clinical Reader also currently uses two copyrighted images on their Partners (specific original source, copyright notice at bottom) and Advertising pages (from somewhere on Signalnoise). A ‘credit’ link to a source doesn’t honor an image copyright. (….) Commercial organizations can well afford to purchase or design their own graphics.

In a later post, Nikki also showed that the multimedia wrongfully used SpringerImages, that must not be (…) used for commercial purpose  including the placement or upload of the Licensed Content on a commercial entity’s internet website.

Peter Murray twittered to @allan marks, co-founder of Clinical Reader:

@allan_marks It seems your Clinical Reader radiology image ( was swiped from a Flickr user

In addition, the logo that was used by Clinical Reader to indicate the untangling of a maze of information (that I copied in my original draft above), was taken without permission from the website of FeedStitch where it was created by their designer Owen Shifflett. (see discussion).

You kind of wonder what wasn’t copied.

3-8-2009 5-06-36 feed stitch

3. Threat to Nikki (Eagledawg) via Twitter

For me the most astonishing event was the immature “response” of Clinical Reader to Nikki after publishing her first post with appropriate critique. It was in the from of a real threat.

Twitter response

From several sources I now  understand Clinical Reader also reacted kind of offensive to other librarians, including @DataG and lukelibrarian. One was warned “I will contact Twitter and have your accounts shut down. Stick with the real deal – EBSCO, Ovid .. etc” or something to that effect. @DataG (Murray) also found a version of a Clinical Reader newsletter, still catched by the Google search engine entitled: “wave goodbye to the library journal shelf”, which was later withdrawn. (source: Murray on Twitter as @DataGhis blog (6)) and


I immediately responded (while packing) to the initial threat and so did dozens of other medical librarians. Mostly on Twitter and Friendfeed, but also via their blogs (see below and Nikki’s blog). Some also retracted their initial support (i.e. see this mail of  Connie Schardt, who like many of us -including me- was “temporarily dazzled by the flashy display and ease of use of the product.”)

4. Change of Twitter-accounts, deleting tweets

Quite confusingly Twitter-accounts have been changed and deleted. First initials appeared after tweets to designate the person who tweeted for @clinicalreader, which I thought was a good thing. I followed @clinicalreader, but now the account was discontinued. The archive was kept at @clinical_tweets, which vanished as well. Now there is @clinical_reader, that states that tweeting has not really begun?? The only Clinical Reader account I know of is that of allan_marks. ALL previous tweets have been deleted. What remains are dm’s (direct messages) and tweets that are preserved by services like QuoteURL.
(for a detailed account of the switching of the original Twitter account’s name ‘at the speed of light’ see this blogpost of pegasuslibrarian)

It is all very confusing. Why would one do that other to conceal what has been said?

One salient detail. At their website Clinicalreader still refers to @clinicalreader, which is taken over by someone taking the opportunity to register the account when it moved to @clinical_tweets

3-8-2009 5-50-41 @clinicalreader

5. More lying

There are several examples of making up retweets (quoting someone), see here (@ClinicalReader “I didn’t RT anything from y’all. Y’all aren’t very good at the whole social media thing, huh?”-David Rothman) and here (@ClinicalReader – “Would you mind not attributing fabricated quotes to me please? I never said this: #ClinicalCheater“) (source: 6)

6. Denial

The behaviors of the ones in charge are so immature. It’s really unbelievable. You always have to take critique seriously, and if you choose to use social media and make a mistake, than apologize openly (see the blogpost of Peter Murray below, 7).

Look at this discussion with Ben Goldacre (thanks Nikki). It is really ridiculous, QuoteURL: one, two, three, and four. Clinical Reader is playing dumb.

I might not have been exhaustive, but I know enough for the moment. Also in my eyes, Clinical Reader has lost all its credibility.

In contrast to the massive protest of Medical Librarians only one doctor (Ben Goldacre) took a stand against Clinical Reader (see here).

Clinical Reader = zero stars: non-existent endorsements, threaten blogger, nasty and silly, avoid!

The others remained erily silent. Why?


More extensive reading:

  6. (in depth coverage by @dataG or Peter Murray)
  7. (excellent advice)
  9. (detailed coverage of deleting and changing accounts) (8-9 added after comment Steve Lawson)
  10. Friendfeed discussions:

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13 responses

3 08 2009
Steve Lawson

Nice coverage of this weirdness, and thanks for the link. I’d recommend two posts from Iris Jastram for your “more extensive reading” section:


3 08 2009
Dr Shock Md

Why we remain silent? Because we don’t use Clinical Reader most and for all because the information can not be personalized. And I think that most web savvy doctors use Google reader or it’s equivalents. Web savvy doctors are probably the aimed population.
Didn’t even know the rest of this excellent post, had some tweets seen passing by but was not that interested in Clinical Reader and trust you and your colleagues to do a good job as described in this post, kind regards Dr Shock

3 08 2009
Clinical Cases and Images - Blog

Excellent summary, as usual.

