About this Author
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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Accelerated Approval And Its Discontents | Main | Databases and Money »

September 6, 2012

Graphical Abstract Tedium

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Scrolling through my journal RSS feeds, a question occurs to me. What's the biggest cliché, the most overused trope in graphic abstracts? My nomination is the "row of glowing vials" to illustrate some new fluorescent/luminescent sensor molecule. Nothing wrong with a row of glowing vials per se, but man, has that image ever been done to death. (I'm just glad that I'm not working on anything of the kind, so I don't have to figure out what to show instead). Your nominations? Just think of what makes you grit your teeth as you glance over the journal table of contents, even before you've read the title of the paper, and you'll have it.

Update: as mentioned in the comments, if you want the TOC graphics that are each. . .special. . .in their own way, then look no further than TOCROFL.

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


1. Henry's cat on September 6, 2012 8:32 AM writes...

The faunafication of molecules. Great one in JACS atm.

Permalink to Comment

2. John Wayne on September 6, 2012 9:18 AM writes...

Lots of colors and cool graphics that depict very optimistic end uses of research combined with very sparse results.

Permalink to Comment

3. The Iron Chemist on September 6, 2012 9:31 AM writes...

I second the glowing stuff. I'll also note that it seems to make so-so science more publishable. "Sure our mercury sensor is useless at detecting sub-micromolar concentrations and it only works in acetonitrile but it GLOWS! Oooooh!!!"

Permalink to Comment

4. el perro grande on September 6, 2012 9:51 AM writes...

I think it has to be target molecules overlaid on a stock photo of the natural source (tree, sponge etc.).

Permalink to Comment

5. Nils on September 6, 2012 9:58 AM writes...

Just make an image search for "chemicals" at your favourite web search engine, and you'll see - vials, with colorful stuff, and more vials, and more.

Permalink to Comment

6. nitrosonium on September 6, 2012 10:00 AM writes...

Has KCN done away with the colored/shaded ring motif? i know those "structures" have been addressed here by Derek but those things (used to) annoy to no end when they popped up in the graphical abstracts.

Permalink to Comment

7. Anonymous on September 6, 2012 10:02 AM writes...

There are so many bad abstract pictures that somebody started a blog:

Permalink to Comment

8. Anonymous on September 6, 2012 11:51 AM writes...

Good link #7. There are definitely way too many smiley faces. Chemicals, as far as I know, don't have any emotions.

Permalink to Comment

9. Myma on September 6, 2012 12:20 PM writes...

A "scientist" in a lab coat but sans safety glasses staring intently at test tube of colored liquid.

Permalink to Comment

10. Anonymous on September 6, 2012 1:09 PM writes...

Pictures of cats wedged somewhere in a catalytic cycle.

Permalink to Comment

11. nitrosonium on September 6, 2012 3:59 PM writes...

check out this gem of a graphical abstract:

Permalink to Comment

12. Jason on September 6, 2012 9:14 PM writes...

#11- I want to believe that someone made that complex just to be able to put a sex joke in the abstract.

Permalink to Comment

13. displayer on September 7, 2012 4:13 AM writes...

er, maybe this is too obvious, but chemical structures.
all too often, I see scientists trying to attract attention to their work just by drawing a black and white stick structure. who is interested in that? please if you're not going to spend time to properly produce the graphical abstract your work deserves, it is not hard to just add some interest through a photo of some lab equipment, your product in a vial, or clip art, a photo of a mountain, greek god. At the very least the use of a second or third colour for the rings if you have any in the structure, or even just draw the bonds in pink and green. come on!!

Permalink to Comment

14. John Wayne on September 7, 2012 8:28 AM writes...


Most things we publish are for consumption by an audience that shares our technical expertise. Chemical structures are an effective tool to communicate because there is a standard presentation that is (usually) followed. Adding 'interest,' such as color, is a waste of time and actually detracts from the material being presented; the people who do it anyway are noted by their peers.

Press releases, advertisements, etc. are very different (being intended for a wider audience), and are treated appropriately.

Permalink to Comment

15. emjeff on September 7, 2012 9:23 AM writes...

The use of graphical abstracts themselves have become a cliche...

Permalink to Comment

16. homer on September 7, 2012 6:38 PM writes...

This one...

Permalink to Comment

17. sepisp on September 10, 2012 6:04 AM writes...

If you go and check the front page of Green Chemistry, where a graphical abstract is mandatory, the most common mistake is a wrong choice of size. The resolution available is really low: you have only 378 pixels horizontally for use. But, many select graphs that won't show well until at about twice that size. For example:

The second thing that irks me is the use of 3D ball-and stick or space filling model of a molecule for no apparent benefit. This is a good example of how it doesn't help: A regular skeletal formula is much more clear.

Or, even worse, some authors like to abstractify the results to hell.

Permalink to Comment

18. rguinn on September 11, 2012 4:54 PM writes...

I've always liked the click chemistry "Click!" explosion illustration.

Permalink to Comment

19. Colonel Boris on September 16, 2012 3:54 PM writes...

Any MOF paper with a shiny, golden ball that completely ignores any actual pore volume available.
We used to call them "Omar's Golden Balls" in my old lab.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry