At a recent conference in Europe eminent European scientists were lamenting the loss of the printed journals by ACS. Actually, lamentations are likely not the correct sentiment – I’m sure they were invectives directed toward the ACS for such a blasphemous act of literally dumping the only method of communicating scientific material in a physically archive capable way. The young Europeans, for their part, appeared to concur – dumping printed journals was a stupid move that does nothing but impugn the character of ACS publications.
Then again, Europeans are stuffy and slow to accept anything new.
If you’ve read this blog with any amount of consistency, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate that I don’t support this decision for purely gastronomical reasons. I read while I poop and reading JACS on the jon is better than apple pie.
Nevertheless, the ACS is doing nothing more than taking the next logical step. This step is essentially a transparent step in the evolution of publication and, while it does have the effect of putting many prestigious ACS journals in the same “league” as the fly-by-night online-only crowd, it’s a step that makes sense in many different directions.
Let’s run down, in bullet point, why this is good for us:
Then, as for that last point, what does “publication” mean? We won’t have page numbers? That’s not likely true – page numbers and volumes will likely still exist – but the DOI will become more important and the ACS hasn’t done nearly enough to get DOIs into references. That’s the ACS’s fault. They shouldn’t be taking steps to go all digital without first mandating the only way digitial shit is indexed: DOI, be included in the references.
Nevertheless, that last point has never been addressed by the ACS – what is “published”? Are ASAPs now the published versions? Once they get into ASAP does that mean I don’t have to write “In Print” on my CV?
I’d like to suggest to our older colleges that are fearing this transition that they consider this transition, not as the regression toward a tawdry and unpleasant method of publication, but as the inevitable advance that it is. Online publications have superseded print in all meaningful metrics – libraries are filled with empty shelves where journals once were. Tables where men and (a few) women poured over literature are now occupied by undergraduates listening to their iPods. The CAS indexes sit on shelves unopened, unread and, in many places, with volumes missing and damaged with no intent for repair. When I come across a journal not offered online – and only available in the library – I don’t get it. Sorry if that’s your reference to your initial discovery printed in a journal too expensive (or obscure) to end up in our online catalogs. That’s YOUR problem now (the next generation of scientists would like to take the time to introduce themselves: Hi!). Say it with me now:
Print is dead.
Print is dead.
Print is dead!
Derek’s recent blog posts, have forced a bit of reflection in me on the “Chemistry fatigue” often felt by people who file in and out of college classrooms. The chemistry they encounter is not the chemistry the world does. The way chemistry is taught in collegiate settings is not the way chemistry is taught in the lab. Chemistry pedagogy is to blame – often antiquated methods of teaching chemistry with no obvious purpose would (and should) lead anyone to surmise that the subject is (1) hard (2) academic and unpractical and (3) used more to “weed out” kids from premed programs than to teach them fundamental skills on problem solving that will help them later in life.
For instance, not but 9 years ago my chemistry lab course, which was taught by a pioneer in alene chemistry, contained only compound characterization labs using chemical elucidation techniques. (Tollins, flame tests, etc…) The class was not useful for me as a chemistry major and it was undoubtedly less useful for those that were taking it for their own purposes.
While the ACS has done their bit to fill the airwaves with “chemistry touches all our lives” commercials, I’m not entirely sure they were effective. When I sit down to read SciAm, there may be one article devoted to chemistry with a preponderance of bullshit on the latest paradigms used to explain the nonsense of deep space tissue penetration and the obligatory article on some cloned or transgenic critter. There isn’t much of a market on the wonders of chemical magik; even the more user-friendly chemistry that comes prepackaged with pretty pictures like those out of the labs of Stoddart, Rebek and Anslyn get no attention. Somehow the uselessness of the deep mysteries of invisible matter in the cosmos is more compelling than the efforts of man right here on Earth.
There may be an absence of a strong voice. Physics did have charismatic men like Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman who were relentless advocates for science education of the masses. I have heard suggestions of Carolyn Bertozzi being such an advocate, and I myself could think of few more capable, but hitherto, I have not seen her advocate for chemistry on a national scale, though her advocacy on behalf of women in science and the GLBT community in general has been highly admirable.
So, what’s to be done?
I wonder if the time for a Carl Sagan like figure to appear to children and mesmerize them with a soft voice in their living rooms is passed its time. Back in the day, we watched PBS because that was one of 10 channels, unless you were lucky to grow up with cable (I wasn’t), it was PBS or daytime soaps. There are entertainers like Bill Nye, but advocacy for science in general doesn’t really help the cause of making chemistry more accessible, even though it can’t hurt.
In short, I feel as though the problems are many and splendored. Everything from a lack of advocacy (which has lead to ignorance), to poor pedagogy from high school through college has shaped chemistry to be the monster and bane of premeds and premed dropouts alike. The subject isn’t inherently easy, but I’d wager it’s no more difficult than physics (if physics were easier, I assume I’d have gone into that) and I’m not suggesting making it dumber (though, I question the amount of sincerity with which it is taught – sophomore organic chemistry should not be the intellectual gate through which all must pass before getting their membership to the Intelligentsia.)
The time has come for people to include DOIs in references. I would propose including them at the end of the citation and making THOSE the dynamic link in the PDF and HTML versions of online articles.
I have come to accept that I have “missed the boat” on enjoying reading the literature on the shitter in a nice, glossy journal. It’s sad, I think, to be confined to reading journal articles on my computer, which isn’t nearly as mobile or as soft on the eyes as a print journal, but when I invent the color Kindle – I promise you, I shall enjoy delightful reading while taking the most sacrosanct of bodily motions.
Until then, I besheach you to please require hyperlinked DOIs in ALL PDF files in your fine publications. If not for me, then for the fucking children.
The 21st century
Recently, as mentioned by Klug in the comments, the “take a picture of every slide” game has caught on fervently amongst some people. They also wonder around and take pictures of posters. I think most of them are Chinese, I dunno, I haven’t seen too many Honkey-assed Crackers doing it, but I imagine that once the Chinese start, white people everywhere will start.
Well, this is gay. It’s incredibly fucking annoying to be sitting in an audience and have three flashes go off every time a slide is put up. It’s also invasive to have your poster’s picture taken. This is cheating, I feel, because intellectual property theft should be done with rote memorization – not digitalization. Now the contents of an entire talk can be digitized and transmitted back to the mother ship by the end of the day and the next morning, an entire lab can be mobilized to start pirating your fresh results.
To this, I say, no photography should be allowed at ACS events! Or any event. If it is, I don’t see the point in showing unpublished data. If there’s no point to showing unpublished data, there’s hardly a point in going to a conference.
UPDATE: A good and reflective post by a Chinese colleague of ours can be found here. Also, my spam gobbler is eating some legit comments from new posters. Don’t be alarmed if your post doesn’t appear immediately.
What is the JACS β? I don’t really know, actually. It appears to be some kind of Google Labs lite. At first, when I saw the email announcement, I was skeptical. The thought that the ACS was going to commission something that might, possibly, result in an advancement of science informatics was just too much of a far flung notion to wrap my little head around. The society, after all, spends so much time thinking about itself, I didn’t realize it had time to think about Chemistry. I’ll take the hit there, I was wrong. In its current
incarnation, JACS beta is sort of… well… promising. The PPT slide sets are kind of silly, since the picture steal function in Adobe works fine and you can rip the high res image out of the HTML. The listen to JACS communications is, I think, a novel idea, but scientific papers are not really intended to be listened to – they’re intended to be read since most authors write their text around the figures, graphs and charts, which are obviously incompatible with an audio recording. Now, the virtual issue is interesting. I did find that quite fascinating, even though the topic is clearly pandering the the most web savvy group of chemists (oh burrrrn). Indeed, why can’t online JACS be like that? Have a little summary written by someone who can write shit in plain English so that when a biochemist goes to read it, they don’t have to be like “Tandem Suzuki couplings to generate an enol whatsamer followed by macrolactonisomething from the seco what?” Or when I go read a biochemistry summary it’s not just “RNA polimerase with PTSI in FBKa 932 in HeLa cells with the Gib short sequence GFP protein hedgehogulase was purified using the FDLKShjDsIDJFS SELEX in an OIDSJ buffer with SDLKjf as a cofactor poopiepants.” It just makes sense to write a summary plain fucking English for a journal which is written for people across the whole spectra of chemical sciences.
(So we are all equally insulted, a nanothingiee paper’s summary would go something like “Click click click azide alkyne click click strained bicyclo click click click fluroescent nano bioprobe click click self assembled in situ click fluoride sensor”)
So, I give this JACS beta idea an affirmitive thumbs up, but aside from the Virtual Issue (which should be named “iJACS” to keep the gay Apple computer cult thing alive amongst chemists) they’ve not hit upon anything supahsweet.
Now… issues that read well on my iPhone so that I can enjoy them in the shitter… That would be supahsweet.