I would like to clarify the following sentence: “In contrast to the massive protest of Medical Librarians only one doctor (Ben Goldacre) took a stand against Clinical Reader (see here).”

Please see the excerpts from my blog below:

7/06/2009 is a useful medical RSS aggregator but why is it anonymous?

Updated 07/14/2009:
Apparently, the team of ClinicalReader advertised unverified endorsements on the website and had some issues with a few medical librarian bloggers. If interested in more details, please see the links below:
Clinical Reader: Starry ethics fail. Eagle Dawg Blog.
Malicious or stupid? You decide. Either way it doesn’t reflect well on Clinical Reader. (The) health informaticist.
Clinical Reader: from zero to negative sixty with one bogus threat. Steve Lawson.

Nicole Dettmar’s Open Letter to Clinical Reader — Unbelievable: – Again, if you claim an endorsements, link to the original source please.

The spreadsheet of “Top Twitter doctors worth following” is open to anybody to edit and is not associated with ClinicalReader. However, since it’s open source, anybody can use the file.

I have specifically asked ClinicalReader not to use my blog posts and tweets as endorsement on in any promotions. Anybody is free to syndicate a partial summary of my blogs RSS feeds however.

In general, as I point out with every medical new post: “Medical news tweets are not research articles – they are 140-character messages – please always go to the original source/links, etc. The inclusion of a Twitter update (tweet) does not represent endorsement or agreement of any kind. Tweets and links do not represent endorsement, approval or support.”

The excellent work by the medical librarians was featured appropriately in the blog posts and tweets above and is highly appreciated by the physicians interested in the topic (many of them don’t even know what an RSS reader is).

The optimal solution for me is assembling my own reading list in Google Reader:

3 08 2009

Thanks for this concise review of the situation. One minor correction: the image of the tangled threads that Clinical Reader used without prior permission was originally from the website of FeedStitch and created by their designer Owen Shifflett. Clinical Reader eventually removed that image. The Flickr image you link to, however, still appears on Clinical Reader’s Radiology page. Although I have not been able to confirm whether or not CR sought permission to use the image, what is evident is that (a) CR does not give credit to the original artist nor specify that the work was used by permission, and (b) CR violates Flickr’s community guidelines by failing to link back to the original work on Flickr.

3 08 2009

Another superb post. I commend all of our librarian friends (Nikki Dettmar in particular), as well as Dr Ben Goldacre, who have documented and investigated this messy affair. Apologies if you all have felt unsupported by the rest of us doctors.

I hope that those behind Clinical Reader can see that the way forward is to admit that errors have been made and start putting things right. Something like their concept, while not nearly as powerful as a customizable reader (for me anyway), could help the use of feed readers become more mainstream among our laggardly doctor colleagues. However, in my eyes, the reputation of Clinical Reader is now in tatters.

3 08 2009

Thank you all for your prompt replies.

Well at least (and much to my pleasure and relief), I’m wrong with respect to the lack of support of doctors: a reaction has already been given (thanks for the update @drves) and/or the disinterest is more a consequence of the little interest in the product itself. I agree with you all that other readers, especially Google Reader do a far better job. But I did think that Clinical Reader had something to offer to the less savvy doctor.

@Ves, I will follow your approach regarding the spreadsheet of “Top Twitter librarians worth following”, meaning that it is open to anybody to edit and no longer associated with ClinicalReader. Hopefully, Nikki will then rejoin the list. She truly belongs there.

Thanks for the compliment towards librarians who did the research, took a stand and weren’t scared off by malicious threats. Especially Nikki Dettmar (eagledawg) did a fantastic job. But I also admire the persistence and solidarity of the whole group.

Steve and Luke, thanks for the role you played in the the disclosures and for your corrections and supplementary information. I’ve made the corresponding amendments (blue/greenish color).

3 08 2009
A Cracking Grand Rounds! // Emergiblog

[…] Jacqueline at Laika’s MedLibLog notes that a new aggregator has some major issues in Clinical Reader, a Fancy New Aggregator – But All is Not Gold That Glitters. […]

4 08 2009
Juan Batista

Well done. As usual, a great read with lots of pertinent information. The mission statement is on point. I love how you point out that the emphasis is on medical journals and news. I look forward to more great reads from you. Thank you very much.

5 08 2009
A Cracking Grand Rounds | Dr Shock MD PhD

[…] must read on Laika’s MedLibLog Clinical Reader, a Fancy New Aggregator – But All is not Gold that Glitters. Or how the web 2.0 can mislead you and on the other hand can help discover misleading initiatives. […]

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[…] Clinical Reader, a Fancy New Aggregator – But All is not Gold that Glitters. Laika’s MedLibLog August 3, 2009.… […]

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[…] You can never tell how a new idea, or project or a new business will develop. We have seen Clinical Reader come and disappear. PeRSSonalized Medicine however really boomed. Why? Because it is free, because it has an […]

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