PubMed, the massive database of biomedical literature maintained by the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), is one of the U.S. government’s most popular websites, with some 2 million users daily. So when something at PubMed changes, it doesn’t go unnoticed.
Unfortunately for the site’s caretakers, however, a sweeping redesign unveiled this week has left many PubMed users fuming—and airing their sometimes curse-laden complaints on social media.
“Am I the only one who hates the new PubMed?” tweeted @LCneuroscience, the laboratory of David Weinshenker, a geneticist at the Emory University School of Medicine, on 19 May, the day after NCBI rolled out its remake.
“No. Hate at first sight. Also second and third,” replied biologist David Suter of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, in just one of hundreds of similar tweets that quickly came in response—some unprintable on family-friendly websites. And by 22 May, the original tweet from the Weinshenker lab had racked up more than 1600 likes.
Many of the complainers decry PubMed’s new styling and layout, the way it displays search results, and its supposedly enhanced search algorithms. “HERE’S THE NEW PUBMED YOU DIDN’T ASK FOR. IT’S GOING TO MAKE YOUR EYES BLEED AND KILL YOUR SOUL. #bringbackoldpubmed,” tweeted Paul Jenkins, a molecular biologist at the University of Michigan Medical School.
The Drug Monkey blog had a more specific complaint:
“best match” for my name – first five includes two where I’m not senior author. In what world is that a best match?
— Drug Monkey (@drugmonkeyblog) May 19, 2020
Molecular biologist Richard Ebright, meanwhile, urged PubMed users to demand a return to an older version:
NCBI has destroyed PubMed.
Click feedback link at lower right corner of “new” PubMed homepage to inform NCBI that you reject the new interface and to demand permanent optional availability of the “legacy” interface. https://t.co/mhaVnCdwlj
— Richard H. Ebright (@R_H_Ebright) May 20, 2020
Others offered a more nuanced take, noting that nearly every redesign of a popular website is initially criticized before people learn to live with it.
I also hate new pubmed, but being closer to the tech/website side of things now, updates are needed for many reasons & often make the site better in the long run. It’s just hard to relearn something that had become second nature.
— Heather D. Marshall (@CloudyMediaBlog) May 22, 2020
When asked to comment on such feedback, a spokesperson for the National Library of Medicine, which encompasses NCBI, directed ScienceInsider to NLM blog posts about the redesign. They note the remake aimed to provide PubMed users with a modern interface, easier navigation, and better search results based on machine learning algorithms. And in a January post, Bart Trawick, NCBI’s director of customer services, noted that: “Whether you think the new version of PubMed is the bee’s knees just the way it is, or you have a great insight on how to make it better—we will be waiting to hear from you.”
That wait is apparently over. And on 21 May, NLM Director Patricia Brennan took to Twitter to encourage PubMed users to record their thoughts on its feedback form. The agency understands users may be experiencing “some issues” with the transition, she wrote. The legacy version is still available here, though NCBI notes that access to it will only be “short-term.”
*Update, 23 May, 11:30 a.m.: This story has been updated with a link to PubMed’s legacy site.