The (Chemical Information) World is Flat

December 27, 2006

Certainly the need to extract chemical and physical data from the literature, as contrasted with bibliographic information, will increase. The new breed of chemical information specialists will not only have to be trained in information storage and retrieval but also in writing and digesting information - what is otherwise called reviewing. ...

Where are all the new chemical information specialists going to come from? Many of them will be people who start out in a career path in information science. But most will be Ph.D. chemists who will turn to information science as an alternative career in a tough job market. They will be no different than the many chemists who wound up as chemical marketing specialists back in the depression.

Eugene Garfield, J. Chem. Inf. Comput. Sci. 1978, 18, 1-4

Thirty years may have passed, but the situation described by Garfield rings eerily familiar today. What could not have been anticipated is the degree to which the playing field for information producers is being flattened. Today's scientist-reviewer employs many of the same tools, accesses the same distribution channels, and eventually will compete for the same readers as established journals, databases, and other services.

For example, consider the sharp increase in the number of chemistry-related blogs within the last year. Although the underlying technologies are woefully ill-suited to the job, a groundswell of both writers and readers for this type of scientific communication has been exposed.

How far out can this trend be extrapolated? Garfield has argued that "in the future, it would be more and more difficult to distinguish (ordinary) laboratory scientists from information specialists." Looking back at the last thirty years, there is ample evidence to support this claim for information consumers and producers alike. How well are you and your organization positioned to thrive in the flat chemical information world that lies ahead?