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September 27, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 39

ChemSpec clarified

Thank you for covering the recent ChemSpec show in Amsterdam (C&EN, July 12, page 12). However, while your article showed many positive reactions to the show, it also contained a number of mistakes and potential misunderstandings that we think should be cleared up.

First, it is simply wrong to say that the show was sponsored by IBC Life Sciences. In fact, IBC organized the parallel conference. The show is and always has been organized by DMG World Media, publishers of Specialty Chemicals Magazine.

More important, it is seriously misleading for you to say that ChemSpec has, over the years, "shifted from a broad survey of specialty chemicals to a narrower focus on fine chemicals for pharmaceutical and agricultural applications." As the name suggests, the show's focus is on the whole range of specialty and fine chemicals--hence the continued presence of such features as the Colours Village and many firms that have a limited or even no interest in pharmaceuticals.

As the specialty and fine chemicals sector has evolved in the direction of pharma and the pharmaceuticals industry has enjoyed sustained year-on-year growth, so pharma has taken an increasing share of the business done at ChemSpec, and CPhI has grown into a much larger show than ChemSpec; Informex, despite what your article says, is similar in size to ChemSpec.

ChemSpec remains a diversified show that functions on a manageable scale. This, we believe, is the source of its enduring strength, despite the current unfashionability of horizontal events.

John Whitaker
Surrey, England


Patents versus papers

In response to your editorial on global scientific publishing (C&EN, June 14, page 5) that accompanied an article by Michael Heylin in the same issue (page 38), Lawton Shaw wrote to point out that, while there have been shifts in the frequency and origin of published scientific papers, there has also been a considerable rise in the number of patents issued in recent years, and that patents should also be included in any measurement of research and development productivity (C&EN, Aug. 23, page 2). I agree, and can confirm that the ratio of patents to publications has been increasing for my own company. Why would this be so?

I think part of the reason may be that we find ourselves in an increasingly globally competitive environment, and the value for gaining early patent protection for significant discoveries has increased in importance. In addition, strong focus on multidisciplinary research approaches has fostered very high levels of creativity and discovery--the very stuff of patents. Streamlined methods for patent writing and application have also helped. In this regard, I applaud Shaw's efforts in teaching his students the importance of the patent literature and how to access it. As he points out, patents can often represent the sole published example of important scientific information, and those who seek to be well informed would do well to consult the patent literature.

However, as a research director in a company devoted to science and technology, I am nevertheless concerned that the number of publications has not kept pace with the increase in patents. It has been my observation that this does not stem from any new corporate intent for keeping things secret--in fact, the publication of patents and applications precludes this.

Rather, I think it has more to do with ever busier scientists and engineers prioritizing their time in such a way that the papers just don't get written. Often, the work is done, the patent application is submitted, and talks are given. Then, as a result of ever shorter cycle times for research programs, new and intriguing research projects get under way, and the originally anticipated paper doesn't get written. The most effective researchers somehow find time to "do it all," but on average the number of papers has suffered.

While patents and publications both seek to inform, they do so in different ways, with different purposes, and with primarily different audiences. So, I would take gentle issue with Shaw's assertion that companies get "nothing from publishing [a] paper."

Peer-reviewed scientific publications provide a unique way to receive useful input from the scientific community regarding the quality and reproducibility of one's work. Publication also serves to advertise the quality and type of work that is done, which can be very important for recruiting top talent, for initiating valuable collaborations, and for remaining a vital part of the scientific community. In addition, one can often protect freedom to operate in emerging technology areas by publication.

In general, the act of writing organizes and synthesizes good thinking and good planning, which underpin excellence in research. Publication also exposes this thinking to useful, critical review. We forego many benefits to ourselves and the scientific community when we forego one of science's great traditions.

John Pierce
Wilmington, Del.


Have you ever made a career change, reeducated yourself, or simply started over? Are you now working in a field other than chemistry? C&EN is looking for chemists midway through their careers who can tell their stories for an upcoming article. Please e-mail Nick Wafle at



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