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--> Review Literature and the Chemist DENNIS A.BRUNNING ABSTRACT. A questionnaire was circulated to 150 scientists engaged in various fields of chemical research. This paper is based on the 65 completed questionnaires which were returned and represents an attempt to discover how far the various types of scientific review are necessary to the chemist engaged in academic or industrial research and to ascertain how he makes use of the review literature and whether it is adequate for his needs. The great volume of literature reporting original work has grown steadily year by year and has, under present methods of publication and information dissemination, become almost unmanageable. There has been a corresponding increase in the size of abstracting journals and an increase in the number of review articles and review journals, but these publications, which may be regarded in part as keys to the literature, are beginning to add to the difficulties of information retrieval rather than to facilitate it. The large volume of research currently being undertaken has led to a corresponding demand for more critical interim summaries of work in progress and to periodic comprehensive surveys of particular fields. The complexity of modern science has also enforced an increasing specialisation upon the individual scientist who at the same time is continually finding that his specialisation impinges upon others and thus makes it imperative for him to keep abreast of advances made in fields adjacent to his own. It is the review article and review journal which attempt to satisfy these needs by accumulating, digesting, and correlating the current literature in particular fields and giving an indication of the direction which future research might take. The review literature is therefore coming to play an ever increasing part in the dissemination of the results of research, and it is becoming more and more essential that this form of literature should be organised rationally and should be closely geared to the needs of the scientist. It is well to remember DENNIS A.BRUNNING Chester Beatty Research Institute, Institute of Cancer Research, Royal Cancer Hospital, London.
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--> that at this time the scientist has more literature to read and less time in which to read it than ever before. In conversation with scientists one continually hears complaints about the amount of literature being produced and the methods of storage and retrieval, and it was therefore surprising to the writer that in the answers to the questionnaire the general feeling seemed to be one of satisfaction so far as review publication was concerned. The questionnaire: discussion of answers received The majority of chemists read reviews in their own and related fields, but they read reviews of a general scientific nature to a much less extent. Generally speaking there are enough reviews being published and very few chemists feel that there are too many. The Advances in—and Annual Reviews of—series are found useful, but it is a common complaint that they are out of date on publication and that they tend to become simply a collection of unrelated summaries and sometimes degenerate into a mere list of references. Many of the comments made, as one might expect, tend to cancel out one another, usually because of the differing viewpoints of those making comments. Chemists engaged entirely on research need comprehensive reviews on specialised topics supplemented with full and complete bibliographies, whilst those concerned mainly in lecturing and teaching ask for broadly based reviews with key references. Several chemists suggested that the cost of these annual review volumes was too high for individual purchase and a scheme whereby individual review articles could be purchased as offprints would be very useful. This is not a new suggestion, for it was advocated for original papers by J.D.Bernal at the Royal Society’s Conference in 1948, albeit without obtaining much support. It is suggested that reviews form a section of the literature which would be a very suitable one for an experiment in the distribution of scientific information along those lines. One of the main difficulties in obtaining good reviews is simply that not enough qualified people are prepared or able to give the time necessary to produce them. There are still far too many “hack reviews” being published, and one frequently sees more than one review on the same subject by the same author which tends largely to be a catalogue of the author’s own work. It is often a fault of editorial policy that too little space is allowed to a reviewer for him to do justice to his subject. No one wishes to have reviews of unnecessary length, but if too little space is given, then authors will naturally concentrate on those aspects of the subject under review which appeal to them and ignore other lines of research. Undue compression will also make the review incomprehensible except to the specialist.
