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March 15, 2004
The Universe, Which Others Call the Library. . .
Want to feel old? Then let it hit you that there are entire scientific journals you used to read that don't exist any more. I was looking up an old paper the other day in a German chemical journal, when it struck me that there aren't as many of those as there used to be. The grand old Chemische Berichte, for example, ceased to exist a few years ago (along with a whole group of other publications) and was subsumed in the rather blandly titled Chemistry: A European Journal. Even the journals that (theoretically) publish papers in German don't have as many, like Synthesis or Helvetica Chimica Acta. When's the last time anyone saw a German-language paper in Tetrahedron Letters? Do they even accept them any more?
They used to publish them, years back, and French as well. The French chemistry literature is in even worse shape than the German, because it didn't start from such a position of strength. I used to pull the occasional paper out of Comptes Rendus in a literature search, but that journal spent decades sinking slowly into obscurity. Another outlet for French was one of my old favorites, the Benelux journal with the flowery name of Recueil de Traveaux Chimie du Pays-Bas. The older generation can remember when it formed from the separate Belgian and Dutch society journals (surely there wasn't a Luxembourg one?), but not me. It, too, disappeared into the aforementioned Chemistry.
No, for a long time now publishing chemical work in anything other than English has been the sign of second-rate material. That goes for Japanese and Chinese chemistry, too. There are a number of "internal" journals in each country, but the good stuff appears in English. My literature searches in SciFinder or Beilstein still turn up journals I've hardly heard of, but the papers are almost always in English, or an approximation thereof.
And at this point, it takes a lot to come up with one that I've hardly heard of, I can tell you. Journal of the Siberian Oil Chemist's Association? I've seen that one, along with most of the others from the old parallel-universe world of Soviet science publishing. The Royal Thai Chemical Society's journal? Check. That old weekly Swiss medical bulletin? Yep. The trickiest one I've had in recent years was the house research organ of a New Zealand medical school, but an interlibrary search turned it up.
Mind you, there are a few journals we still have with us that could stand to disappear. I hate to say it, but when was the last time anyone paid any attention to anything in Accounts of Chemical Research? Why is it that I can count on one hand the number of papers I've ever needed from Biochemistry? The continued existence of Synthetic Communications has long been a mystery to me as well. Perhaps some of these will provide nostagia for the next generation.
| Category: The Scientific Literature
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