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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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September 6, 2005

Ranking the Journals - Try It at Home!

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Posted by Derek

Reader Christopher C. writes:

"In light of your recent series of postings about impact factors, I have my own questions about scientific publishing. It seems to me that in physics and chemistry the prestige of journals is more horizontal compared to biology, where there are a thousand specialty journals that are highly stratified with respect to their prestige. Now everyone knows that a paper in Nature or Science is supposed to be superb. In chemistry, it looks like even the best chemists send most of their articles to JACS, which, if my perception is correct, is not an especially prestigious journal. In biology, on the other hand, we have a strict hierarchy which is approximated by the impact factor. For molecular cell biology, I would rank them something like this, IM not-so HO:
Nature, Science
Genes and Development, Nature Cell Biology, EMBO J
Mol Cell Biol, J Cell Biol, PNAS
J Biol Chem
In my own field, which is bacterial RNA polymerase, the order is something like this:
Nature, Cell, Science
Molecular Cell, Nature Struct Molec Biol,
J Mol Biol, PNAS
J Biol Chem, J Bacteriol, Biochemistry
One could spend endless hours cataloging this for each subdiscipline. . ."

Oh, yeah. It could be useful for outsiders, too. Would readers care to submit their lists for organic chemistry journals, in order of prestige? We'll take a survey and see how closely it matchs ISI's data.

I note that each of those lists stops while still well in the "good place to publish" category - the middle and lower parts of a complete list would be harder (and more painful) to rank-order. But I couldn't have reproduced either of those orders exactly. I don't think I've ever seen or read a paper from the Journal of Bacteriology, for example, and I wouldn't have known that it was reasonably prestigious, although I have the rest of those titles covered.

In the same way, although it may not seem that way from the outside, JACS is a pretty good place to publish for a chemist. If "even the best chemists" send their work there, which is more or less true, then it's de facto harder for others to get there work in, and therefore prestigious. Science, PNAS, and especially Nature publish so little chemistry that those journals aren't really on our lists, for the most part.

But it's Angewandte Chemie that has moved definitively into first place, after some years in a rough tie with JACS. And whatever we might think about impact factors, I think we can agree that the example given in the latest issue's editorial (by Peter Goelitz, Ang. Chem 44(35) 5538) is not the way to use them. You don't come across this exact alloy of nerve and cluelessness too often. Says Goelitz:

The hankering after the high impact factor has resulted in many authors giving up a healthy amount of self criticism and sending their manuscript first to a journal in which it has no chance of being accepted. This ideology is already producing fruit as can be seen in the following: An author had a manuscript rejected from Angewandte Chemie after the assessment of three scientists. Deputy Editor Neville Compton recommended publication in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry (the editor of which is Karen J. Hindson) and shortly afterwards received a letter containing (this passage):

"Our manuscript was evaluated by three referees. Referee 1 finds the work is important and recommends publication (in) Angewandte Chemie (IF = 9.16) after minor revision. Referee 2 finds the scope of the work is directed to a journal such as Crystal Growth and Design (IF = 2.74). Referee 3 finds the work of high quality and compliments the authors, and feels that it would be a pity not to publish in its actual form. He or she recommends publication in Inorganic Chemistry (IF = 3.38.)

We were pleased to read that you spoke with Dr. Karen Hindson and recommended our paper for publication. However, I would like to draw your attention that if you add up the values of the Ifs of the three journals cited above and then divide by three you will obtain a value of IF = 5.09. The closest journal to this value would be Chemistry: A European Journal (IF = 4.517.) I therefore gently ask you to accept our paper. . .since you are the Editor in Chief. . ."

Comments (14) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Telf on September 6, 2005 11:06 PM writes...

With respect to inorganic chemistry (my speciality), I'd rank the current crop of journals as follows:
1. Angewandte Chemie
3. Chem. Commun.
3. Inorg. Chem.
4. Dalton
5. Eur. J. Inorg. Chem.
6. Inorg. Chem. Commun.
7= Polyhedron
7= Inorg. Chim. Acta

From my perspective, I'd rate the organic journals in the following order:
1. Angewandte Chemie
3. Chem. Commun.
4. Org. Lett.
5. Org. Chem.
6. Tetrahedron
7. Tetrahedron Letters
8. Eur. J. Org. Chem.

Permalink to Comment

2. The Novice Chemist on September 6, 2005 11:40 PM writes...

I agree with Telf, for the most part. It's worth mentioning that sometimes PNAS comes out with some pretty cool chemistry, but it seems to be mostly reviews with some new stuff tacked on.

It's like a Accounts of Chemical Research issue that's worth reading. Chemistry articles that make it to Science/Nature are usually worth their while (however few and far between.)

I'd mark Angewandte higher than JACS; the best US organic chemists seem to flock there.
I like the reviews and science; I love its style and voice. I do not like the fact that in this day of near-unlimited bandwidth for institutional users, full experimentals are not provided. ACS is much better at that sort of thing than Wiley.

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3. Derek Lowe on September 7, 2005 9:18 AM writes...

I notice that I didn't give my own rankings. For an organic chemistry paper, I'd say:

1. Angewandte Chemie


3. Organic Letters / Chemical Communications (tie)

4. Chemistry: A European Journal

5. Journal of Organic Chemistry

6. Tetrahedron

7. Synthesis

8. Tetrahedron Letters

9. Synlett

10. Synthetic Communications

11. Journal of Heterocyclic Chemistry

12. Heterocycles

And for pure medicinal chemistry papers, I'd say the places to publish are J. Med. Chem., Biorganic Med. Chem. Letters, and Biorganic Med. Chem., in that order. I'd rank them in the main list at around 4.5, 8.5, and 9.5.

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4. LNT on September 7, 2005 9:53 AM writes...

You would prefer to publish in Organic Letters & Chemical Communications over JOC? That's hard for me to believe... I would rank those about the same as Tett.Lett.

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5. Derek Lowe on September 7, 2005 10:31 AM writes...

You know, it sounds funny now that I think about it. But I think I was comparing communication-style papers, in which case I think that the two small-paper journals definitely give you more visibility. Org. Lett. has definitely taken a lot of the interesting material out of JOC, to the point that I find myself reading it less than I used to.

But if you ask me whether I'd rather have a communication in Org. Lett. or a full paper in JOC, I'll go for the latter.

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6. Drew on September 7, 2005 2:33 PM writes...

My rankings-

1. Angew Chem / JACS (tie)
2. Org Lett
3. JOC (although, it appears to be dropping)
4. Tet, Synthesis
5. Tet Lett, Chem Comm, Syn Lett
6. Heterocycles, J Heterocyclic Chem
7. Syn Comm.

Chemistry: A European Journal and European JOC are pretty far off the radar IMHO....

Permalink to Comment

7. Derek Lowe on September 7, 2005 3:13 PM writes...

The European J. of Organic Chemistry is far enough off my radar that I'd forgotten that it even existed!

Permalink to Comment

8. LNT on September 7, 2005 4:11 PM writes...

It's interesting that Derek rated Chemistry: A European Journal pretty high while Drew says it is "off the radar"!

Both of you ranks JACS pretty high -- but as an organic/medicinal chemist, I find virtually nothing useful in it! Granted, it is a "prestigious" journal -- but everything in it seems very abstract, "academic" or purely speculative. (it seems if you include the prefix "nano-" in the title of your article, you increase your odds of acceptance by 50%!)

Permalink to Comment

9. Drew on September 7, 2005 4:18 PM writes...

LNT- you are wholly correct about JACS. There is some distinction between citations I am impressed by on someone's CV and those that impress me when I am trying to get chemistry to work. JACS in the past 5-6 yrs has gone from the premier place for synthesis papers to a jack-of-all-trades; full of "garbage" like nano-dodads and computational excercises in silliness. To get a total synthesis in JACS is an excellent accomplishment; but I am not sure the best organic papers (in terms of utility/ nuts 'n' bolts transformations) appear there.

Permalink to Comment

10. paul jones on September 7, 2005 4:55 PM writes...

I have often found the most practical and informative stuff to be in tetrahedron (and lett.), chem. commun., org. lett. and biorg. med. chem. lett. and synthesis. I find the BIG ACS journals, JACS, JOC and J. Med. Chem. to be filled with things that are trendy flavors of the week (nano this... QSAR that.. fluorescent Hg2+ sensor the other thing...).

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11. Petros on September 8, 2005 3:18 AM writes...

While it's some years since I ventured into a Med Chem lab. I find this discussion interesting.

When a practicing chemist I always found JOC and Tet Letts, supplemented by Synthesis as the most useful synthetic journals. JACS rarely had anything of interest. SynLett was new and Org Lett's hadn't appeared.

The RSC' Organic jorunal, then JCS Perkin I generally held little of interest and It's inetersting to see that none of these comments mention its replacememnt "Organic and Biomolecular chemistry"

Angewante was then (early 90s) a mixed bag

Permalink to Comment

12. Derek Lowe on September 8, 2005 6:57 AM writes...

The imperfect correlation between "most useful" and "most prestigious" journals is worth its own discussion. . .

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13. t on September 8, 2005 9:09 AM writes...

I am surprised Angewandte gets such high marks. It has never been a journal on my "A" list. JACS has indeed been living off its reputation for--oh-- 10-15 years now. It went into serious decline under Alan Bard. I like Org. Lett. and JOC a lot. Tet, tet lett, and Synthesis have tended to have less good stuff in recent years. For med chem BMCL is my runaway favorite; good communications with less hastle for the authors (elemental analyses, etc). BTW: the European J. of Med Chem isn't bad. For review-ish type journasl, I like the "Expert opinion..." series, though I have trouble getting access to those. I am in a small company, and the local schools don't carry them.

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14. Tim Mayer on September 8, 2005 9:59 AM writes...

I notice with some sadness that TODAY'S CHEMIST, a good journal about the day-to-day working chemist, has ceased publication. Not the most technical of journals, it was still a good read. Guess there aren't enough industrial chemists left to make it worthwhile.

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