Update on “abortion”/POPLINE

From Women’s Health News, April 4.

Today, Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH (Dean of the School at Hopkins) has released a statement detailing the events and indicating that the ability to search the database for “abortion” will be restored.

Dr. Klag notes:

I was informed this morning that the word “abortion” was blocked as a search term in the POPLINE family planning database administered by the Bloomberg School’s Center for Communication Programs. POPLINE provides evidence-based information on reproductive health and family planning and is the world’s largest database on these issues.

USAID, which funds POPLINE, found two items in the database related to abortion that did not fit POPLINE criteria. The agency then made an inquiry to POPLINE administrators. Following this inquiry, the POPLINE administrators at the Center for Communication Programs made the decision to restrict abortion as a search term.

I could not disagree more strongly with this decision, and I have ordered that the POPLINE administrators restore “abortion” as a search term immediately. I will also launch an inquiry to determine why this change occurred.

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge and not its restriction.”

Abortion? No such thing

Try ‘post-conception fertility control’.   Women’s Health News writes:

entering “abortion” as a search term in the POPLINE database now returns zero results because of a move by the database personnel to block that search. For background, POPLINE is “the world’s largest database on reproductive health, containing citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues.” The librarian who noted the problem inquired about it, and was informed that it wasn’t a simple technical glitch; the response she received was, “We recently made all abortion terms stop words. As a [US] federally funded project, we decided this was best for now.” f you’re not familiar with “stop words,” they are typically words like “a,” “an,” and “the” that are omitted automatically from the search, because they is assumed to have no added value or meaning. Suffice it to say, it’s quite unusual for a word with “real” meaning to be a stop word, especially one so relevant to the resource being searched.

Wow. It is now impossible to get a decent search of POPLINE using ‘abortion’ as a search term. And the way this was accomplished is fascinating: the system was set to treat it like ‘a’ or ‘the’. But there are ways around this block on searching, if you know what you’re doing (which you can check out in the full email correspondence at Crooks and Liars). Here’s one they suggest:

In addition to the terms you’re already using, you could try using ‘Fertility Control, Postconception’.

Now there’s a fabulous euphemism. In case it needs stating: this is quite a stunning situation. A US-government funded reproductive rights database has decided that “for now” it’s best to block people from searches using the word ‘abortion’. Add it to the list of the many ways in which the current US government wants to make accurate reproductive scientific information hard to obtain. Thanks, ProfBigK!