Chemical Precedent

Readers with a fairly long memory will remember ChemWeb preprints. The pioneering site , which hosted my weekly Alchemist column from pilot issue till final closure and takeover by CI now hosts a fortnightly newspick from yours truly. As to the preprint server it attracted a lot of interest but never took off in the way that the physics preprint service at LANL did, unfortunately. It seems that now nature publishing group is hoping to step into the fold.

Nature Precedings (Geddit?) will cover chemistry, biomedicine, and earth sciences ) will host a wide range of research documents, including preprints, unpublished manuscripts, white papers, technical papers, supplementary findings, posters and presentations. All submissions will be reviewed by staff curators and accepted only if they are considered to be legitimate scientific contributions. The papers will not be peer reviewed. So, it’s almost exactly the same as ChemWeb preprints, but with the addition of biomed and geo. I hope it goes well, it is an interesting experiment, but one that did not produce the desired yield for ChemWeb despite that organisation’s peak membership being higher than the American Chemical Society. It takes more than a snappy name and some Web 2.0 graphics to win scientists over with novel Internet applications…thankfully.

Author: David Bradley

Freelance science journalist, author of Deceived Wisdom. Sharp-shooting photographer and wannabe rock god.

4 thoughts on “Chemical Precedent”

  1. Santosh you raise some fascinating points. It would be educational if someone from Nature could comment here in response.

  2. Nature Precedings needs to have a good rating system for open, community-based review to work well. Currently, submitted articles can be voted for, but that does not tell one how many would have voted against it. Nor does one get to know the negative points unless they go through the whole article themselves. Such negative points may have been mentioned in some comments but they are not easy to spot. Further, one is usually disinclined to write textual comments unless one has a strong interest to do so.

    With open preprint systems, being able to find useful and reliable ideas and data in articles is perhaps more important than being able to submit one. This becomes apparent as the number of articles increase, when searching can return hundreds and thousands of articles. One can’t go through all of them, and a few ‘bad’ articles can easily cause frustration and distrust in the quality of the submissions.

    But if search criteria can include objective measures of article quality, then one can indeed easily find valuable material. Nature Precedings should therefore opt for a point-based rating system where different aspects of articles can be appraised.

    Thus, instead of just letting one vote for an article, one should be allowed to rate its different aspects on, say, a 1-5 scale. Such aspects can include:

    1. clarity
    2. originality
    3. novelty
    4. presence and quality of experimental data
    5. logical procession
    6. depth
    7. proper referencing

    In effect, this would be a proper peer-review system.

    The ratings, both their average and their spread, should be displayed alongside articles.

    A good review/rating system will discourage submission of bad articles, build trust in the usability and reliability of content in Nature Precedings, and encourage quality submissions.

    (similar comments posted elsewhere on the web by me)

  3. According to Nature, “Written scientific communication takes place mainly through journals.
    Yet the web provides new, complementary opportunities for more rapid,
    participative and informal forms of communication. Nature Precedings
    is a free open access service from NPG that provides a way for researchers
    to share preliminary findings, solicit community feedback, and claim
    priority over discoveries.

    By promoting the rapid and open exchange of scientific information,
    Nature Precedings ultimately aims to help accelerate the pace of
    discovery.” If I remember rightly, those are pretty much the same aims that ChemWeb highlighted when it launched the equivalent service for chemists in the late 1990s


  4. I was lucky enough to work on the launch of the Chemistry Preprint Server while at ChemWeb, and drew the same comparison. It was a very exciting experiement to be involved with. Bill Town, then Director of wrote a piece in Chemistry International ( about the service. Much of what he said is still true today – only the technology, and the way researchers have embraced the Internet, have changed.

    I’ve blogged about this new service from Nature, and the similarity to the CPS, on my Chemistry Central blog (

    I wish Nature luck!

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