Chemical Information Sources/Blogs, Social Networks, and Mailing Lists
This chapter reviews communication in chemistry and chemical information, which has undergone dramatic change in the last 25 years because of the internet. Chemists and chemical information specialists now have a myriad of tools (many free) at their disposal to communicate, share and collaborate. Online communication greatly increased in the 1990s with the rise of Usenet groups, widespread use of email and listservs, and creation of the World Wide Web. The next decade marked the rise of blogs and other social networking tools associated with Web 2.0, enabling communication to an even greater degree. Wireless (wifi) networks offer internet access without being tied to wired ethernet connections and desktop computers. Internet users have even more mobility through the use of smartphones and tablet computers, while publishers, companies and developers are creating "apps" and mobile-enabled websites to support chemists' information needs on these devices. While chemists still attend conferences to present their research and to network, people not attending can follow the conference as attendees using blogs and Twitter to report on the sessions, and even watch presentations as they are live-streamed.
Electronic Mailing Lists
Electronic mailing lists (listservs) are still a common method of communicating to a large group of people with similar personal or professional interests. There are several compilations of e-mail lists for chemistry topics, but these have not been updated in a number of years so some lists may no longer be active.
CHMINF-L (Chemical Information Sources Discussion List)
The principal listserv or email list for chemical information is CHMINF-L. Started by Gary Wiggins in 1991, it is currently managed by Brian Winterman (Indiana University Bloomington Libraries) and has 1,453 subscribers as of December 24, 2013. Chemists, chemical information specialists, and publisher and vendor representatives are the major groups of CHMINF-L members. It is currently sponsored by major chemical information units of several professional societies: American Chemical Society, Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Chemistry Division of the Special Libraries Association.
CHMINF-L serves as a forum for discussion of chemical information sources and an information source for chemistry reference questions. Typical topics on CHMINF-L include:
- News about existing or new sources, including updates to interfaces
- Prices and availability of databases and other sources of information
- Open access, scholarly information and data management
- Chemical reference questions, often property-related
- Search hints
- Surveys on various topics
- Assistance with incomplete citations, usually for interlibrary loan requests
- Sources of chemicals
- Announcements for jobs, workshops and webinars, conferences, and calls for papers and presentations
A sample of postings from 2012:
- How is the ACS Style Guide being used and taught for citing references?
- How do I find IR spectra in SciFinder?
- I am trying to find the heat of formation value for potassium ferrate K2FeO4.
- What are the best options for structure drawing on mobile devices?
- I need densities for various compounds such as diethyl ether and propylene oxide over a wide range of temperatures in 2-degree C increments.
- What core print spectra sources to keep onsite when weeding a print collection?
The CHMINF-L Archives are open and searchable to anyone regardless of list membership.
Blogs, one of the core social networking tools, play a vital role in communication and current awareness. A blog is a website where entries of content are written and posted online, generally in reverse chronological order. Blogs can have a personal or professional focus (complete with CV), or a mix of the two; they can be written and maintained by one author or a group of bloggers. Many bloggers allow others to comment on their posts to create two-way communication between the writer and readers. Readers can keep up with new content by checking back on the blog for new posts, setting up e-mail alerts, or subscribing to the blog by adding its RSS feed to an RSS reader. Many bloggers also have Twitter accounts they also use to promote their blogs when there's a new posting. There are ample resources available to help people get started with blogging, which became popular with the advent of authoring tools like Blogger, and WordPress (hosted and download options).
Science Blogging and Blog Networks
Bora Zivkovic provides an overview of the history of science blogging, identifying key points in its evolution as well as some of the first science bloggers..
The easiest way to find science blogs is to start with the blog networks. The first two science blog networks were Nature Network (now at nature.com and SciLogs) and ScienceBlogs.com.. Scientific American, Discover, The Guardian, National Geographic, PLOS, Wired Science, Forbes Pharma and Healthcare, Forbes Innovation & Science, Slate, Southern Fried Science, Ars Technica, and Double X Science. There are many writers who maintain their own blogs, and some who contribute to blog networks as well. One such blog is Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus' popular Retraction Watch, which tracks "retractions as a window into the scientific process."
