Tracking Down Studies, Part 1

Tracking down articles you hear about on the news can be more of a challenge than you might realize. Often the information given is sketchy at best.
Take for example, this article, which appeared in the October 2008 issue of Good Housekeeping:

Sounds great, right? Let’s find the actual study, shall we?
Our first stop will be the PubMed web site. We’re lucky, this article actually gives the name of a “study leader”, Boris M Petrikovsky. So we’ll search for his name:

What? No results? Oh look, I spelled his last name wrong. Let’s try again. Ah, yes, 5 results this time! Sadly, none of them are studies of vaginal tears or episiotomy.
Let’s try an advanced search using keywords, just in case the magazine spelled the researcher’s name wrong. (It could happen!)

Since PubMed doesn’t offer keyword searching, I have chosen a few words for a text search. I tried to choose terms that would both narrow it down to the topic we are interested in, like the word “episiotomy” and terms that probably don’t occur too often with the first term, like salt water.
Hopefully this will keep us from getting too many results to wade through.

Oh well. Maybe we should hop over to Google Scholar and see if we can find anything there:

YES! A promising result:

So we click on the first link underneath and we find:
Just a bunch of new results. OK, let’s try the other link under that first promising result:

DING! DING! DING! We have a winner! A complete citation to a study with a description like the article mentions and the same author. It could be the same study, but maybe not. If we could track down an abstract, we could probably know for sure. So I’ll hop over to the journal’s web page and see what I can find:

Hmmm.. No abstract available without paying for it. However, this does give us some valuable information: The study was among those PRESENTED at the Annual Clinical Meeting. It apparently has not yet been published. What does this mean? Well, it means that it may not have gone through the rigorous peer-review process it takes to be published. I don’t know what ACOG’s procedure for presentations is. But as I go back and reread the Good Housekeeping article, I notice another important point. Dr. Petrikovsky did mention that the study was just a preliminary study. It’s possible that the researchers are finishing a larger study for publication but found the results of the pilot study interesting enough to share with others.
At this point we could track down the full text with a visit to a library that carries the journal if we want to read the whole thing, but it looks like all we would get is an abstract of the presentation anyway. However, I will be keeping an eye out for the full study to come out in the future!
Want to follow me as I try to find another article referenced in the media? Visit Tracking Down Studies, Part 2