Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Somebody Tell Me What These Numbers Mean

Or, a completely unscientific survey of total syntheses published in JACS in the last 30 or so years.

I became curious about how many total synthesis papers have actually been published in JACS
recently, so I hit up the GoogleFox (edit: Emily's word, not mine) and searched it out. Seeing as how this is completely unscientific, I just searched the ISI Web of Knowledge for papers in JACS containing "Total Synthesis" in the title. This means no "Enantioselective Synthesis of Bananamycin" or "Total Syntheses of A Bunch of Gnarly Molecules", but that doesn't seem like a big deal.

By these rough calculations, there have been 1756 papers containing "total synthesis" in the title out of a total 119,702 papers in JACS between 1980 and around now. That's a whopping one point four seven percent! It's worth noting, I suppose, that seven out of the 20 most read JACS articles in the last month contain "total synthesis" in the title, and another three are total syntheses titled in some other way.

Naturally, I made a spreadsheet, and I made it in a way that makes the information most difficult to digest. The take-home from this is that the number of total synthesis papers, in general, has wavered over the last 30 years; from 2008-2012, there were an average of about 49 papers/year, and from 1998-2002, there were about 60 papers/year.


What might be more interesting is the percentage of papers containing "total synthesis" in the title. Looking at the same time periods as above, "total synthesis" papers made up 0.75, 0.96, and 2.03 percent of all JACS papers. Along with the absolute number of appearances for "total synthesis", JACS began publishing many many more papers between 2000 and 2001. In 2000, ISI Web of Knowledge shows 2275 results, while 2001 shows 4615 publications (2005, the highest point, has 6828 papers).

Now, I don't really know what to do with these data. What does the internet think?


  1. It would be really interesting to correlate this with the amount of funding given to the relevant study sections (perhaps I am revealing my ignorance of the actual way that NIH money gets parceled out.)

    It would be interesting to know the time period where the US taxpayer was getting the most JACS pubs per dollar.

  2. For my money, it's a question of marketing. Example: You're a new professor, and you notice that proposals with "Total Synthesis" aren't garnering the funding they once did in the roaring '70s and '80s. So you tweak it: "Approach towards," "Development of," "Alkaloids in Medicine," etc.

    Honestly, among the journals I read regularly, I see a decent total synthesis reported every week. That's enough for a new 'Classics' book annually : )

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tmhp_NEH12Y