Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another example of the lonliness of polymer chemistry

I recently discovered the Open Syllabus Project, a site that crawls the web looking for syllabuses and then looks at what texts are being used in the class. From this, they prepared ordered lists. While the Project openly admits that their methodology is not perfect [*], it can be considered somewhat representative of what texts are being used and to what degree. Can it accurately split the difference between #11 and #12 on the list? Probably not. But they should be able to clearly differentiate between #1 and #100.

You can filter the list by different fields. When the "Chemistry" filter is applied, the #1 text is "Chemistry: The Central Science" by Brown, et al. No surprise there - it's the text I use and I've always heard that it is extremely popular. There are 3 other General Chemistry texts in the top 10, as well as 4 Organic texts, 1 P-Chem text and 1 Analytical text, which is also not too far from what I would expect. Enrollment in upper level chemistry classes is always much smaller since all the premeds and other nonmajors have left, so P-Chem, Analytical and Inorganic would be expected to be lower.

Being a polymer chemist, I'm curious where the first polymer chemistry text is on the list. It's a disappointing #122 - Polymers: Chemistry and Physics of Modern Materials by J. M. G. Cowie. In fact, there are 9 biochem texts higher on the list than this. 9! Apparently polymer chemistry classes are quite rare, about as rare as the polymerization of a non-terminal olefin. Augsburg College, where I teach, doesn't have a polymer chemistry class (despite my efforts to create and teach one), and I suspect that that is true elsewhere given the data above.

This is all just another example of how lonely it is to be a polymer chemist. If you want to be rich and/or famous for writing a chemistry textbook, write one for General, Organic, Physical, Inorganic or Bio-chemistry. ANYTHING but polymer chemistry.

[*] Of that I'm sure. The syllabus for the class I teach is only available on the college's internal website - no webcrawlers allowed.

Previous Years

January 27, 2012 - Open Access, Curation and Seredipity

January 27, 2011 - Baroplastics


Anonymous said...

In filtering for chemistry texts as you mention, I noticed the list is associated with some quite old dates. I believe those are certain author's birth dates, which seemed to be commonly recorded in the frontispiece (?) in books published before that practice was discontinued. Anyway, I hope author birthdates no longer being reported at some point account for most on the list predating even the baby boom generation versus some other explanation for their skewing old.

John said...


Yes, I noticed the dates, and agree that it is the authors' birth dates (although some of the death dates are provided too). I don't believe that that statistic is used in the ranking (I could be wrong), but I can't see that that would skew the results against polymer chemists - or are polymer chemists just a bunch of old guys that died off years ago? (Well, at least my life insurance is paid off for this month, so my wife has that going for her.)