med search engine now blocks "abortion"

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006
med search engine now blocks "abortion"
Thu, 04-03-2008 - 8:47pm

One of my daughters just brought this to my attention.



iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006
Sat, 04-05-2008 - 12:19am

New York Times:

April 5, 2008

Health Database Was Set Up to Ignore ‘Abortion’

WASHINGTONJohns Hopkins University said Friday that it had programmed its computers to ignore the word “abortion” in searches of a large, publicly financed database of information on reproductive health after federal officials raised questions about two articles in the database. The dean of the Public Health School lifted the restrictions after learning of them.

A spokesman for the school, Timothy M. Parsons, said the restrictions were enforced starting in February.

Johns Hopkins manages the population database known as Popline with money from the Agency for International Development.

Popline is the world’s largest database on reproductive health, with more than 360,000 records and articles on family planning, fertility and sexually transmitted diseases.

Mr. Parsons said the development agency had expressed concern after finding “two articles about abortion advocacy” in the database. The articles, he said, did not fit database criteria and were removed.

Employees who manage the database instructed their computers to ignore the word “abortion” as a search term.

After learning of the restrictions on Friday, the dean, Dr. Michael J. Klag, said: “I could not disagree more strongly with this decision, and I have directed that the Popline administrators restore ‘abortion’ as a search term immediately. I will also launch an inquiry to determine why this change occurred.”

The school is named for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, a Hopkins alumnus who has given millions of dollars to the university and the school.

Dr. Klag said the school was “dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, and not its restriction.”

Ted Miller, a spokesman for Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, said: “The public has a right to know why someone would censor relevant medical information. The Bush administration has politicized science as part of an ideological agenda. So it’s important to know if that occurred here.”

A woman answering telephones at the Agency for International Development said officials were not available because they were at a retreat.

Librarians at the Medical Center of the University of California, San Francisco, expressed concern about the restrictions this week after they had difficulty retrieving articles from Popline.

In an e-mail response on Tuesday, Johns Hopkins told the librarians that “abortion” was no longer a valid search term.

“We recently made all abortion terms stop words,” Debra L. Dickson, a Popline manager, wrote. “As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.”

Ms. Dickson suggested that instead of using “abortion,” librarians could use other terms like “fertility control, postconception” or “pregnancy, unwanted.”

Gail L. Sorrough, director of medical library services at the medical center in San Francisco, said it was absurd to restrict searches using “a perfectly good noun such as ‘abortion.’


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-17-2007
Sat, 04-05-2008 - 12:24am
That's better. Although there really isn't a ton of insight into why this was done as a seemingly covert operation.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006
Sat, 04-05-2008 - 12:27am

Did your friend know about it?

The Dean has since instructed Popline's administrators to restore "abortion" as a search term.


iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006
Sat, 04-05-2008 - 12:48am

~Although there really isn't a ton of insight into why this was done as a seemingly covert operation.~

I gather until the inquiry there will be questions.


Tim Parsons, spokesman for the school, said USAID officials found two items in the POPLINE database that were related to abortion advocacy - which does not meet the criteria for publication in the database. Agency officials asked that they be removed, and they were.

After that inquiry, POPLINE administrators made the decision to restrict abortion as a search term, Klag (Dr. Michael J. Klag, Bloomberg's dean)


iVillage Member
Registered: 08-31-2004
Sat, 04-05-2008 - 12:29pm

The employees responsible should be sacked. What a gross misuse of their responsibility and power.

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iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006
Wed, 04-09-2008 - 12:42am

Just to follow up:

Magazine Led to Database's 'Abortion' Search Block

by Brenda Wilson

Audio for this story will be available at approx. 9:00 a.m. ET

Morning Edition, April 9, 2008 · An inquiry into why the world's largest database on reproductive health blocked searches using the term "abortion" has found the restriction was put in place because of articles from an abortion advocacy magazine available on the site.

The block was an "overreaction," says Michael Klag, the dean of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, which maintains the POPLINE database. When Klag learned that the search function for abortion had been removed, he ordered it restored. The block was taken down Friday afternoon.

Klag says the seven articles that triggered the restriction in late February were from an issue of A, the Abortion Magazine, which is published by Ipas, an international reproductive rights organization.

Ipas' executive director, Anu Kumar, says she knew about the block but didn't know it had anything to do with Ipas.

"We are disappointed," Kumar says. "We know that 40 million abortions take place every year and nearly 20 million of them are unsafe. Women are literally dying while we're dithering about these words."

The issue in question focused on abortion as a human rights issue and profiled abortion rights advocates around the world.

The federal agency that funds POPLINE, the U.S. Agency for International Development, cannot by law support abortion activities. Sandra Jordan of USAID says abortion statistics and research are acceptable. But she says the agency did have problems with some materials on the site.

"The materials on POPLINE about which USAID made its inquiries were abortion advocacy materials Afterward, POPLINE administration made the decision to restrict 'abortion' as a search term," Jordan says.

She says USAID did not ask POPLINE to limit searches.

The block was discovered by medical librarians doing routine searches.

After Gloria Won, a librarian at the University of San Francisco, conducted a search on abortion for researchers using POPLINE, she told her boss what was happening.

"(Won) was doing an update of the search in the database and she noticed a discrepancy in the retrieval," says Gail Sorrough, UCSF director of medical library services. "She got fewer citations than the first time she ran the search, which was unusual."

Sorrough says that Won then contacted POPLINE and asked if there had been any changes in the database and the administrator replied that, yes, they had decided to turn the term abortion into a "stop word."

A "stop word" is something like "a," "an" and "the." Search engines ignore stop words.

"The average user would go to the database, and you would throw in abortion and you would get zero," says Sorrough, who complained to POPLINE's administrator and then spread word of the block.

"Because abortion is a perfectly good noun, there's nothing wrong with it," she says. "And we sent it out to some library list-servs so medical librarians would know about this, and it just spiraled after that."


iVillage Member
Registered: 03-07-2007

"over-reaction" is a bit of an understatement, IMO.


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iVillage Member
Registered: 10-17-2006