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MeSH terms versus keywords

September 3, 2009

Do MeSH terms (or Emtree for that matter) work better than keyword or full text searching?

There is a fascinating discussion ongoing over at fxpal between librarians and information researchers regarding the use of MeSH terms in medical literature and if MeSH actually adds any value.  (This discussion continues on to medical literature searching in general). Included in the discussion is a link to an old paper demonstrating that MeSH shows statistically insignficant value over full text search (paper here).

We all have our experiential views of MeSH, but the author’s conclusion is interesting – that there isn’t a solid body of evidence characterizing the effectiveness of such a thesaurus (or is there?)..

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 3, 2009 4:39 pm

    I expect that there are studies out there that evaluate MeSH in useful and informative ways, but I (and my informants who shall remain nameless) have been unable to discover a substantial body of work on the subject. With these kinds of complex phenomena, it’s important to have many correlated measures before declaring a robust effect. Finding one or two studies is probably not sufficient, because there are just as many that reach contradictory conclusions. So in some sense, this is a call to arms for researchers (or those looking for PhD topics, hint, hint!) to study this area. I think it’s important to be more reflective than reflexive in approaching this kind of received wisdom.

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