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Who Needs “Gray Literature”?

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Bioethics readers and writers may be among some of the biggest consumers of gray literature. The consumption and production of gray literature in bioethics will never equal the pace set by scientists employed by large governmental agencies like NASA, but the advisory and consultative nature of the discipline lends itself to the “gray” pages. Ethics commissions and committees are often international, non-governmental, semi-governmental, interdisciplinary, and (of course) not-for-profit. Given these circumstances, and the general value to be found in making ethical guidelines and reports broadly available, many of these documents will be published in ways that are not easily indexed or discovered.

While ethics researchers can find some of this literature with careful internet search engine strategies, searching the wide open Web may not be the most efficient way to browse and to discover new “gray” bioethics publications. Although Brian S. Matthews (C&RL News, March 2004, Vol. 65, No. 3) provides a long, useful list, for finding gray literature, few of these are likely to include bioethics material. I did, however, recently use one of these, The New York Academy of Medicine Grey Literature Report, to find a “gray” publication on the ethical issues relevant to pandemic influenza preparedness – The Eleventh Futures Forum [PDF – 515 KB] – a recent publication of the WHO.

The NYAM Grey Literature Report appears to be a useful tool, but will I remember to use it in the future? I guess one thing that worries me about search tools specifically devoted to “gray literature” is the concept itself. Who thinks to themselves while researching, “I need to check the ‘gray literature'”? In short, the concept serves librarians, publishers, and (perhaps) tenure committees well. Those who evaluate publications, index titles, or build collections will find that segregating documents into a “gray” pile is, from time-to-time, a necessity. Others, however, are likely to find this material (if they know what they are looking for) without thinking about the “gray” status of the literature.


Written by Jere

June 7, 2008 at 12:04 am

Posted in Ethics

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