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--> The most frequently read review journals are Annual Reports on the Progress of Chemistry, Quarterly Reviews of the Chemical Society, and Chemical Reviews (A.C.S.). Other reviews specifically mentioned were the special review issues of Analytical Chemistry and Industrial and Engineering Chemistry and the Advances in—volumes which were relevant to each chemist’s area of specialisation. Several industrial chemists considered that much good review material was to be found in the private or semi-private house journals of industrial organisations and in general those working in the industrial field are less enthusiastic about the Annual Reviews of—and Advances in—series. (A complete list of review journals mentioned appears in Appendix 3 to this paper). There is practically unanimity of opinion as to what qualities go to make a good review. The criteria most quoted as desirable were: (1) expert writer, (2) critical approach, (3) comprehensive, (4) clarity and balance, (5) good bibliography, (6) synopsis—use of tables where suitable. Much of the criticism directed at reviews seems to stem from the sometimes muddled approach of the reviewer. It is important for the review writer to decide whether his review is to be a critical appraisal or simply a summary of current advances. He must be quite certain whether he is writing for the specialist in the subject, or for the man working in a related subject, or for the layman. It is probably the ideal to have frequent summary reviews of current advances and less frequent comprehensive critical reviews. The answers to Question 7 indicate that in general the criteria for good reviews are being met, despite the fact that many bad reviews are still published. Only 14 chemists indicated their general dissatisfaction with the present state of review writing. There was also general satisfaction with the coverage of subjects in reviews. Very few chemists gave examples of subjects which they felt were not adequately reviewed. The following were thought to be the main deficiencies: (1) organic methods of analysis, (2) laboratory techniques, (3) solid state chemistry (not physics), (4) application of natural sciences to archeology, (5) fermentation, (6) theoretical spectroscopy. (See Appendix 4, Table 2.) Failure to review the patent literature was also mentioned as being a common deficiency, and neglect of the history of the subject being reviewed was also instanced. A more serious complaint was failure to survey literature published in the lesser known languages, particularly Russian, Czech, etc. The answers to Question 10 show an overwhelming majority in favour of confining reviews to review journals and against having journals publishing original work interspersed with review articles. This does not apply to journals which seek to provide a medium for preliminary publications and a general survey of scientific news and progress (e.g., Nature, Science). Chemists who preferred the mixed journal pointed out the desirability of having all
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--> one’s literature in one place, and the advantage of having a review on a particular subject appearing in a journal which reports original work on the same subject. This is a conflict of subject matter versus form but the minority view would be more cogent were scientific journals subject specific. Unfortunately they are not, and one cannot be certain that all work in a specific journal will be on the same subject. A reasonable compromise would be for all journals which publish original work and reviews to confine the reviews to a review section, as many already do. The meeting together of experts in particular fields to discuss aspects of their work would seem to provide an admirable basis for the publication of reviews of current advances. Today the symposium is an extremely useful means of gathering scientists together for the exchange of information and ideas. It is unfortunate that the published reports of such meetings are not always so useful as one might expect. A number of reports of symposia are too brief to do anything but whet the scientific appetite, and others merely duplicate work which has already been published elsewhere. The most useful reports from the review aspect have the advantage of reporting expert opinion and summarising work in progress in well-defined fields. A major criticism of symposia reports is that they often appear at least a year or more after the meetings have been held and are often published without adequate editing or indexing. The many chemists who find symposia useful express a wish for separate publication rather than for the papers to appear in journals or supplements to journals. The Discussions of the Faraday Society were quoted as symposia which were really useful and models of what such publications should be. As one might expect, the chemist engaged in industry is far more concerned with the availability of the reports of scientific and commercial research organisations than is his academic confrère, and although 43 chemists considered that such reports were useful to their work, only 19 chemists found such reports readily available. A frequent comment was, “I am not sure what is available,” and it is probably true that there is much potentially useful material being issued which is neither widely reported nor abstracted and is therefore not fully utilized. It must be remembered that in the case of industrial reports the question of patents and commercial competition may restrict their dissemination, whilst in the case of reports from government agencies questions of security may act as a barrier to the spread of information. One cannot help feeling that, if something is worth publishing, it should be published through the usual publishing channels, or remain unpublished and reserved entirely for internal use. There is already too great an eagerness to rush into print and to found new journals, and we are reaching a position where every research organisation and every college and institution have their own periodical publica-
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--> tions. In many cases this is quite unjustified on scientific grounds and is done simply for the sake of prestige or so that the institution may have a publication for “exchange” purposes. Although the cry “no more journals, please” is often heard there is fairly general agreement that a “Bibliography of Chemical Reviews” would be a useful addition to the literature (41 in favour). It is true that reviews are noted in Chemical Abstracts, but they are not separated from abstracts of original work and it would certainly be an improvement if each of the 31 sections of Chemical Abstracts had a reviews sub-division. Unfortunately the annual indexes to Chemical Abstracts are appearing more than 12 months after the last issue of the volume to which they are the key so that the proposed bibliography which could appear promptly would not be a superfluity. Reviews are often overlooked because there is no simple adequate key to their locations, and the recent venture of the National Library of Medicine (U.S.A.) is an indication of what can be done in this direction. The two issues of Bibliography of Medical Reviews have proved immensely useful in the medical field and there is no reason to suppose that a “Bibliography of Chemical Reviews” would not prove equally valuable to the chemist. A good review contains a good bibliography so that a bibliography of reviews is in large measure a bibliography of bibliographies and as such represents a key to a large volume of literature and is often a quicker means of obtaining a number of references on a specific subject than are the abstract journals. It is recommended that if such a bibliography is issued, either annually or at more frequent intervals, “chemical reviews” should be given a wide interpretation and the bibliography should include reviews in the field of industrial chemistry. The answers to Question 15 show little support for the suggestion of more coordination in review publishing with control by learned societies. There is considerable feeling that a learned society would have a stifling influence on review writing, and many feel that there should be an outlet alternative to publishing papers through a learned society. This argument is attractive but duplication and overlapping of reviews undeniably exists, and it is doubtful whether the alleged advantage of complete freedom to publish whatever editors will accept is more important than the wastage inevitably involved in such a system. Reviews which already appear under the aegis of a learned society should not need control, but more coordination between societies on an international basis would be advantageous. To ensure that all aspects of a subject are reviewed, particularly those which are less popular, and that no subject is neglected, some means of control preferably by editorial consent seems essential. Few people
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--> would advocate rigid governmental control, but many of the answers to this question seem to the author of this paper to indicate an addiction to laissez-faire and a faith in the efficacy of the laws of supply and demand almost to the point of naïveté. Typical comments on this question were: “There cannot be too many reviews—someone will read them.” “If a need exists for a review, someone will write one.” Many reviews appear which are in effect undigested lists of references and although this type of review has its uses, it is rather wasteful of publishing space. If one could find an alternative method of disseminating information which would relieve the pressure on the scientific printing presses, the lot of the chemist would be a happier one and we might expect scientific research to proceed more smoothly and gather greater momentum. Unless modern methods are brought into use and unless some rationalisation takes place, the whole of our scientific effort is likely to become polarised by its own productivity. The printed page as a method of conveying ideas has a long history; it may well be, that it is no longer the most efficient way of conveying facts to scientists. Specific answers to specific questions can probably be given more efficiently by means of electronic machines, and it was with this possibility in mind that the suggestion of a documentation centre was raised in this questionnaire. If we had documentation centres staffed by specialists and equipped with electronic computing machines and if the university and industrial laboratories were in telecommunication with these centres, then surely one could dispense with a great deal of printed information. Such a development would certainly obviate the need for annotated reference reviews, and it would be a most useful supplement to scientific publication generally. No answer to Question 16 envisaged such an ambitious scheme, but about half of those chemists who answered this question (i.e., 34) were in favour of a documentation centre. The main criticisms were the expense involved and a doubt whether it could be staffed by persons qualified to select references. Expense is certainly a major consideration, and unless all scientific publishing including the primary publication area was reorganized and an examination made of what information could usefully be stored electronically at these centres then such a scheme would be uneconomic. Nevertheless automation in the documentation field is steadily increasing, and in ten years time the improvement in electronic devices, a change in the climate of opinion, and the sheer necessity of avoiding chaos will probably ensure the establishment of such centres. No one doubts the necessity for a specialised staff at such centres, and it is an all too common prejudice held by the research man at the bench that the specialist in documentation is, or necessarily must be, a clerk. The answers to
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--> this question show that the information scientist, that is, the scientist who has specialised in library and information work, is comparatively unknown. This is less true in the industrial field, but in the more rarefied air of academic research the library chemist does not have the status, nor is he thought to be so essential as the laboratory chemist. This attitude is one which, if it persists, might very well cause a breakdown in the whole system of information storage and retrieval, for it is essential, if we are to use the most efficient methods of organizing scientific literature in a scientific way, that we encourage first class scientists to specialise in documentation, library, and information techniques. It cannot be over emphasised that those who record, retrieve, and disseminate either information about or the results of scientific discovery are as vital to the community as the discoverers themselves. APPENDIX 1 The Questionnaire INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION 1958 REVIEW LITERATURE QUESTIONNAIRE Q.1. Please indicate a) your general field of research b) your specific interest in that field A.1. a) b) Q.2. Do you regularly read reviews a) in your own field b) in related fields c) of a general nature A.2. a) b) c) Q.3. In your field are there being published a) too few reviews b) too many reviews c) an adequate number A.3. [Please put a tick against either a), b), or c).] Q.4. Do you find the Advances in—and the Annual Reviews of—series useful? Have you any criticism or comment to offer? A.4. Q.5. Name any review journals (including the type mentioned in the previous question) which you read regularly. A.5. Q.6. What in your opinion are the essentials of a good review? A.6.
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--> Q.7. Are your criteria for good reviews being met at present? A.7. Q.8. Can you suggest any improvement in review publication? A.8. Q.9. Is there any section of the chemical field which, in your view, is not covered adequately by reviews? If so please give details. A.9. Q.10. Do you prefer journals to carry original work and review articles or do you prefer reviews to be carried only in review journals? A.10. Q.11. Do you find reports of symposia valuable as reviews. A.11. Q.12. Do you prefer symposia to be published a) in journals b) as supplements to journals c) as separate publications A.12. [Please tick either a) b) or c).] Q.13. Do you consider that scientific reports of individual research organisations are useful to your work? A.13. Q.13a. Are they readily available to you? A.13a. Q.14. Would you favour the publication of a “Bibliography of Chemical Reviews” on an annual basis? A.14. Q.15. Would it be advantageous to have any form of coordination of review publication with control exercised by, say, learned societies? [Please comment.] A.15. Q.16. Do you consider a central documentation service which could supply selected references in particular fields to be an alternative or a useful supplement to review publication? [Please comment.] A.16.
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--> FURTHER COMMENTS You are invited here to make any comments or suggestions on the whole topic of review literature and its publication which you feel would be helpful and useful to the Conference. APPENDIX 2 Comments from replies QUESTION 4 Do you find the Advances in—and the Annual Reviews of—series useful? Serial No. 27 As author of analytical chemistry reviews in Annual Reports on the Progress of Chemistry for the past three years I have found great difficulty in covering the literature adequately in the space permitted for this review. Naturally the review is biased towards my own interests in this field. 41 These publications generally deal with a narrow field. If it is one’s own field, the original literature is usually available and more useful. If not the review is not wide enough in scope to be of value. 48 The Advances in—type of review could well be extended to many other subjects than those available at present. Unfortunately most of these are published in U.S.A. and are prohibitively expensive. 50 Annual Review of Physical Chemistry is too closely akin to a list of abstracts or references. It is not opinionated enough. Each article would be improved by productions in dual form. (A) Giving a classified bibliography of the year and (B) Reviewing chosen fields, perhaps in alternate years or even less frequently and setting the advances of a couple of years in perspective. QUESTION 8 Can you suggest any improvement in review publication? Serial No. 7 Reviews should be split into two classes: (a) Exhaustive and detailed reviews; the only type of any use when work is to be commenced in a given field. (b) More superficial and readable type of review of the “keeping up” kind. There should be separate journals for (a) and (b). 8 Authors should be clear on the nature of the intended readership. Is the review intended to provide a manual for the new research worker or an aid to the expert? Is it intended to attract interest in the topic, or in fact to survey recent advances? Mixing of these aims can lead to a review of low value to each particular group.
