I looked on google to find "scientific paper on biological explanation of homosexuality" but nothing comes up that appears reliable or from a journal. Then I looked up "scientific journals" and I found a directory for them, and searched through that directory, but of all the journals, I cant seem to find an efficient way to search for topics in these journals over the web.

Is there a way to efficiently search for specific scientific journal papers, specifically for biology?

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    $\begingroup$ ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed is probably the most common way to search for papers in this area of science. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 13:19
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    $\begingroup$ And scholar.google.com is an alternative to pubmed. $\endgroup$
    – Roland
    Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the directory you found, OMICS International, is a predatory publisher according to Beall's list; I would be highly suspicious of any journals you find there. $\endgroup$
    – Charles
    Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ note pubmed restricts itself to reputable journals, google scholar does not. so use google scholar to find terms then switch to pubmed to look for more detailed papers. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented May 19, 2017 at 20:42

5 Answers 5


There are two possibilities for searching for scientific articles:

The first one is to use PubMed, a database which has been set up by the National Institute of Health in the US. It contains about 25 Million journal articles. All articles in this database are coming from peer-reviewed journals.

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The other one is to use Google Scholar, which is better when you are unsure about search terms. It will give you more results, but you have to be careful here, since not all hits are from peer-reviewed journals, sometimes you get some quite questionable sources.

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    $\begingroup$ As a general purpose tool for searching the scientific literature (or even biology in general) I would argue that PubMed is poor. Outside medicine the coverage is hit and miss. The main pro is that it's open for all to search. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 16, 2016 at 23:44
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    $\begingroup$ While the core focus of PubMed is on the medical literature, the nature of medical research means that coverage of the biosciences is extensive, where the discipline can be related to human health. As a consequence much of genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry is also covered. For additional coverage adding more of the agriculture, environmental and ecological domains try EuropePMC (europepmc.org) which adds literature from the ARGICOLA (agricola.nal.usda.gov) database to the PubMed/MEDLINE/PMC data. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 15:03
  • $\begingroup$ @HamishMcWilliam Well, "much of" isn't really good enought for a general purpose search tool for biology. The fact is that "much of" ecology and evolution (areas where I'm most familiar) isn't covered by either PMC or EuropePMC, and the same goes for e.g. taxonomy. For this particular question, the journals Journal of Homosexuality, Evolution and human behavior or Journal of Human Evolution could be relevant, but neither is covered by PMC. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater Interesting to note that the three journals you mention are categorized as focusing on the humanities by JournalSeek. Checking the list of journals included in PubMed (ftp.ncbi.nih.gov/pubmed/J_Medline.txt), articles from Journal of Homosexuality (e.g. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26914706), Evolution and human behavior (e.g. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26880866) and Journal of Human Evolution (e.g. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26852814) do appear in PubMed, although they appear to be recent additions so only a limited set of articles are present. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 17, 2016 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that Web of Science, Scopus, SienceDirect, etc. also do not cover all the scientific literature. In my experience they can be missing stuff which is present in PubMed. So if you looking for broad coverage you have to search all the databases you can access, and even then you will likely be missing stuff. Where stuff is publicly available Google Scholar and web searches may help fill gaps. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 5:46

Web of knowledge (from Thomson-Reuters) and Scopus (from Elsevier) have the broadest coverage of peer-reviewed journals, if you have access to them through your library. Google scholar is a free option that also covers a lot, but with poorer search options and less quality control. Pubmed is an alternative, but coverage in many areas of biology outside of medicine (or other scientific fields) can be poor.


If you have access to library resources with your university, Scopus is brilliant. It allows you to search specific topics and articles published by a particular author.



Short answer: use a free literature search service such as PubMed or EuropePMC. As an example of how to use it for the example you give, searching EuropePMC "evolution of homosexuality" (as a phrase) gets you to this paper, the full text of which is then available straight from the search result.

The best way to find scientific papers on a specific topic is to use a literature search engine. There are five main ones I'm familar with so will discuss specifically: PubMed, Google Scholar, Scopus, Web of Science and EuropePMC. Each has advantages and disadvantages. There are some published comparisons of different search providers (e.g. Falagas et al. 2008, Anders & Evans 2010, Schultz 2007) but the main difference in practice unless you are at a major university is that PubMed, Google Scholar and EuropePMC are all free, while Scopus and WoS are subscription-only.

Other major differences include:

  • PubMed is designed for biomedical use, although in my experience coverage of other areas of the life sciences is acceptable. There are tutorials on using PubMed here.
  • Google Scholar includes a lot of 'grey literature' which is not peer-reviewed, which could be an advantage or a disadvantage. I tend to steer clear of it unless I am specifically interested in the grey literature.
  • Scopus and Web of Science (previously Web of Knowledge) are subscription service operated by Elsevier and Thomson Reuters respectively. Both integrate additional article metric functionality for example H-index and impact factor, although it doesn't sound like you would need these. I find Scopus slightly easier to use and a few comparative studies suggest its coverage is slightly more complete but there's not much to choose between them.
  • Finally, the 'new kid on the block' is EuropePMC which seems to be very similar to PubMed but apparently indexes substantially more articles than PubMed. It also has some nifty functionality such as searching by grants, linking to ORCIDs etc. It allows search automation via software packages which is very useful for systematic reviews etc (others may also do this but if so I haven't found it yet). I think it's becoming my favourite.

As a final cautionary note, different search services cover different journals and have different biases. If you're doing a systematic review paper or meta-analysis the official PRISMA guidelines recommend using at least two different services to minimise this problem.

(Many thanks to the many other users who added useful comments and shorter answers to this question; I'm just trying to collect them all together)

  • Pubmed: you can find articles about medical fields.
  • Biological sciences (proquest): a very specific database for biological articles.
  • Web of science: suitable for interdisciplinary articles.

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