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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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December 5, 2008

Squinting At The Pictures, The Modern Way

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Posted by Derek

Fellow chemists, let’s address a housekeeping problem. I know that not all of us are thrilled at all times with the American Chemical Society, but I think that we can agree that the journals it runs are (for the most part) a valuable resource.

And in these days of modern times, as the Firesign Theatre used to say, the presence of such journals on the internet is crucial. As many of you know, the ACS recently revamped the web pages for its journals, adding a number of new functions. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken away some at the same time.

Initially, on too many of journal sites, the graphical abstract was presented at a default size of “itsy bitsy”. If you wanted to browse the ASAP in-press articles, you had to squint at tiny, fuzzy blobs to see what the authors of each article wanted you to know about it. And that’s clearly not what a graphical abstract is for, is it? I'm relieved to see that this seems to have improved in the last few days.

But I'm not sure when the change took place, because I hardly ever visit the front doors of the ACS journals I read. That’s because I, like many other scientists, follow these things through RSS feeds. (I use Google Reader myself – if anyone’s just setting up an RSS reader and would like my OPML file, just e-mail me and I’ll send it along and save you some time).

And what does the RSS feed look like now? Well, for several days, there were no graphical abstracts at all, which made the ACS feeds look just as ugly and nonfunctional as the Elsevier ones. Way to go! (Isn’t it odd that Tet Letters, the journal that pioneered the whole idea of a graphical abstract in chemistry, doesn’t include its graphics in its RSS stream? I don’t get any, at any rate). Which reminds me - if you don't care for the Wiley feeds, either, specifically Angewandte Chemie's, you can get a better version of that one here.

I wrote the ACS support people and complained about the problem, and was told that they were fixing things. Well, their idea of a fix is apparently to include the tiny, blurry graphic in the feed – those have started showing up this week, and an irritatingly useless sight they are. This is one of those examples of taking something that was perfectly useful before – the RSS feeds they way they were last month – and improving them into junk. The ACS pages will be down again on Sunday, presumably for more fine-tuning. We'll see if the feeds return to functionality next week. If they don't. . .well, please consider adding your voice to the chorus asking that they do. Thanks!

Comments (19) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Grubbs the cat on December 5, 2008 8:53 AM writes...

I could not agree more as I read the ACS journals with Google Reader myself. And I have been telling the journal support what I think of that 'improvement'! I just hope that many people do that, this way we should have the graphical abstracts back in usable form soon.

I just cannot believe that they had no chemist as beta tester, and that this person would not have picked this up instantly!

This so reminds me of the odd 'IT improvement' in our industry...

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2. startup on December 5, 2008 9:45 AM writes...

Well, I, for one thing, would like to know who came up with the idea of removing an option of sorting search results by publication date.

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3. Anonymous on December 5, 2008 10:40 AM writes...

they may have had a chemist as a beta tester, but maybe not an organic chemist. We're really the ones who think pictorially. Heck, I still don't feel right drawing structures with a pen, I need a pencil! Needless to say, I have no idea what you're talking about. RSS confuses and frightens me - I'm just a caveman ...

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4. Anonymous on December 5, 2008 11:07 AM writes...

I don't use RSS, but I go directly to the ACS website, and the new site makes it much more difficult to read the ASAPs every day. The graphic quality for the displayed abstracts is very poor. They have this option to flip through other thumbnail images in the paper, but these come out very small in general and appear to be random images from the article with no context. Also, once you click to display graphical abstracts (this is not the default), and then proceed to view and article, when you go back to the ASAP list, the graphics are gone and it returns you to different part of the list from where you left. I have also been unable to sort search results by date.

I have emailed the ACS to complain and I encourage everyone else to do the same. There is a link for "comments and suggestions" on the JACS home page.

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5. croker on December 5, 2008 11:10 AM writes...

While on the subject of RSS feeds; I came across a way to create your own RSS feed in pubmed. I use it to keep track of authors, natural products, biological targets, etc.

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6. Giagan on December 5, 2008 11:58 AM writes...

My e-mail ASAP alerts are a mess now. When the switch to the new site was made, they began sending them to my home e-mail address (where I obviously have no subscription to ACS journal content) rather than my work one. It's been difficult to get this straightened out.

To warn me of the change to my e-mail alerts, they sent me the same form e-mail *9* times in that week.

They are also sending me TOC alerts when a new issue is compiled, rather than the daily ASAP alerts that I prefer.

The times at which articles for a given day are posted seems inconsistent, meaning that I have to scan back daily through 2 days of graphical abstracts for all of the 11 journals I watch. I now have to check all 11 each day and I have to navigate to them separately, rather than simply following links to specific journals from the daily ASAP alerts.

I will send this feedback to the ACS, and I will also look into this RSS feed business that you all speak of.

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7. azmanam on December 5, 2008 12:46 PM writes...

There's also a graphical, all-in-one (as in journals from all publishers) here:

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8. MTK on December 5, 2008 1:11 PM writes...

One thing to bear in mind is that the same website can look different depending on your browser and your own personal settings. This is in fact one of the challenges that web designers run into in trying to get a particular look.

