By Beth Weil (UC Berkeley), Web of Science Resource Liaison

UC has just obtained access to the Biosis backfile (Biosis Archive) which comprehensively covers the biological sciences literature from 1926-1968.  The current Biosis file has covered the data from 1969-present.  At the present time we have the following resources for retrospective searching:

Biosis: 1926-present
PubMed: 1951-present
Web of Science: 1900-present

With such a wealth of resources, where is the best place to start?

The Biosis data is indexed by

  • Broad subject heading (i.e. Genetics, Ecology, Cell Biology)
  • Genus/species (if present)
  • Organism classifier (usually at the Family or Order level)
  • Broad taxonomic groups (birds, mammals, plants, bacteria)

for all articles back to 1926.  The majority of the records also have abstracts.  (Review articles, short papers and conference proceedings generally do not have abstracts.)  This makes it very a very rich resource for searching the literature of the biological sciences.

Because the abbreviations used for a journal title varied quite a bit during these early years, links provided by UC-eLinks are particularly unreliable.  Please ask your reference librarian for help in locating these early works.  We have many of them, but UC-eLinks frequently cannot find them.

Web of Science

Web of Science started to include abstracts and keywords supplied by the author around 1991.  Before that date, subject searching was limited to only words in the title of the article.  Web of Science is particularly known for the benefits of its cited reference searching and the ability to follow a concept or idea forward and backward in the literature.  However, since UC researchers have access to Web of Science and Biosis through the same Web of Knowledge platform, it is now best to start your search in Biosis and then move to Web of Science via one click to follow the cited references.


PubMed currently goes back to 1951.  The Old Medline records 1951- 1965 in PubMed do not have abstracts and were indexed with different subjects than the MeSH file currently in use.  So you probably will need to expand the list of synonyms you use in your search to comprehensively search this portion of the database. NLM has begun an OLDMEDLINE subject heading-to-MeSH heading mapping project.  This project maps the original subject headings assigned to the citations when they appeared in the print indexes to the current MeSH vocabulary.  Subject retrieval is better than in Web of Science.  However, during this time period, Medline only covered clinical medicine and the basic medical sciences. Biosis is highly recommended for coverage of any non-medical areas and actually does a good job in medicine as well.