Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Where To Publish?

In a recent Chemistry World there was an item on chemistry in India, and one of the things that struck me was that Indian chemists seemed to be criticized because they published a very low proportion of the papers in journals such as JACS and Angewandte Chemie. The implication was, only the "best" stuff gets published there, hence the Indian chemists were not good enough. The question I want to raise is, do you think that reasoning is valid?
One answer might be that these journals (but not exclusively) publish the leading material, i.e. they lead the way that chemistry is taking in the future. When I started my career, these high profile journals were a "must read" because they were where papers that at least editors felt was likely to be of general interest or of practical interest to the widest number of chemists were published.
But these days, these sort of papers do not turn up. There may be new reactions, but they are starting to involve difficult to obtain reagents, and chemical theory has descended into the production of computational output. These prestige journals have moved on to new academic fields, which is becoming increasingly specialized, which increasingly needs expensive equipment, and which also needs a school that has been going for some time, so that the background experience is well embedded. There are exceptions, but they do not last, thus graphene was quite novel, but not for long. There are still publications involving graphene, but chemists working there have to have experience in the area to make headway. More importantly, unless the chemist is actually working in the area, (s)he will never touch something like graphene. I am certainly not criticizing this approach by the journals. Rather I am suggesting the nature of chemical research is changing, but I feel that in countries where the funding is not there to the same extent, chemists may well feel they might be more productive not trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Another issue is, by implication it is claimed that work published in the elite journals is more important. Who says? Obviously, the group who publish there, and the editorial board will, but is this so? There may well be work that is more immediately important, but to a modest sized subset of chemists working in a specific area. Now the chemist should publish in the journal that that subset will read.
My view is that chemistry has expanded into so many sub-fields that no chemist can keep up with everything. When I started research, organic chemists tended not to be especially interested in inorganic or physical chemistry, not because they were not important, but simply because they did not have the time. Now it has got much worse. I doubt there is much we can do about that, but I think it is wrong to argue that some chemistry that can only be done in very richly funded Universities is "better" or more important than a lot of other work that gets published in specialized journals. What do you think?
Posted by Ian Miller on Jul 3, 2017 3:23 AM Europe/London

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