Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Medicine

Dear Reviewer,

One of my favorite places to roam when I’m intellectually curious is a great American resource few people know about: the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Because I live near Washington, D.C., I can actually go to the library, which is on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

But I’m discovering that it’s an even more interesting place to visit online. The easily found resources include more films about medicine than you’ll ever have time to see, including Ask Your Dentist, 30 minutes from 1930 that will make you wonder just how much about drilling teeth has actually changed; a film about venereal disease from 1945 called Easy to Get; a 44-minute film on conjoined twins; a new film on women and violence that’s very well done; and a thoughtful film that serves as a great primer on Charles Darwin.

The National Library of Medicine

The National Library of Medicine is the world’s largest. Many of the basic systems for finding materials in any medical library were developed here.

The databases you can connect to here are amazing, including searchable lists of every FDA-approved Phase 1, 2 or 3 drug study; Toxnet, which can tell you about poisons, hazardous chemicals, drugs that affect breast feeding, household products you should be wary of and alternatives to drug testing on animals; an extraordinary collection of 71,000 downloadable images from the history of medicine; consumer drug and health information; and a search mechanism to understand the words and hierarchy of medical terms called MeSH.

There is, of course, a variety of information on the history of medicine that is probably the best collection in the world. It includes more than 9,000 books on medicine dating back to 1552 that have been digitized. A new one just added is The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton, published in 1621 and probably the first book on depression. PubMed Central, which is part of the historical collection, has 3.5 million articles from biomedical and life sciences journals.

For those of you interested in genetics, the materials are nothing short of awesome, including one of the best gene databases anywhere, including a guide to inherited human disorders. And get this: you can download the entire DNA sequence of the human genome here. You can compare mice to humans and discover which genes they share and how they are medically relevant for the animal studies that come before human drug studies.

I could go on about the resources here, but I encourage you to visit the library online, and then in person if you travel to the Washington, D.C., metro area. Hours are Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. The Washington Metro will take you to the NIH campus, and from there it is a short walk to the library and its public reading room and many exhibits. You will be amazed and amused.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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