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--> Serial No. 10 The review most useful to me in the general chemical field is that in which specific reactions and compounds are dealt with and which lists all the examples in the literature. This type of review is not encountered so frequently in British publications although it is only fair to say that many articles of this type may be published as books. 11 Quality might be improved if the publishing body solicited contributions from recognised authorities personally. Usually it is left to the authors to make the overture—and the wrong authors do it. 20 Reviews should be referred by two persons, one an expert in the field to check veracity and general scope of the article; the other should not be working in the field and he should be responsible for ensuring that the review is intelligible to a wide public. 21 Some reviewers tend to review their own work in a subject in detail and only outline other contributions. U.S.A. reviewers sometimes neglect U.K. journals. 28 I would suggest a separate journal of reviews in analytical chemistry with more chemical journals accepting review articles as well as original papers. 31 A regular series of reviews on specific topics of a more general character to cover a definite period of time, say last 5 or 10 years. 32 It might be suggested that all reviews should be written by retired scientists in their own field who have maintained touch with their subject. There are too few good reviews and too many bad reviews. 42 There is a requirement for more reviews of greater length and greater authority. Perhaps something approaching a short monograph. The advantage of publishing monographs in this form is that the potential reader or user is more likely to see them and read them if they appear in a standard journal than if they are published as a book. 43 One is tempted to suggest streamlining them all into one publication, but the present hotch-potch gives a variety of presentations and breadth of cover which avoids staleness. It has arisen by the machinations of supply and demand and is probably a good thing. 44 There is too great an assumption by many writers that they need only summarize material already familiar to readers. On the other hand some U.S.A. reviews are too long; sometimes verbose. Quarterly Reviews probably sets the highest standard, especially in the editors’ aims. It would be valuable if one publication (Annual
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--> Report on Progress in Chemistry seems most appropriate) concentrated on summarising work done in a particular year and other journals attempted to give a more connected account of “recent progress.” The latter need not be done in terms of particular dates, but according to the needs of the subject. This could still be done in a journal appearing annually. 50 Editors should encourage authors to write reviews in pairs: single-handed efforts make an unfair demand on a man in these days of an exuberant literature. Authors of comprehensive reviews should be encouraged to give a roughly classified appendix of articles impinging on their subject where inclusion however would make balance difficult to achieve or where merit is too slight to be made much of in the text. Editors should demand reasonably detailed plans and feel free to request authors to include fields or aspects which might seem neglected or to give reasons for not doing so. QUESTION 10 Do you prefer journals to carry original work and review articles or do you prefer reviews to be carried only in review journals? Serial No. 48 Occasional reviews in journals publishing original work are useful. I consider the method of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry of issuing a review edition once a year, which contains reviews written by specialists in certain fields, an excellent idea. These are for example more easily read than those published in the Annual Reports on the Progress of Chemistry. QUESTION 13 Do you consider that scientific reports of individual research organisations are useful to your work? Serial No. 57 It is difficult to obtain decent coverage of many of these reports, the majority of which are not covered by Chemical Abstracts. This makes location of information unnecessarily difficult. If a paper is worth publishing it should have wide circulation. There appears to be too great a haste to rush into publication in some quarters! 59 They are useful only in providing more rapid access to recent work which is mostly published through the normal channels in the end. There are probably many such reports of which one does not know.
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--> Serial No. 53 A review is a survey of the status of continuing scientific work. It must inevitably contain the reviewer’s creative assessment. He must reveal controversy and conflict, but he may state his own opinions. He must if possible give the feeling of living people striving to solve problems in science. It is important that a review should cover all the work in its field and not confine itself to any set headings. Then when a new review is required to cover a new subject, there should not be any difficulty in discerning the need. 56 Position generally satisfactory so far as my own interests are concerned. Where gaps appear it is quite possible to bring these to the notice of editors or publishing committees who can then solicit reviews if they consider this desirable. 60 It seems to one that the “topic” usually adjusts itself according to the laws of supply and demand. The situation is perhaps, not ideal, but I see nothing wrong with it. Other matters are in far more chronic state: e.g., the number of journals there are; their non-specificity, making the fraction of their contents useful to workers in one field too small to make it worth buying them; and the non-speed of publication. 63 The whole topic of review literature can be summed up in this contradiction, viz., that reviews, detailed, clear, comprehensive, frequent, and accessible, are very desirable and yet because of the shortage of time and the frailty of human nature, the more detailed, comprehensive and numerous they become, the more oppressive is the burden they comprise. Our outstanding problem is not the shortage of reviews, even of good reviews, but the shortage of time to read and absorb them. 65 I would commend the Commonwealth Bureau of Agricultural Sciences as a model which could perhaps usefully be followed in other branches of chemical research where review and bibliographic service are wanting.
