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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

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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 14, 2012

The Merck Index

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Posted by Derek

So the Royal Society of Chemistry has bought the Merck Index, and plans to try to raise its profile, especially online. I wish them luck, but I'm not sure how well that's going to work out. I have a copy, but it's an old one that I got for free when a library turned over its stock. There are years that go by that its pages stay undisturbed.

I think that the chemical substance entries on Wikipedia, among other things, have moved into the space once occupied by reference works like this. Now, it's true that many people would rather point to a standard reference work like the Merck Index than to Wikipedia, and that may well be the market right there. Is there, or can there be, more of one? An advertiser-supported online substance reference might have a niche, but it would have been a bigger niche if it had been colonized ten years ago.

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


1. Mike on December 14, 2012 7:50 AM writes...

The only advantage that the Merck Index might have over Wikipedia is a perception of accuracy. But surprisingly, I have found Wikipedia to be very accurate when it comes to chemistry articles. In fact, much of the data is sourced to the Merck Index.

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2. Morten G on December 14, 2012 8:09 AM writes...

If it means I can do things like look up solubilities in molar online rather than mass per volume then I am all for it.

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3. petros on December 14, 2012 8:14 AM writes...

It has always been a good reference source. My copy (XIth edition) was acquired in the same way as Derek's

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4. MolecularGeek on December 14, 2012 8:59 AM writes...

It's worth noting that RCS is also the owner of ChemSpider. What if their goal isn't to revamp the Index and sell more copies of it, but rather to use the Merck Index data to make ChemSpider more useful and marketable to groups and institutions?

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5. exGlaxoid on December 14, 2012 9:16 AM writes...

I have had a number of Merck Index editions, and they are great. But I also find simple web searches. the Aldrich/Sigma Catalogs (also available online now), and other databases just as useful now. If I want a structure from a name, sometimes I can just use a drawing program and give it a name.

So while I like the Merck Index a lot, it is too expensive, too slow to update and too heavy to use routinely. If they create a reasonable cost system for universities and companies to access the data, then they should do well. If they try to bleed it dry, then no one will bother with it.

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6. CoulombicExplosion on December 14, 2012 11:07 AM writes...

Ditto @#4, you beat me to it. I'd point out that ChemSpider is already very useful in my work.

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7. Chris Swain on December 14, 2012 11:15 AM writes...

When you also consider that the RSC is taking over the Chemical Database Service it is clear that the RSC is moving to increase it’s support of online chemistry.

I also use ChemSpider a lot.

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8. Sean Ekins on December 14, 2012 12:08 PM writes...

I would have liked them to do something a bit more radical than buy an old book. I am pretty sure Merck are pleased to be rid of it. The comments above have hit it on the nose, who needs an iconic "bible" when so much information is obtained online from other sources. I must admit my Merck Index has stayed on the shelf since ChemSpider came along. That was a move in the right direction and set it apart from the ACS in providing data to the community for free.
Perhaps they could have done something to help some of the growing open drug discovery projects..Why not provide all your content for free on neglected diseases (e.g. Malaria, TB)? I would not imagine ACS would do that any time soon. Also why not invest more in the mobile app community? ChemSpider mobile is a toe in the water but clearly growing a platform of mobile tools to help Chemists and other scientists would seem a good investment for the future - and a good branding opportunity.
Buying a book that is always going to have someone else's name on it does not seem a particularly good business move. Please prove me wrong.

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9. myma on December 14, 2012 12:09 PM writes...

I think it should be a good thing.

Now if only someone would do the same for the Geigy Scientific Tables. I have an old set I cherish.

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10. Helical_Investor on December 14, 2012 12:35 PM writes...

One of the first books I bought, not because a course required it, but to have it handy for my own reference. I used to refer to it a lot, but now .... not so much.

Oh well. I agree it would be an excellent online resource.


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11. Anonymous on December 14, 2012 2:43 PM writes...

My Merck Index (circa. 1991) is gathering dust in a box somewhere (not really sure where). Sigma/Aldrich get my vote when I need the answer quickly.

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12. Sisyphus on December 14, 2012 7:11 PM writes...

Is the Merck Manual the next to be thrown overboard?

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13. Pugwash on December 15, 2012 2:16 PM writes...

While I admit to using the web for quick reference, I still don't trust it as much as the Merck Index.

If others are prepared to accept safety profiles from a free web-page then I think we have a problem.

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14. MIMD on December 16, 2012 10:58 AM writes...

As Director of the 13th Edition, I opine this is probably a good thing. I spent many a conversation defending The Merck Index from non-science executives who did not understand its "ROI" and who might have had it discontinued.

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