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CHE344: Exploring the Chemical Literature: Tapping In and Keeping Track

Tapping Into Conversations Through Citations

References in the chemistry literature form a network of ideas. They are important ways to map a scientific conversation over time.

Going backward in time:

When you have an article with references, you can see if a particular reference is available by looking the journal's name up in our

You can see who has cited an article (or an author) using the form below or clicking on "Do we have this journal?" on the library's main page. Then you can use the volume and date information to navigate to the article. If we don't have access to that journal, we can get it from another library.

Going forward in time:

If you have a good article in front of you, see who has cited it by searching in either SciFinder or Google Scholar. That will let you click on newer publications that cite it (and Google Scholar will also run the same search in Web of Science for you). Then use find it! button to get the article or request it from another library.

Journals List

When you have an article with references, you can see if a particular reference is available by looking the journal's name up at the link below. Then you can use the volume and date information to navigate to the article. If we don't have access to that journal, we usually can get it from another library.

Pattern Recognition

As you explore the literature, you will start to see patterns emerge. Watch out for the authors and co-authors who are producing good research. Take note of where their labs are or where they work. These nodes in the web of conversation among scientists can lead you to the places and people who are making inroads and exploring the frontiers.

If authors have a presence on social media, keep a blog, or have a current website that includes their CV (resume), these, too, can be ways to learn more about how science works. In a sense, the literature is people talking to people. Working scientists get to know the authors behind the articles through conferences and common interests.

Why do Articles Cost So Much, Anyway?

There are two major publishers of scientific journals: scientific societies and commercial publishers.

The American Chemical Society, the creator of SciFinder and publisher of a number of important chemistry journals, has to spend quite a bit to keep their publications going and to create the complex database. Our campus spends tens of thousands of dollars every year for access. Some of that money goes to pay for the society's activities. You can follow the money by checking the non-profit's tax filings. (There's a lot of money.)

There are also five major for-profit publishers that together control a majority of scientific and scholarly publishing today. They need funds to run vast operations, but they also make a much higher profit margin than most companies - typically running 35-40% annually. Science articles are what economists call non-substitutible goods - you can't go shopping for a cheaper article and bring costs down through market forces. The increasing cost and inequality of access to science is a pressing problem.

#Icanhazpdf and other work-arounds. Sometimes people take to Twitter asking for copies of articles using the #icanhazpdf hashtag. Recently a scientist in Khazakstan created a Pirate Bay for scientific articles. We have ILL for that - and it's legal.

Open Access to Scientific Research

Frustrated by paywalls, many scientists make their work free to all by one of these means:

Paying a fee to make an article in a paywalled journal open. These fees can run into the thousands of dollars, but many funders will allow scientists to build these costs into grants in order to ensure the research they fund has an impact. Publishers then make money from both subscriptions/paywalled articles and ransomed articles, so this practice is controversial and expensive. 

Publishing in an open access journal. Many journals now are entirely open access. Many of them in the sciences fund their operation through author-side fees (called APCs or article processing charges). PLoS is an early and respected publisher in this area. Commercial publishers have launched open access journals though typically their most prestigious journals remain paywalled. Last year, Nature (one of the big five publishers) published more open access articles than paywalled ones. Though this practice is growing, it puts pressure on scientists to find funds to support profitable publishers. There are also scams that purport to be open access publishers, but are frauds. They're pretty easy to spot. There's a useful Directory of Open Access Journals that screens new journals to ensure they aren't scams.

Retaining the rights to post a free version online. Journals typically require authors to transfer the copyright to an article to the publisher. In many cases, they allow authors to post a pre-print (a pre-peer-review draft) or a post-print (a manuscript version of the final draft) online. These can usually be found with a web search, though they may or may not be included in Google Scholar.

Posting online without retaining rights. A lot of scientists put their articles online even if they don't have legal rights to do so. These are sometimes posted on ResearchGate, a social network that is funded with venture capital and monetizing user data. Publishers sometimes issue take-down notices to those authors. Don't try this at home.

An Argument for Open Access in Cartoon Form

Keeping Track

Scientists develop ways to hang onto the research materials they use in their work. Over time, they develop personal databases of research publications they have used in their literature reviews. Here are some tools to consider. Though there's a learning curve, they can eventually save you time.

Citation Managers

These programs store reference information and can be used to format references for publication. (Since science journals don't have a standard style, it can be quite complicated!) You can also sync references across computers and create public and private groups.

Endnote is a powerful tool. It's also expensive. We have a lite version through Web of Science, but you will lose access to it on graduation.

Mendeley is a citation manager and social media site for scientists that is owned by one of the big five publisher (Elsevier). Their business model is to see what you're reading and who you're connecting with. If you don't like surveillance capitalism, try Zotero.

Zotero is a free open-source, non-profit citation manager. Developed by historians, there's a limited number of citation styles for creating a reference list, but you can download 7,000 more styles for scientific journals (or if you're crafty, create your own). You can create your own personal database with references sorted into folders and sync it across computers (it stores a copy in the cloud for you and updates each computer you use with the latest version) or create groups that can be either public or private.

See a useful comparison chart for Mendeley and Zotero from York University.

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