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--> APPENDIX 3 Journals cited in answer to Question 5 Advances in Agronomy Advances in Cancer Research Advances in Carbohydrate Chemistry Advances in Catalysis Advances in Enzymology Advances in Food Research Advances in Protein Chemistry Analyst Analytical Chemistry (Annual Review issue)1 Angewandte Chemie Annual Reports on the Progress of Chemistry1 Annual Review of Biochemistry1 Annual Review of Microbiology Annual Review of Nuclear Science Annual Review of Physical Chemistry1 Annual Review of Plant Physiology Bacteriological Reviews Biochemical Society Symposia Chemical Engineering Progress Chemical Reviews1 Chemistry and Industry Commonwealth Bureau of Agriculture Publications Discussions of the Faraday Society Endeavour Fortschritte der chemischen Forschung Industrial and Engineering Chemistry (Annual Review issue) Modern Packaging Encyclopaedia Nature New Scientist Nutrition Abstracts and Reviews Organic Reactions Physical Review Physiological Reviews Progress in Nuclear Physics Progress in Organic Chemistry Progress in Stereochemistry Quarterly Reviews1 Reports on the Progress of Applied Chemistry Reports on Progress in Physics Research (articles in) Review of Scientific Instruments Review of Textile Progress Reviews of Modern Physics Reviews of Pure and Applied Chemistry (Australia) 1 Journals most frequently mentioned.
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--> Royal Institute of Chemistry, Lectures, Monographs, and Reports Schimmel Berichte and other house journals Science Progress Soap and Chemical Specialties Yearbook Times Science Review Vacuum (articles in) APPENDIX 4 Tabulation of Data and Key KEY TO THE TABULATION Each completed questionnaire has been given a serial number which is used in Appendix 2 as a means of identifying authorship of comment. “See Appendix 2” appearing in a column of the tabulation indicates that a comment was made which can be found under the number of the question and against the relevant serial number in Appendix 2. All scientists represented by the completed questionnaires have been categorized by the type of Institution in which they are employed according to the following code: Aac Agricultural College Ap Polytechnic At Technical College Au University Auc University College Aum University Medical School G Government Laboratory I Private Industry In Nationalised Industry In all answers the following code applies: Y An affirmative answer y A modified affirmative, e.g., “sometimes,” “might be useful” N A negative answer — No answer given All periodicals are referred to by the running number assigned to them in Appendix 3. This applies to the answers to questions (4) and (5). QUESTION 6. What in your opinion are the essentials of a good review? Code 1 Good introduction, defining scope 2 Clear, readable, concise 3 Critical; authoritative 4 Comprehensive coverage 5 Selective coverage; adequate coverage 6 Up to date 7 Bibliography: (7a) full references; (7b) selected references 8 Use of tables, diagrams, etc.
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--> 9 Well balanced; good correlation and integration of topics 10 Intelligible to non-specialist Some answers to this question divide reviews into General and Specialist. In these cases (a) indicates the criteria desired for general reviews and (b) the criteria desired for specialist reviews. QUESTION 10. Do you prefer journals to carry original work and review articles or do you prefer reviews to be carried only in review journals? Code S Indicates a preference for reviews in separate journals O Indicates a preference for reviews and original papers in the same journals NP No preference QUESTION 15. Would it be advantageous to have any form of coordination of review publication with control exercised by say learned societies? Code 1 It is useful to have differing viewpoints of the same subject 2 It is impracticable 3 It should be left to the editors concerned 4 There is little duplication of reviews 5 There might be prejudice on the part of controlling bodies 6 It would avoid duplication and ensure coverage QUESTION 16. Do you consider a central documentation service which could supply selected references in particular fields to be an alternative or a useful supplement to review publication? Code Y Yes; alternative or supplement not specified Ya Yes, as an alternative Ys Yes, as a supplement 1 Searching the literature should be a scientist’s personal responsibility 2 It would merely duplicate Chemical Abstracts or Current Chemical Papers 3 It would be impracticable; or too expensive 4 Industrial libraries, etc., already have such a service 5 Non-specialist selection would be unreliable FURTHER COMMENTS Comments made in this section appear at the end of Appendix 2 under the heading “Further Comments” and against the serial number of the questionnaire in which the comment appears.
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--> TABLE 1 Tabulation of data, review literature questionnaire, Questions 1 to 8
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--> TABLE 2 Tabulation of data, review literature questionnaire, Questions 9 to 16
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Representative terms from entire chapter: