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Chemistry Files on Dialog
Posted On December 20, 2012
I’ve been a Dialog subscriber for decades, both before and after going solo. However, I haven’t used my Dialog password in some time. Therefore, I’ve been out of the loop on a lot of the happenings in the greater world of information and was unaware of the demise of chemistry files from Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) on Dialog and on Questel. NewsBreaks Editor Paula Hane had received a heads-up from a contact in Europe and asked me for more details.

There was no news on these issues on the CAS or STN websites. Chris McCue, vice president marketing for CAS, provided the information that Dialog had made the decision to remove the files after several months of discussion.

Beth Dempsey, spokesperson for ProQuest/Dialog, sent an e-copy of the notice that went out to Dialog subscribers that the files would be taken off the Dialog service on Oct. 1, 2012. The files in question were CA Search (the Chemical Abstracts file), ChemSearch (a CAS-produced registry file), and Chemical Industry Notes (CIN).

Veteran searchers may recall that CAS did not release the abstracts to other vendors when they became available on the STN network in the 1980s, nor did they provide the chemical structure connection tables for the registry file. This led to acrimony between Dialog and CAS in the early 1990s, which was finally resolved but Dialog still lacked the abstracts and connection tables. The complete files remain available only on STN and SciFinder, the end user-oriented platform for the CA and other files.

For further information, Dempsey put me in touch with Libby Trudell, vice president, strategic initiatives for ProQuest, the organization that now owns Dialog. She provided further details in a phone conversation. Ever since ProQuest acquired Dialog a few years ago, they have wanted to vend complete versions of the chemistry files. They are in the process of merging the Dialog platform into a new, combined ProQuest/Dialog platform with several enhanced features. Desirous of more complete chemistry files for their users, they again asked CAS for access to the missing features. When these were still not forthcoming, ProQuest dropped the CAS-produced files from Dialog and says it will explore other options for chemical information for the new system. This was all very amicable and anyone thinking that this is a replay of the events of two decades ago is mistaken.

Regards availability or non-availability of proprietary files on other platforms, there are other instances. For example, the Reaxys File, the successor to the Beilstein and Gmelin files and vended by Elsevier, is not available on Dialog (although the predecessors were). However, Reaxys is available on STN. However, Tim Hocter, director, Elsevier, informed me that the STN loading has the primary information contained in the Reaxys file but lacks some other information sources and features. The Elsevier loading has additional sources of both structures and data, including from PubChem from NLM. Elsevier Reaxys also has additional user-oriented features including synthesis planning. Evaluation of these unique features could be a subject for a future Better Mousetrap Column, which has migrated along with Searcher magazine to Online Searcher.

Concerning the non-availability of the CAS files on Questel, per information provided by my contact at Questel, Joe Terlizzi, they were removed in the mid-2000s, not just recently.

Those information specialists who go back as far as I do (yes, there are some of us left) may also remember the issues between NLM and SDC in the early 1970s. SDC had been working with NLM to provide an online search program (ELHILL) to enable NLM to vend MEDLINE online (the digital version of the file was MEDLARS). As I recall, ELHILL may have even preceded SDC’s ORBIT into the market. At any rate, in return, SDC was able to mount MEDLINE first before anyone else. Everything was going smoothly but within a couple of years, NLM pulled the plug and brought MEDLINE back in-house and became the exclusive vendor. SDC may have even sued but got nowhere. In return, they stopped updating ELHILL, which languished for years, a version frozen time. ORBIT continued to be updated and MEDLINE became available on other platforms including Dialog.

Enough about monopolies or alleged monopolies. ProQuest is actively working on rolling out its ProQuest/Dialog platform including seeking other chemistry-oriented files. They consider their customer base to be biomedical and/or pharmaceutical researchers. Their provision of Derwent patent files will continue. Other possibilities for chemical files exist including open sources like ChemSpider and PubChem. They would also be wise to consider sources amenable to interacting with the Semantic Web, which was discussed extensively in the Skolnik Award Symposium at the recent American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia.

Thanks to Libby Trudell, I’ve received a password for temporary access to the ProQuest/Dialog platform and I intend to check it out after the holidays.

Bob Buntrock is a (semi)retired chemist and informationspecialist living in glorious Maine. A veteran of the online revolution and wars, he reviews books and writes on a number of topics.

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