In this blog post, I will describe and critically analyze four NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) databases and advise which should and should not be used as journal whitelists. The databases are Medline, PubMed, PubMed Central, and the NLM catalog.
Some predatory publishers make misleading claims about the NCBI databases and use their inclusion in them as a mark of legitimacy or approval by the U.S. Government. These claims should be viewed skeptically. There is only one database among the four that can reliably be used as a whitelist.
- Medline: Medline is NCBI’s most exclusive list of journals, and scholarly authors can use it as a whitelist when considering which journals to submit their research manuscripts to. It currently contains 5,626 journals. A committee vets candidate journals using a scoring sheet that evaluates several aspects of journal quality, and high-scoring journals are included in Medline. There is no published list of Medline journals. Instead, the journals can be identified by searching the NLM Catalog.
- PubMed: PubMed includes Medline abstracts plus abstracts for a diversity of articles published by journals not indexed in Medline. “Medline plus” other entries is not the same as Medline. Inclusion in PubMed often merely means that a journal contains one or more articles funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health or another government agency, or that the journal has volunteered to make one or more of its full-text articles available for free through PubMed Central. (PubMed is an abstract database and does not contain full texts.)
- PubMed Central: PubMed Central (PMC) is a full-text database that is essentially a disciplinary repository for the biomedical sciences. (This database also functions as the publisher of at least one journal.) Just about any publisher can choose to upload their articles to PMC if they are willing to make the articles open access. Many of the articles contained in the database duplicate articles already published in open-access journals. Others are articles that have been added by authors who have federal funding and must make their work publicly available within a year or two after publication. PMC entries are not vetted for quality, so the database should not be used as a whitelist for scholarly authors.
- NLM Catalog: This online library catalog serves the patrons of the National Library of Medicine. It catalogs books, journals, and other resources. As a library catalog, its function is to help library patrons discover and access information the library makes available or links to. A journal’s inclusion in this catalog does not necessarily reflect on the journal’s quality, and this database should not be used as a journal whitelist. Journals included in the NLM Catalog are marked as being “Currently indexed for MEDLINE” or “Not currently indexed in MEDLINE.”
Together, the NCBI databases freely provide much valuable metadata and scientific research articles, yet their architecture creates much confusion.
None — including Medline — is designed or intended to serve as a whitelist of approved journals for authors seeking high quality publishing venues. Medline functions for some as a journal whitelist, but this use is “off label,” and some journals with questionable editorial practices may slip through this review process. Importantly, the “inclusion” of a journal in the PubMed Central article repository is not a stamp of approval from NIH or any other entity.
Researchers should be suspicious of any journal that displays logos from PubMed or PubMed Central or makes claims about being included in an NCBI database in an attempt to make the journal appear legitimate.