Lancet's health archives open for business

October 24, 2003

Brussels, 23 Oct 2003

A two-year project to digitally archive almost two centuries of scientific history has been completed.

Researchers are in for a treat with the announcement that The Lancet, the world-respected medical journal, has finished converting its entire archive into a digital format stored in a searchable database.

First published in 1823 by Thomas Wakely, this prestigious publication has continually reported on some of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history, including findings in the areas of blood transfusion, antibiotics, antiseptics and more recent revelations about HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

"Thomas Wakely and his successors have aimed to combine a publication of the best medical science in the world with the zeal to counter the forces that undermine the values of medicine, be they political, social, or commercial," the current Lancet editor Richard Horton is quoted as saying. "The history of these twin traditions is, for the first time, now available to a wide audience through this complete electronic archive," he added.

Digitally re-mastered

In its 180-year history, the journal has carried some 340 000 stories on a wide range of medical subjects, forming an archive of enormous scientific and cultural importance. Converting such a resource into an easily accessible electronic format is a great tool for medical researchers and historians. But the service comes at a price. According to the BBC News, "it is likely to be available in major reference libraries at universities... rather than affordable by private individuals".

But The Lancet says it has also set up an electronic research archive dedicated to international health issues which provides unrestricted access and allows authors to self-archive research relevant to medicine in the developing world, with subsequent comments on the research posted alongside.

This more open-access approach to the Internet is something the European Commission has been advocating through, amongst others, its e-Accessibility initiative. The EU has also made valuable contributions to Europe's e-culture through its Framework Programmes for research. In the latest Framework Programme (FP6), work being carried out in the 'information society technologies' DigiCULT (digital culture) area promotes research in new information technologies which apply to the cultural and scientific heritage sector.

DG Research
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