Cutting edge chemistry rushes online

From Washington, D.C., at the 220th national meeting of the American Chemical Society

A controversial new tool that may accelerate chemistry research made its debut last week. Chemists can now submit their research papers to the Chemistry Preprint Server, which was officially launched at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The server is run by a London-based, commercial Internet site called, with some 200,000 members.

Before printed journals accept papers for publication, they generally put scientists’ work through a lengthy review process. This can delay the communication of breakthroughs, both modest and dramatic, to other scientists doing related work.

The new preprint server lets researchers share their results with other chemist worldwide without anyone’s stamp of approval. Once a ChemWeb staff member determines that a submission indeed is a chemistry paper—and not, for example, an offensive document—he posts it immediately. About 20 papers are already available on the free site.

Contributors can submit charts, images, and videos with their reports. They can also substitute revised versions of their submissions later. All the while, readers can rate the quality of the preprint papers using a star system and comment on them in online discussions at the site. They can also search for articles in archives that the site will maintain.

ChemWeb modeled its preprint service after a popular server that disseminates physics research. The idea of online prepublishing hasn’t been so widely accepted in the chemistry community, however. Many chemists see a need for speedy access to new research, but they also worry that free-flowing, unreviewed papers could erode the reliability of science communication.

Additionally, some chemistry journals may not accept research for publication that has appeared on a preprint server since it could be considered previously published work.

ChemWeb’s director of operations, Bill Town, acknowledges these concerns. He points out, however, that some papers on the site have already been accepted for print publication, and he’s encouraged by users’ responses. ChemWeb members, who were notified of the site’s launch a week in advance, evidently were enthusiastic. Within days of that notification, some of the papers racked up as many as 200 readers.

“It really is a huge experiment,” says Town.

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