The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) plans to discontinue a specialty database dedicated to alcohol research, saying it is largely duplicative of other information repositories. But many researchers and librarians say that NIAAA's ETOH Alcohol and Alcohol Problems Science Database is a unique resource that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
Diane Miller, a spokesperson for NIAAA, said that ETOH is currently indexing about 400 publications a month; to stay current would require adding more mainstream journals, which increasingly are publishing alcohol-related research. “That does cost more money, but that's not what made us make this decision,” she said. “The real issue is that there's duplication.”
A recent evaluation by NIAAA concluded that at least 73 percent of ETOH entries are journal articles, and that 72 of the 112 medical journals abstracted in the ETOH database are also available through the National Library of Medicine's Medline/PubMed database — like ETOH, a resource available free to the public. Miller said that less than 5 percent of the articles in the ETOH database were from journals unique to ETOH.
“Only about four of the unique journals had significance,” said Miller, who said NIAAA would ask the National Library of Medicine to add those to Medline/PubMed. She added that some of the non-journal materials currently compiled by ETOH, such as NIAAA's own research monographs, would be available through the National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information (NCADI).
Miller also said that while ETOH would no longer be updated, it would be archived as a historical resource for researchers.
The bottom line, however, is that researchers will lose a “one-stop-shopping” database on alcohol. Miller acknowledged that some publications currently available through ETOH will no longer be available through Medline, NCADI, or other databases.
“The idea that ETOH is duplicative of Medline/PubMed is ludicrous,” said Andrea Mitchell, MLS, director of the Alcohol Research Group Library in Berkeley, Calif., and executive director of the Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists (SALIS). She noted, for example, that ETOH indexes nearly all of the 50-plus English-language alcohol specialty journals published, while PubMed indexes just 16.
Mitchell said that ETOH, which abstracts foreign-language journals and other specialty publications not available on Medline, is a valued resource to researchers worldwide. “There is no other alcohol database like it in the world,” said Mitchell, adding that ETOH may be NIAAA's most visible and valued contribution to the international research community.
Mitchell was among the prominent researchers and SALIS members who recently wrote to NIAAA Director Ting Kai Li to request that the ETOH database be preserved. “With a 30-year investment and thousands of users, not to mention the hundreds of thousands who are impacted by this issue, we are perplexed as to why this decision has been made,” Mitchell wrote.
Robin Room, director of the Center for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs at Stockholm University in Sweden, told Join Together that he uses ETOH “at least six times a day in my research and writing.”
“A resource like ETOH is particularly important for social science and policy researchers, who are not as well served as biomedical researchers by medically oriented databases, who often report original research in books and chapters and not just journal articles, and whose articles typically draw on a wider range of sources and on studies over a longer time-period than biomedical articles,” Room said. “For us, PubMed and such services, despite all their virtues, are simply inadequate in their coverage.”
Penny Page, director of information services at the Center for Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, called the announcement of ETOH's termination “very disturbing.”
“NIAAA's funding is supposed to support alcohol research,” said Page. “The way to do that is to support the documentation of that research. If they drop this task then they really are kind of dropping the ball.”