Friday, March 13, 2009

PubMed as a weapon?

I learned the most amazing thing today. It's possible to use a citation database as a harassment tool. Unreal. PubMed is a service of the U.S. National Health Library, which in turn is part of the National Institutes of Health. It has references to gazillions of medical science articles that have been published in everything from top tier journals like the New England Journal of Medicine to extremely limited circulation publications. Most of the articles have titles that can put lay readers to sleep before they've gotten all the way through to the authors' names, e.g., "A structural equation model relating adiposity, psychosocial indicators of body image and depressive symptoms among adolescents." But there are exceptions -- and those exceptions form the weapons.

Like most on-line catalogs/databases, it's possible to request references be e-mailed -- it saves time in taking notes, means you don't have to print anything out until you're done doing your literature search, etc. However, it does not require that you provide the e-mail of the person making the request, only the address to which you want it sent. This means references can land in someone's mailbox with no clue why they're there.

Well, it turns out some of the uber-geeks here at Large Nameless Agency have turned PubMed into a weapon, a harassment tool, a device with which to rag on hapless co-workers. They've become adept at finding journal articles with titles that the target of their teasing can take personally. They then have PubMed e-mail the reference to the victim. Apparently some people freak out when they get e-mailed an article title saying, for example, "Mid-life and late life obesity and the risk of dementia." Possible translation: "You're fat and you're crazy?"

I am, as usual, having a mixed reaction to this. First, some people have way too much time on their hands if they're willing to carry on a feud to the point where they'll spend hours (because that's what it would take) trolling PubMed sifting through a gazillion possibilities to find just the right inappropriate reference to use to hit their targets' sensitive areas. There surely must be a more productive and/or efficient way of pissing people off than playing around with PubMed. Whatever happened to time honored methods like re-adjusting their chairs (you can drive people crazy by quietly raising and lowering the arms), convincing superiors to appoint those people to useless committees, or filling their cubicles with styrofoam peanuts if they happen to be out of the office?

Second, wow, talk about the ultimate in geekhood. It takes true nerdiness to think of using PubMed as a weapon to begin with. I'm in awe, absolute awe.


  1. Once again I am compelled to start a comment with WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

    Hiding a person's coffee mug and then putting it back on their desk at the end of the day is another fun way to gaslight them.

  2. your right..some people have too much time on their hands..when the first one gets slapped with a harassment suit..things will change

  3. Lisa -- hiding the coffee cup is what someone used to do to one of our managers at my old job. He had a very special cup that held some sentimental meaning for him, and totally freaked out whenever it vanished from his desk. Endless amusement for those of us who could say with total honesty we had no idea where the cup was or who might have taken it.

  4. The emailing would really piss me off - then again most emails at work do because we are capped at like 10MB email space. If my email box is filled I can't send any emails myself. Maybe that would not be bad.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.