Chemical Concerns : What is in My Makeup?

I was at the Ann Arbor YMCA the other day and overheard two women questioning the safety of chemicals used in makeup and other over the counter personal products. This conversation was prompted by someone’s sunscreen running into their eyes, making them partially blind for a few minutes, causing her to wonder if there are any chemicals in there she should be really worried about. I thought I would do a search for information about the safety of chemicals in makeup and share my results since it seems to be something people are interested in:

  1. A good place to start is this FDA Fact Sheet article. It’s a quick two page PDF that has excellent tips on makeup use and regulation.
  2. put out this great guide to cosmetics. It answers questions like “what’s in cosmetics” and “how can I protect myself against the dangers cosmetics?”
  3. Interested in how the government regulates cosmetics? Check out this informative website on the process.
  4. Here’s an entire webpage dedicated to the safety of eye cosmetics. Anyone who has spent the day with irritated eyes might find this very useful
  5. Test your knowledge and take this FDA online quiz. I took the quiz and got several wrong- you might be surprised by the answers too!

Those are just a few links to get you started. MedlinePlus always has tons of material on health issues too. Check out this page if any of your questions are still unanswered!

Up and Coming: Google Glass Used in Autopsies?

Is this the future yet? There’s been another potential discovery of use for Google Glass in medicine: autopsies and post-mortem examinations. An Article titled “Google Glass for Documentation of Medical Findings: Evaluation in Forensic Medicine” explored the use of hassle free photography from investigators.

Taking photos during autopsies has been a challenging for forensic scientists, so this study wanted to see if the images generated by Google Glass were a valid substitution for traditional photos.  Turns out, the photos are of pretty good quality and were generally judged to be a suitable replacement. There were a few issues though..

First, Google Glass doesn’t have a zoom feature. Result: investigators sometimes had to get too close for comfort to their photograph subjects. Second, battery life was a hindered long term use. These are, of course, problems that could be solved with Glass upgrades of the future but are obstacles at present.

Another article dealing with this potential application also questioned the ability to use Glass to record audio during portions of the exam. Or possibly using Glass for broadcasting to educational settings for in-training surgeons. There are lots of places to learn about Glass and medicine, like here or here. Enjoy.

H-Index: Google Scholar vs. Scopus vs. Web of Science

Wondering the best way to calculate an H-Index? You’re not alone! There was some recent chatter on a medical librarian listserv about methods and inclusion differences between Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science. It was some new information for me, so I thought I’d share.

First, what exactly is an h-index? It’s a calculation of a researchers importance based on productivity and importance in the field, where “productivity” is number of publications and “importance in the field” is the number of times cited by other researchers. It’s particularly useful as an impact tool because it discounts the disproportionate weight of highly cited papers or papers that have not yet been cited. An h-index provides a method of comparing researchers within a field, but does a poor job comparing researchers across fields. 

There are three main places (that I know of!) to get an h-index report: Google Scholar, Scopus and Web of Science. 

Google Scholar

To get an h-index from Google Scholar, go to “My Citations” at the top of the Scholar homepage. Once you’ve collected your publications in your profile, you can calculate your number. It will also generate some useful graphs that show trends in citations over time. What’s interesting about Scholar is that it will give you slightly higher numbers due to their looser criteria for inclusion. If you calculate your h-index on Scholar, make sure to check it against other places to make sure you’re in the right range.


The process for calculating an h-index is relatively simple in Scopus and there’s a ton of great how-to info at the Taubman Research Guide. The thing that’s worth noting with Scopus is that it only considers articles published after 1995. So, if you’ve published before 1995, this citation analysis probably won’t give you an accurate portrayal because it won’t include all citations. Scopus also have journal citation reports, which can be handy in identifying high impact journals. 

Web of Science

Like Scopus, check out this great Taubman research guide for instruction on getting started. According to this really interesting paper, and my own personal observation, there doesn’t tend to be a large difference between Web of Science and Scopus. There are differences depending on discipline though. For example, Scopus indexes more high impact theoretical computer science conference series, which accounts for lower h-indexes in WOS than in Scopus. 

It’s also worth mentioning that an h-index gives a very limited view of research impact because it doesn’t take into account other ways that researchers can have effect change in their disciplines. Altmetrics seeks to address this issue. To learn more about altmetrics, check out this blog post, or this one specifically about Scopus and altmetrics

Newsflash (sorta): Wikipedia is a Big Deal!

In case you haven’t heard (or used your common sense and figured this one out already), Wikipedia is the leading source for health information on the internet for both providers and patients. 50% of users went to Wikipedia when they identified a gap in their knowledge base, especially when it comes to more severe conditions like tuberculous. People also went to Wikipedia to get information on drugs they’d be prescribed, but this behavior seems to be highly correlated with the age of the patient. According to the study, older patients seem to be less likely to search for health immediately, but eventually went online to do searches.

Wikipedia is a tricky area for information professionals (in my opinion, anyway) because it is SO pervasive and can contain truly high level information. For example, one course at UCSF Medical School is based completely around editing Wikipedia articles to reflect the best medical knowledge available. They started with editing articles that were the most read and those with the greatest health impact, and worked from there to improve the quality of the articles by adding citations or more information when necessary.

On the other hand, Wikipedia can contain dubious information that lacks cited evidence or doesn’t fully capture multiple viewpoints. The Wikipedia community does a lot to minimize these issues, but it’s still important to remember that reading Wikipedia without a critical point of view can be hazardous.

To me, there are two things any type of professional (medical, information, etc.) can be doing in response to the high levels of use of Wikipedia:

  1. Get on Wikipedia as an editor and contributor!! I recently had the pleasure of working with a graduate social work course at UM on contributing to their field’s presence in Wikipedia and it was empowering to know that we can impact the knowledge base in positive ways.
  2. Teach information literacy skills in evaluation and critical appraisal. This is a much harder than creating a Wikipedia account and dedicating a few hours a week to editing. In spite of the challenges of teaching meaningful evaluation skills, its imperative to helping users who are already using imperfect information sources to more effectively learn what they need to know.

Endangered Species Watch: The Hospital Library

There’s been a lot of chatter lately on the seemingly steady stream of hospital library closures lately. It seems every month or so there’s an email on the medical library listserv relaying the news of a closure, the most recent of which has caused quite a bit of conversation on what can be done.

There’s been a lot of discussion, but Michelle Kraft of the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Library published a blog post the other day that I thought spoke to these important issues. You can read her original post here, but my major takeaway from her post was the importance of advocacy and organizing. I think librarians are acutely aware of these strategies, but she also addressed the importance of going out to where our patrons area- to their meetings, conferences and journals- and publishing/speaking/presenting in those venues. In my experience, librarians LOVE sharing, but a lot of the sharing we do takes place among ourselves. I appreciate Michelle’s viewpoint that we must pair that with actively seeking opportunities to share our research and ideas with the people we’re trying to reach.

Taubman’s own Jane Blumenthal, Director and Associate University Librarian, took a similar viewpoint in an editorial in the  January 2014 issue of the Journal of the Medical Librarian Association. Many of the underlying themes are the same. Essentially, figure out where your patrons are, and be there meeting their information needs and proving your worth. The editorial goes onto explain how this works in the realm of education, research and patient care. For more details, read the whole article here.

Another shared characteristic of these viewpoints on closing libraries is the importance of staying sharp and visible to users, and getting there by any means necessary. My new mantra (pulled from Jane’s Editorial):

“Never begin a sentence with ‘I didn’t go to graduate school to…’”


Searching Your Symptoms: Three Things You Should Know


Internet by The Noun Project, Public Domain

We all search our symptoms. We want to understand what’s happening to our health and figure out what the next steps are. Rest and fluids? A trip to the doctor’s office? There’s lots of debate on the implications of this common practice, so I’ve singled out three things that the literature tells us to be very careful of when searching while sick

  1. There’s a decent chance the internet will misdiagnose you. A recent article published suggests that only 14% of websites gave a correct diagnosis after searching Google, Bing and Ask for common diagnoses. The majority of websites included the correct diagnosis as a potential culprit, but few singled out the correct condition.
  2. Your searches are personalized to YOU. Also known as the Filter Bubble, many of the major search engines track what you’ve searched and tailor your search results to you. In other words, two people could search the same symptoms but get different answers. We know that the major search engines do this, but I don’t think anyone knows the extent of it. Last November I was in a classroom with about 20 students who conducted an identical search in Google and all received nearly identical results, with the exception of users who visit primarily websites written in a different language (their results were all in their preferred language). Take this little “experiment” with a grain of salt, of course.
  3. Your searches might be used for secondary research. This one isn’t necessarily bad, just something we should to be aware of. Google Flu calculates flu trends by keeping track of the number of people who search the flu and all it’s flu-like symptoms. What does this mean for you? Google is keeping track of what you are searching and using that data for secondary purposes, in this case Google Flu.

Next time you do a bit of web-sleuthing and Google your symptoms, keep in mind that your results are likely biased and imperfect!

Accessibility in Libraries: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

As libraries become increasing virtual and continue to innovate physical spaces (much like THL!), they are able to increase their accessibility for people who have disabilities. Many libraries are taking great steps in ensuring accessibility to collections and spaces, but there are many improvements still needed. A major step forward for the ability of libraries to serve people who have disabilities was the recent Authors Guild v. Hathi Trust verdict that allows for more scanning of items that can be preserved and shared. The alternative is scanning a new copy for each request, which can take a long time.

We’re also seeing more vendors and platforms designing their products for greater use among all users. For example, text-to-speech and optical character recognition (OCR) are being used more commonly in databases and websites. These changes are making a difference for a lot of users, but librarians and library users need to continue making noise to encourage more change.

For more information, check out this great article.

Barriers to Use of Evidence in Policy: A New Systematic Review

The relationship between policy and science leaves much to be desired. Policy decisions don’t always reflect the best scientific evidence available for a variety of reasons. An updated systematic review was published that explored these barriers in an effort to understand the greatest obstacles in integrating science and policy.

According to the systematic review that looked at 145 new studies and other systematic reviews, the most frequently reported barriers were “poor access to good quality relevant research, and a lack of timely research output.” These barriers are understandable considering journal pay walls and the inevitable lag time in academic publishing. The study found that the most successful uses of evidence came from personal relationships between researchers and policymakers.

Creating an atmosphere of collaboration and open exchange between scientific and policy environments could facilitate a great expansion of the use of evidence in policy decisions by eliminating the need for policymakers to access and read long, difficult reports. Collaboration has it’s own challenges though, especially the lack of transparency in the policy making or implementation process.


Science in the News: Stop Taking Multivitamins

This blog post has two themes: 1.) Recent studies show that taking multivitamins doesn’t actually have any positive impact on health outcomes 2.) Isn’t it annoying how science is reported in the news?

This morning as I was going through my twitter feed, I followed a tweet from the Detroit Free Press that said “Stop wasting money on vitamins, supplements, report says” with a link to an article about an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine that describes recent studies on taking the actual effects of taking multivitamins. The article in the Detroit Free Press started with a summary of the editorial, then gave a few quotes from the respected Johns Hopkins researcher who authored the piece, Eliseo Guallar. Finally, after at least 250 words (and everyone moving on to another article), they discussed the studies that this bold proclamation is based on.

Sure, journalism needs to get to the point fast. And they need to provide personality and human voices in their pieces. And they can’t be perceived as providing medical advice. But, my question is: does that have to be done at the expense of providing rigorous and evaluative background of the studies on which claims are based? As medicine shifts to being very evidence based, shouldn’t media coverage reflect this shift by moving away from heavy reliance on authoritative voices and towards reporting on actual studies? Especially since most people can’t or won’t read original studies that sit behind pay walls. I believe it’s the responsibility of journalists to bring that information to the forefront.

In this particular case, lending authoritative voices to these studies doesn’t do any real harm since the studies are pretty rigorous- a systematic review and two large scale cohort studies- but that’s not always the case. For example, remember that study that claimed to prove the link between autism and vaccines that couldn’t stand up to any form of critical appraisal, and yet created a media frenzy? Many journalists failed to report on the validity and reliability of the study’s findings, and it did real harm to their readers.

To conclude, this is a lament for more science in our science. In addition to highlighting findings, it’s also important to highlight the process!

Yelp Partnering with Libraries to Improve Online Information

OCLC, in an effort to give libraries better online presence, is partnering with Yelp to increase the information about libraries in Yelp records. To do this, Yelp is pulling data from OCLC Library Spotlight program to supplement existing information about libraries.  Anything missing from a record, like hours, phone numbers, addresses and much more, has a significantly better shot at being in Yelp since it’s pulling from one centralized place.

The OCLC Library Spotlight program is a free service where any library can add, delete or update it’s profile on one site, and those changes will be reflected in the many places that OCLC feeds information, like Yelp. OCLC hopes to build more partnerships in an effort to provide and promote a convenient way for libraries to update their information for multiple locations.

This press release has more information about the exciting partnership.