Building the Library

James Lind

Many thanks to John Hepner for permission to use this image of James Lind.

The James Lind Library evolved from a website called Controlled Trials from History. This was launched by the Library of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of an iconic randomized trial of streptomycin for pulmonary tuberculosis (MRC 1948).

In 2003, to mark the 250th anniversary of the publication of James Lind’s Treatise of the Scurvy, Controlled Trials from History was redesigned and relaunched as The James Lind Library.  The website received one of only five Scientific American Sci/Tech Web Awards for medical websites.  An account of the first five years of the James Lind Library is available in Chalmers I, Milne I, Tröhler U, Vandenbroucke J, Morabia A, Tait G, Dukan E. The James Lind Library: explaining and illustrating the evolution of fair tests of medical treatments. Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 2008;38:259-64.

The redesigned James Lind Library was launched on International Clinical Trials Day (20th May 2015). The latest design and content takes account of the creation and contents of a ‘sibling’ website – Testing Treatments interactive – which focuses on explaining the need for and characteristics of fair tests of treatments for lay audiences.

What are the current objectives of the James Lind Library?

The James Lind Library uses material from history to illustrate the principles underlying fair tests of treatments and their development and application over time, and how these relate to the interests of today’s patients.

Each methodological principle is assigned a “Topic” which can be used to retrieve Records, Articles and Essays that relate to that aspect of fair tests of treatments.

What’s in the James Lind Library?

The Library illustrates how the principles underlying fair tests of treatments have evolved. It draws on over 1100 records – text from manuscripts, books, articles and other documents – and publishes articles analysing the developments of fair tests of treatment and the people associated with them. Short essays introduce the characteristics of fair tests of treatment in Arabic (العربية), Chinese (中国), English, French (français), Russian (русский язык), Portuguese (Português) and Spanish (español).

About JLL Records

The James Lind Library contains about a thousand Records that have been added to the JLL to illustrate the development of fair tests of treatments in health care. At its simplest, a Record may consist only of a scan 2-3 lines of methodologically relevant text; at the other extreme, Records may contain in addition whole original articles or links to them, linked JLL Articles and Essays, portraits and other relevant images, and video material. Illustrations of a method are not added to the JLL once the method has become widely accepted, for example, by inclusion in textbooks.

Where not otherwise indicated, material in the James Lind Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About JLL Articles

Most of the Articles in The James Lind Library have been commissioned by the JLL editors. They include brief histories on the evolution of measures to reduce biases and the play of chance in fair tests of treatments, commentaries contextualizing records, biographical sketches and personal reflections.  There are links from the texts of the Articles to Records and other relevant material in the JLL, including other Articles. Some relevant doctoral theses are also accessible through this section of the JLL.

The copyright in JLL Articles remains with the authors, who should be contacted for permission to reproduce their texts. Many of them have also been published as articles in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, in a special arrangement with that journal [Developing the collaboration between the James Lind Library and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

About JLL Essays

The explanatory essays in The James Lind Library have been written to promote wider understanding of why fair tests of treatments are needed, and what they have come to consist of. You can access each essay by clicking on the link below. If you want to download all of the essays, so that they can be printed out together for reading off screen, click here.

The text in these essays may be copied and used for non-commercial purposes on condition that explicit acknowledgement is made to The James Lind Library (

How do we decide which records to include in the James Lind Library?

We select records for inclusion in the Library both to illustrate the evolution of principles of fair tests of treatments, and to illustrate the application of these principles, in practice. We add records to illustrate the application of principles up to the point at which the principles appear to have become widely accepted. For example, by the 1960s, there was wide acceptance of the need to generate comparison groups using alternation or random allocation – so that like would be compared with like. By the end of the 20th century, people had realised the importance of assessing treatment effects using systematic reviews of all the relevant evidence, published and unpublished. In the 21st century, there is concern about biased under-reporting of research and the effects of financial and academic vested interests. It is clear that the principles of fair tests of treatments continue to evolve, and we try to reflect this continuing evolution in the James Lind Library.

Can you help us improve the James Lind Library?

Although we do not attempt to be comprehensive, we are constantly assessing additional material for possible inclusion in the James Lind Library. We welcome suggestions for additional ‘candidate’ records, and other comments. Please get in touch.