Book Reviews

Baykoucheva, S., Managing Scientific Information and Research Data, Chandos Publishing, Amsterdam, Boston, 2015 (Paperback $67.11 and ISBN 9780081001950).

When Svetla asked me to write a pre-publication review of this book for the CIB, I gladly accepted. Since the keyword “managing” was prominent, and also that interviews with information industry experts were included, I guess I assumed that the book would be about information managers.  Although I never was a manager in my career, I have plenty of experience with information managers, most good, some not so good.  When I received the manuscript, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was about managing information at the personal, group, and organizational levels, especially the former, resulting in much broader appeal.

Given the increasing prevalence of electronic data acquisition as well as publishing and information retrieval, the need for individual scientists, especially chemists, to manage the increasing flood of information and data is paramount to success.

The Introductory chapter gives an account of the career of the author as well as a chronicle of the interviews she has done both in previous issues of the CIB and in this book. Chapter 2 cuts a wide and timely swath through a wide variety of issues, several controversial, in scientific communication, including challenges to traditional models and modes, refereeing, peer review, Open Access and the upsurge in Open Access Journals (including “predatory” journals), and a three-page list of new models of communication and publishing. Social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) are discussed, including the reasons for using them and who uses them.  Further aspects of Open Access and the reviewing process are discussed in the chapter conclusion.

Ethics are discussed in Chapter 3, including debates on priority, editorial bias, manipulation of impact factors, peer review, detection of scientific fraud, citing decisions, pseudoscience vs. fraud vs. hoaxes, and a list of six organizations working to prevent unethical publication.  Chapter 5 covers the finding and acquisition of information as well as managing the retrieval process.  Resources, both free and fee-based, are briefly described. The list includes PubMed/MEDLINE, PubChem, Google Scholar, Reaxys, SciFinder, Scopus, and Web of Science.  Retrieval comparisons are presented for sample searches on CAplus (STN), MEDLINE, and CAPlus/MEDLINE searched together, and between MEDLINE, Scopus, and Web of Science. The use of Chemical Abstracts Registry Numbers (CASRN) is also discussed.

The continuing importance of scientific information literacy and the evolving roles of academic librarians are discussed in Chapter 6. The emergence of end-user friendly resources has at times led to an unfortunate perception that library input is no longer needed.  However, librarians are needed to assist in training and education for both the resources and the necessary information management tools. Training and education in information literacy covers the gamut of retrieval, evaluation, and management of the information as well as ethics and writing skills.  A long list of the functions performed by citation managing programs is followed by a list and brief descriptions of the popular programs. Illustrated examples are given. Design of information literacy instruction is presented as well as evaluation of the effectiveness of the programs.  Data for student evaluation of the effectiveness of the literacy programs at the author’s school (University of Maryland College Park, UMCP) are presented. The chapter concludes with a list of sample questions assigned in chemistry courses at UMCP.

Coping with the large task of dealing with Big Data is the theme of Chapter 8. Types of data are discussed followed by curation and authentication of data, management, archiving, and preservation. The management of metadata (data about data) is then discussed as well as data provenance and the use of DOI identifiers, data standards, and 10 criteria for citing data.  The roles of libraries and librarians in data curation, preservation, and storage are discussed, concluding with the question of whether academic librarians are promising more than they can deliver.

Electronic notebooks, ELNs, are discussed extensively in Chapter 9.  The pluses and minuses of both ELNs and paper notebooks are elaborated including acceptance by researchers, schools, and other organizations. The impact of ELNs not only affects data acquisition but also other aspects of management including preservation, determination of provenance, incorporation of all data especially the apparatus from where they are generated, and determination and reduction of data in error or even fraud are discussed.

Chapter 11 covers the controversial subject of measurement of the impact of academic research (although the discussion could easily be broadened to all research).  Use and misuse of Impact Factors and related metrics is the chapter focus. Eugene Garfield has observed that Impact Factors are designed to evaluate journals, not author contributions. However, even evaluation of journals is subject to spin, including spin from the publishers.  Resources described include ISI, the Science Citation Index (SCI), Journal Impact Factors (including drawbacks), Journal Citation Reports, Essential Science Indicators, h-index, and Google Scholar Citations.  Alternatives including Journal Metrics from Elsevier are also discussed.  The pressure put on researchers to publish in journals with high Impact Factors is extensive.

Other aspects of reader “attention” to publications including social media and altimetrics, are covered in Chapter 14.  As publication increasingly drifts into alternative media, including social media, Facebook, Twitter, online libraries, blogs on science and their comments, the need arises for evaluation of the impact and readership.  Altimetrics, monitoring attention to scholarly input on social media, attempts to do just that.  Are simple compilation of hits and visits to a site truly indicative of interest? Probably even less so than simple citation counts to traditionally published articles.  In both cases, there are several reasons for a reader to cite a resource. One provenance issue is that bots or crawlers can’t be distinguished from personal visits by individuals. Unlike traditional citation metrics, these metrics can begin to be tracked within days or even hours after publication, as opposed to years. The stakes are even higher for grants, funding, researcher reputation, promotion, etc.  The author states that “counts mean nothing unless they can be interpreted”, the same can be said for citation data.

Chapter 15 covers unique identifiers for author names, document identifiers, and chemical compound identifiers.  Author names are subject to wide variation due to editorial policies, name changes, transliteration protocols, cultural influences (especially for Asian names), and outright errors.  Publisher treatment of names is discussed for SciFinder, Scopus, and Web of Science with illustrations of how the author’s name is handled. (Even with a unique name, publisher variations in my name are extensive.)  Unique name identifiers including ORCID, International Standard Name Identifier, and ResearcherID are described. (I’m suitably inspired to get my ORCID number). The proliferation of the availability of most articles in digital form has led to the digital object identifier (DOI). Identifiers for chemical names include CASRN, InChI (IUPAC International Chemical Identifier), and SMILES.