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9. Molecular architect on December 5, 2008 2:47 PM writes...

Arghh! I'm getting the same result with RSS feeds using NetNewsWire (on Mac). This used to work beautifully and was a quick, efficient way to scan the graphical abstracts each day.

Why can't content providers follow the sage advice: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

Good point about Tet Letters. I don't understand why all publishers that have graphical abstracts don't include them in the RSS feed.

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10. milkshake on December 5, 2008 3:24 PM writes...

"To err is human. To Arghh is pirate."

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11. Handles on December 5, 2008 10:00 PM writes...

Giagan I had similar problems. I went to the alerts site, deselected all journals and saved, then reselected everything again. Now I at least get ASAP again, and the multiple copies have stopped.

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12. jt on December 5, 2008 11:40 PM writes...

I too was dismayed by the "updated" ACS journals web site. I discovered, much to my delight, that if you log on with an iMAC the site ROCKS. Naturally, like nearly everyone on the planet, I have a Windows "operating" system run on a popular PC named after a very wealthy person with a short last name that rhymes with SMELL, at work. The ACS journals website sucks (to be polite) from my work computer.

Mystery solved: Toyota=iMAC; Buick=PC

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13. zts on December 6, 2008 7:47 AM writes...

A picture is worth a thousand words. If I can't see the graphical abstract, I won't read the paper. They took something that used to work, and "upgraded" it, so now it is worthless. I used to read the journals via the RSS feeds, but when the graphical abstracts were shrunken, I went back to the web page. Unfortunately, they upgraded the web page too.

Apparently, the web page was designed to work properly on a PC *only* with Firefox, which is quite lazy because a lot of people still use IE (at work I have no choice). On IE, the graphical abstracts do not display by default. If you click the link to display them, they are so warped as to be almost unreadable. You can scroll through some of the graphics from the paper on this screen, but only some of them, not necessarily the most important ones, with no context, and most of them, again, are so small you can't read them.

The default page for the journal only shows the first 5 papers, you have to click another link to show all of them (then click again for the graphical abstracts), even though most people have fast enough internet connections that they can manage the whole list without any problem. ACS should be making things easier for us, not harder.

Choices for reading articles:

1) HTML, still useless because the graphics do not display in a readable size by default. For most of us, at least us organic chemists, the graphics are the most important part of the paper, and we skim them first. Some of the graphics do not have their captions, so when a scheme just has a, b, c, etc. over the arrows you cannot find out what the reagents are (at least on one of the papers I checked).

2) Pdf with links, a good idea, except it puts really thick ugly boxes around all the graphics. Sometimes these overlap with the figures making them hard to read. When I click on these links, what does it do but bring up a picture of the scheme. I could already see the scheme just fine, what is the point of this? Also, footnote numbers in the text are *not* hyperlinked to the footnote section, so you still have to scroll around. The supporting information is not hyperlinked to.

3) High-res pdf. The pdfs now have an annoying cover page showing when you downloaded the paper. This adds no value and just gets in the way, so now I have to take extra steps to print without that page, or delete it prior to saving a copy of the paper.

Additionally, I feel like the pages look more cluttered and unprofessional. Did the ACS have any chemists test this prior to rolling it out?

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14. InfMP on December 6, 2008 6:49 PM writes...

You can't sort by date.

Want to see the author latest paper? nope. i don't think so dude.

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15. drug_hunter on December 6, 2008 9:32 PM writes...

From direct experience on editorial boards of several ACS journals, and longtime membership in ACS, I can tell you I've simply given up on ever expecting them to do the right or creative thing. The ACS simply doesn't have a lot of incentive to be innovative, and indeed are locked into a stodgy read-guard action to protect their fiefdom. Look at their nauseating response to PubChem and the increases in journal prices even though on-line delivery of journals is LESS expensive than paper. Other publishers are no better than ACS. I look forward to the day that CAS no longer has a stranglehold on chemical information, and that all scientific journals are free. We need the equivalent of PLOS for chemistry!

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16. KB on December 7, 2008 12:33 PM writes...

Oh dear. From what I can see the site works least well on IE7. Which is a problem if you work at some large pharma companies since they are still stuck on IE6. In that case the site just won't work. At all. Messy messy redesign. One of the worst I have seen. There's just too much crap on the page before you get to the real stuff. Web 2.0 for the sake of it. They should hang their heads in shame

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17. Jav aslinger on December 8, 2008 10:01 AM writes...

Interestingly, as I read these posts I recall thinking 'hmmm, I thought the new website was pretty good...'...

So I just checked again... I'm running a Vista system with Firfox 3.04.

Everything looks great... The pictures are clear and certainly large enough for me.

I can't speak to an RSS feed as I'm not sure what it is.. but just going to and browsing the journals looks fantastic on my system.

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18. Grubbs the cat on December 8, 2008 10:27 AM writes...

maybe they got swamped with complaints, as they have already put this in their FAQ section:

hope dies last...

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19. Govindan on December 17, 2008 12:21 AM writes...

I could not read the ACS, but would like to know what it all about.

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