Link Search Menu Expand Document

How to Research Transfeminine Hormone Therapy and the Medical Scientific Literature

By Aly W. | First published September 19, 2018 | Last modified October 5, 2020

TL;DR

Use Google Scholar, PubMed, and Google Books to find scientific publications, and use universities, Sci-Hub, and LibGen to get full-text digital copies of the publications.

Overview

If you’d like to research transfeminine hormone therapy beyond the content on say this site, Wikipedia, and social media (e.g., Reddit), it may not be immediately clear to many aside from Google Search as to how to do so. Literature on transfeminine hormone therapy is largely found in published academic sources. These include academic journal articles, which are published in scientific journals, and books, including edited scientific books and textbooks. Academic journal articles can be subdivided into original research articles (otherwise known as studies), literature reviews (summaries of original research/studies), and systematic reviews/meta-analyses (systematically review original research and perform statistical analyses on the pooled data from the studies). Original research articles/studies are referred to as primary sources, while literature reviews and edited books/book chapters are referred to as secondary sources. Encyclopedias like Wikipedia and others are referred to as tertiary sources. The citations on Wikipedia (e.g., “[6]”) are mainly secondary sources, namely reviews and book chapters/textbooks.

There are specific public search engines that can be used to find these sources. In general, Google Search is very much sub-par for such purposes and should not be used. To find academic literature on transfeminine hormone therapy, the following search engines / websites are the most useful:

Other public websites/search engines (e.g., Microsoft Academic) can also be useful, but the above are the most important ones. There are also a variety of private search engines, but these require subscriptions and aren’t accessible to most.

Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a search engine by Google that indexes journal articles and patents. It indexes the vast majority of published journal articles and patents, and hence almost any journal article or patent can be found with it. In addition, Google Scholar indexes the full texts of articles and patents, so when you search with Google Scholar, you’re searching the texts of the entire publications. Google Scholar also allows for the use of advanced search features such as “AND”, “OR”, “-“ (without), “intitle:”, and many others. It allows for searching within a defined date range, searching by specific journals or authors, and other advanced search features as well. Because of its vast database, its indexing and searching of full texts, and its advanced search features, Google Scholar is a very powerful tool for searching the scientific literature.

PubMed

PubMed (MEDLINE) is publicly run by the NCBI / NIH of the United States government and is a search engine (PubMed) and database (MEDLINE) of biomedical journal articles. It contains the titles, abstracts, authors, journal names, keywords/index terms, and publication types of biomedical journal articles, but does not index the full texts of articles. PubMed also does not have as vast of a database of biomedical journal articles as Google Scholar; many publications are missing from PubMed, although its database is still certainly massive. The lack of full-text search and the more limited selection of articles with PubMed are major limitations compared to Google Scholar. Sometimes, PubMed also doesn’t provide an external link to the web page for the journal article; in such cases, Google Scholar can be used to find it instead.

There a few features that make PubMed advantageous to Google Scholar in various instances. One is that PubMed allows for search queries that distinguish between original research publications, review publications, and other types of journal articles (e.g., clinical trials). To only return search results for and hence find literature reviews is a highly useful feature which can be very handy. Literature reviews provide high-quality condensed summaries/overviews and interpretation of multiple original studies/data, and are excellent for gaining knowledge about a given topic quickly and for finding original studies (which they cite). Another advantage of PubMed is that it allows for ordering of results by date, which Google Scholar essentially does not. This is useful for searching research in chronological order and finding the most recent scientific research. A final advantage of PubMed is that it only contains biomedical publications, and hence its search results can be more focused than those of Google Scholar (which indexes all academic publications, including social sciences, humanities, etc.). Similarly to Google Scholar, PubMed supports the use of advanced search features (e.g., “AND”, “OR”, etc.), but these are a bit more difficult/tedious to use in the case of PubMed.

Google Books

Google Books is a search engine by Google that indexes books. It appears to index the great majority of published books, and hence it seems that most books can be found with it. Like Google Scholar, Google Books searches the full texts of books, and has advanced search features. Unlike Google Scholar however, Google Books does not link to external websites for the books it catalogues; instead, you can peruse the texts right in Google Books. However, Google Books usually only offers previews of books, with many pages generally being omitted from view, and many books only offer “snippet” previews or no previews at all. Nonetheless, Google Books is an excellent resource for finding and reading scientific literature, particularly high-quality secondary sources.