Chapter 16, the Epilog stresses again the need for teaching information literacy and management, a most exciting area for libraries and librarians.

Five of the chapters are interviews. John Fourkas, associate editor of the Journal of Physical Chemistry, provides his views on the publishing process and the ethical questions raised in Chapter 3.  Cherifa Boukacem-Zeghmouri provides insight on the evolution of electronic resources, including social media, in Europe.  “The Complexities of Chemical Information” is an interview with Gary Wiggins, founder inter alia of CHMINF-L. I especially identify with his quote, “Many intricacies of the CA and MEDLINE files are masked by user-friendly systems like SciFinder.”  Always interesting, Eugene Garfield gives another fascinating interview “From the Science Citation Index to the Journal Impact Factor and Web of Science”.   I concur with the need to at least scan tables of contents of journals and I regularly did that even after I left the lab.  The last interview in the book is with Bonnie Lawlor, “What it Looked Like to Work at ISI,” amplifying her excellent chapter in the ACS Symposium Book (1).

I have just a few minor quibbles. The discussion of open access in Chapter 2 could include citations to the work of Henry Rzepa and Peter Murray-Rust as well as the chemical structure and data checking program of the latter, used to encourage authors and publishers to correct errors.  Categories of Open Access journals are discussed, but there is no comparison of author publication fees.  In Chapter 6, CAS Registry Numbers have much more extensive use than just searching for chemical properties.  They are the search item of choice for all aspects of chemical compounds in any file in which they exist.

I found some valuable insights in reading this book. Because of mentors, I had developed excellent paper notebook practices both in academic and commercial labs.  I was also the victim of notebook fraud committed by a predecessor, and its impact on company research and my job.  Although decades removed from the lab, I can see the advantages of ELNs in modern research for management of the mountains of data being produced.  I’m way overdue on acquiring and using citation management software and I’m prepared to take the plunge.  Other than reading select blogs for scientific information, I don’t use social media for those purposes, but I appreciate the need for documentation in those media.  Even though I was never an academic, I’ve been involved in chemical and patent information literacy education for decades (including college and high school classes and end-user training) and I appreciate the author’s activities in this area, especially Chapter 6.  Since I’ve just submitted a chapter on citation practices for the chemical information issue of the Journal of Chemical Education, I’m also appreciative of the coverage of those subjects in this book and I’ll add a note and citation in proof in my article.  I also identify with the quote by Joshua Schimel in Chapter 8, on the progression from data to understanding via information and knowledge, a concept I’ve used frequently.  As a decades-long user of abstracted and indexed resources, I agree with Gary Wiggins that those resources are superior to end-user friendly files for optimal retrieval of chemical information.

Bibliographies appear at the end of each chapter and an index is included.  I highly recommend this book.  Librarians should acquire three copies: one for their collections, one for themselves, and one for their administrators in order to furnish information management advice at that level and avoid mismanagement.

(1) Lawlor, B. The Institute for Scientific Information: A Brief History. In The Future of the History of Chemical Information; McEwen, L. R., Buntrock, R. E., Eds.; ACS Symposium Series 1164, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, 2014; pp 109-126.

Robert E. (Bob) Buntrock
Buntrock Associates
Orono, ME


Kovacs, L., Csupor, D., Lente, G., Gunda, T., 100 Chemical Myths: Misconceptions, Misunderstandings, Explanations, Springer: Heidelberg, New York, 2014. 396 p. + xxii. ISBN 978-3-319-08418-3 Hardcover, 51.99 Euros ($66.49 Amazon).

Translated from the Hungarian (original 2011), this excellent book indeed covers 100 “myths” in chemistry and related sciences.  The myths/chapters are grouped in four sections: General Food, Medicines, and Catastrophes and Poisons.  All chemicals and topics are cross referenced within the text if mentioned or described in another chapter.  Structures are shown for all chemicals, either 2D (with indicated stereochemistry) or space filling or both.  All concepts appear in boldface when first mentioned and are also described in the Glossary.  The topics are of general interest in both the U.S. and Europe, but given the authorship, a few are more of interest to Hungarians.  Organized by chapter, source references as well as references for further reading are shown at the end of the book.

The stated mission is to correct chemical myths, especially the all too-rampant chemophobia. The early chapters deal with more general topics including chemophobia, “natural” vs. synthetic chemicals, delusions of the safety of natural products, health factors of organic foods, toxicity and dosage, factual vs. misinterpretations of TSCA chemicals, REACH regulation, and the relative risks of food additives. Some topics covered in subsequent chapters include the Ozone Hole, lead toxicity, food dyes and preservatives, fats and oils, sweeteners, MSG, salt, caffeine, food safety and fraud, generic vs. proprietary medicines, various medicinals and placebos, herbals, homeopathy, vitamins, the hoax of detox, antioxidants, poisons, mercury, ozone, diamonds, water, war gases, organophosphates, BPA (safe at regulated levels), and ending with Erin Brockovich and chromates. Definitive answers are not always given, but the discussions and further reading should help the readers make their own decisions.

Did I always agree with the author’s findings?  No, but my disagreements were few and unimportant.  For example, I don’t agree with the research on the source of less sliding friction in ice skating.  The researchers apparently never skated outdoors at a range of temperatures.  Overall, an excellent catalog of both chemical information and misinformation. Current hot topics in the U.S. including the chemophobia of the “Food Babe” and pros and cons of vaccinations are not included but many other newsworthy topics are.  Highly recommended for a wide variety of audiences.

Robert E. (Bob) Buntrock
Buntrock Associates
Orono, ME