Another good starting place to find blogs of interest is ScienceSeeker, whose "goal is to be the world's most comprehensive aggregator of science discussions, all organized by topic.". The posts and sources (including blogs) are searchable by keyword, and can be filtered by subject, such as chemistry, science communication, engineering, and ethics.
Chemistry and Chemical Information Blogs
Zivkovic lists Derek Lowe among the early science bloggers. Lowe's blog, In the Pipeline, was launched in February 2002, making it one of the first chemistry blogs. Ashutosh Jogalekar's first post blog post went up on The Curious Wavefunction in December 2004. Jean-Claude Bradley started Useful Chemistry blog in 2005 to chronicle his group's research at Drexel, which you can also follow on their ONS (Open Notebook Science) wiki.
Many bloggers, maintain a blogroll on their site, so it is very easy to start with one chemistry blog and then find more to follow based on who they follow. There are several chemistry blog directories, including Chemical Blogspace and Chemistry Blogs. The Sceptical Chymist at Nature Chemistry publishes a monthly "blogroll" where invited bloggers share recent posts of interest, usually around a particular theme. The December 2013 post, The top 10 chemistry blog posts of 2013, provides a scope of the topics covered by chemistry bloggers.
Along with In the Pipeline and The Curious Wavefunction, other well known chemist and chemistry blogs include ChemBark, Chemjobber, Just Like Cooking, The Safety Zone at C&EN (the other C&EN blogs were closed on June 30, 2014), BiochemBelle, Open Flask, chem-bla-ics, and Chemistry Blog, as well as blogs by Henry Rzepa and Peter Murray-Rust.
Some bloggers use their real names, while others use pseudonyms, which should not be confused with anonymity.
One of the key social networking tools now is Twitter. A microblogging service launched in 2006, Twitter allows people to post (tweet) messages of up to 140 characters. You can tweet via the twitter.com website, or use one of the many available desktop or mobile applications to manage your Twitter account(s). In February 2014 the company announced they now had 241 million monthly active users.
- You "follow" other Twitter users, and their tweets make up your timeline that you view when you read your account. Other users follow you and see your tweets on their timeline.
- You can keep your account and tweets public by default, or change your account to protected. If you keep it protected, you must approve any follow requests.
- Tweets can be amplified by "retweeting" or quoting. You can also mark tweets as "favorites."
- Along with text, you can tweet photographs and links to other content.
- Public tweets can be searched, and some words or phrases may be considered "trending topics" if tweeted at a high enough frequency.
- Common symbols: @ identifies an account (@jack is the account of co-founder Jack Dorsey); RT = retweet, with MT often used to designate a retweet that's been edited; # designates a hashtag.
Other networks: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn
Thousands of news groups were developed to be read through Unix news readers. They were distributed to organizations only through network newsfeeds. Therefore, you may have to request that a subscription be added if your organization utilizes newsgroups. The news feed is read by newsreader client software such as: trn, rn, nn, tin, etc. or newsreaders included with network browsers. They have names that start with:
- comp. - computer science and similar topics examples: comp.software.testing comp.os.linux
- news. - news about Usenet itself
- rec. - recreation, hobbies, the arts examples: rec.bicycles rec.heraldry
- sci. - scientific research and applications, including many scientific, engineering, and social sciences disciplines examples: sci.chem sci.polymers
- soc. - social issues (loosely interpreted) example: soc.religion
- misc. - materials that do not fit anywhere else
- alt. - alternative ways of looking at things; discussion groups range from relatively ordinary topics to the bizarre. Not all systems carry these Newsgroups. examples: alt.cd-rom alt.feminism alt.horror
- biz. - business-related issues example: biz.jobs.
The use of e-mail and social networking tools that the Internet and World Wide Web provide has revolutionized the way chemists communicate. Finding a partner or research group that shares an interest in the type of chemistry you are doing is much easier now than it was even two decades ago.
- Zivkovic, Bora (July 10, 2012). "Science Blogs – definition, and a history". A Blog Around The Clock. Scientific American. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2012/07/10/science-blogs-definition-and-a-history/. Retrieved 12-12-2012.
- "About ScienceSeeker". ScienceOnline. http://scienceseeker.org/about. Retrieved 01-01-2014.