Sci-Hub and LibGen (Accessing Full-Texts)

Journal articles are often blocked by paywalls. Generally, only the abstract and snippets in Google Scholar search results are provided for free viewing. Most academics and students get their access to the full texts of journal articles via universities and other organizations, which pay for subscriptions to the journals. It’s also possible to pay to access the full text of a journal article, but they’re generally prohibitively (and abhorrently) expensive (e.g., US$30 to $40 for a single journal article). If you don’t have journal access, many public universities allow visitors to use their Wi-Fi networks and computers in their libraries and computer labs, and on-campus, there is automatic access to journals. And of course the libraries of many public universities have physical copies of most publications.

For those who don’t have journal access, Sci-Hub (see the Wikipedia article for the website URL) is an alternative to getting the full-text PDFs of journal articles. It’s a piracy site based in Russia that has over 70 million journal articles. By inputting the URL, Digital Object Identifier (DOI) (e.g., “10.1080/13697130500148875”), or title of a given journal article, Sci-Hub will instantly fetch and display the full-text PDF of the article for you. In my experience, it has around 90% of journal articles that I try to access. For anyone without journal access, Sci-Hub is the place to go. In addition, oftentimes universities and other organizations will lack access to certain journals or journal articles even if they have journal subscriptions; in these cases, Sci-Hub is similarly very handy for getting those missing articles that fall through the cracks of broad journal subscriptions. Sci-Hub also is often faster for accessing the full texts of journal articles than going through the original journal publisher websites. Note that inputting PubMed URLs does not work in Sci-Hub.

Although Sci-Hub is technically piracy, there are reasons to not feel bad about using it. Despite its nature as a piracy website, Sci-Hub has been praised by many academics and researchers. Alexandra Elbakyan, the woman behind Sci-Hub, was named by the prestigious Nature Publishing Group as “one of the 10 people who mattered most” in 2016. Why the praise for Sci-Hub, you might ask? There are a variety of reasons. One reason is that the authors of journal articles are not paid for their work, and instead generally have to pay the journals to have their articles published. This may come as a surprise, but it’s the unfortunate reality; the actual researchers and scientists do not get a cent of the profits from the publications they write and the research they conduct, with the profits instead going only into the pockets of the publishing companies. Another reason is that most of the research/studies that journal articles report and are derived from is publicly funded by taxpayer money. In this context, one might think that it would be fair for the publications to be publicly accessible, but this is of course not the case. A third reason is that journal articles are exorbitantly expensive; US$30 to read a single article is rather ridiculous, and makes reading the scientific literature very difficult and limited for anyone without journal access via a university or other organization. It’s notable also that many institutions/organizations in developing countries cannot afford journal subscriptions, making journal access impossible for many people throughout the world, including even students and academics.

The only essential functions that journals really provide are scholarly peer review and prestige/credibility (as in impact factor). As such, with the facts considered—researchers not being paid for their work, the research is being funded by taxpayer money, the considerable and arguably undeserved profits of academic publishers, and the selective access to knowledge—many academics have criticized the current academic publishing establishment and have called for a better system. In particular, there is an emerging philosophy of open knowledge, espoused most notably by Wikipedia, which at its core is characterized by the notion that knowledge should be free and accessible to all and that open knowledge is beneficial to society. The philosophy of open knowledge is also seen with the recent emergence of open-access journals such as PLOS One. It certainly does seem like if journal publications were open and accessible to all, scientific literacy and participation would be likely to go way up. Taken together, this is why Sci-Hub and its founder Alexandra are being praised, and why you should not feel guilty about using Sci-Hub (as well as why you should tell others about it).

See here to read an amazing article by the founder of PLOS on the topic of open-access science. See here to read another great (and much shorter) article on the topic.

Library Genesis (see the Wikipedia article for the website URL), or LibGen for short, is another Russia-based piracy website. It is specific to books, and is very useful for getting the full-text PDFs (or other formats) of many books, for instance those found on Google Books or Amazon. The selection of LibGen is more limited than the analogous case of the journal articles via Sci-Hub, but you can in any case get a surprising number of high-quality scientific books through the site. Sci-Hub often redirects to LibGen in the case of DOIs that are for book chapters.

Conclusion

The above should provide you with everything you need to research transfeminine hormone therapy and the biomedical literature in general.

If there are any other good search engines/databases/etc. and sites that people use (including private, which I’m not very familiar with for the most part), feel free to mention them in the comments.

Have fun researching! 😉