This article is the second part of a series on the evolution of chemistry papers between 1961 and 2011, in which I play with data from JACS papers. Part 1 is here.

In the previous post, I looked at the inflation of authors and references in chemistry writing that has taken place since the 60's. As Matteo Cavalleri put it: “More of everything”. Reflecting back, one of the surprises (to me) was that the phenomenon is not recent, but has been rather progressive since the 60's. As a researcher who's been in academia for 10 years, I thought it was had begun one or two decades ago… but this is a long-lived trend.

Going forward, today we will explore the “world” of chemistry authors and publishers: who writes papers in JACS? what's their diversity (in terms of affiliations, country, etc)? How much did globalization affect chemistry research & writing?

Author diversity

So, the number of authors for a given paper increases over time, as does the number of affiliations… and since the absolute number of paper increased widely in the meantime (1364 papers in 1961 vs. 3176 in 2011), there are necessarily more authors in JACS today than 5 decades ago. But those authors are not all different… and I wondered whether JACS is, in part, a cozy “club” with members publishing multiple papers a year, or whether publication in JACS is a rare event in the chemist's typical year (I know the answer for computational chemistry, sure, but I don't know much about the publishing habits of, e.g., organic chemists). So, here's the number of papers in JACS, per author and for one given year:

Multiple authorship in JACS

As expected, the majority of authors published only one JACS paper in one year (which, of course, doesn't mean that people publish on average one JACS paper per year…). However, the proportion of "multiple papers" authors is far from negligible: 26% in 1961, and 14% in 2011. I actually quite like the idea that this number is going down over time, because I interpret it as a sign that JACS authorship is more becoming more diverse.

I also looked at the 1% (of authors with the most papers per year): there is relatively little change there. To be in the 1% in 1961, you needed 6 papers in a year, while you needed only 5 in 2011. For the anecdotal value, the most prolific authors in 1961 was Herbert C. Brown (at Purdue University), with 16 JACS papers (out of the 538 of his entire career), including some of a 23-part series of articles (here's “Hydroboration. XXIII”, for example)! In 2011, the title goes to Shunichi Fukuzumi, with 15 papers.


In 1961, the Journal of the American Chemical Society was almost exactly that. I don't have systematic affiliation data, so I cannot analyze the geographic distribution, but the top 9 authors were North-American (all working in the US, except Canadian chemist Saul Winstein). The #10 was British, and a few Europeans start to appear in the list after that point. Among the “top 5%“ authors, all were North American or European.

Fast forward to 2011, the top 3 authors were Japanese. The top of the list is dominated by US and Japanses chemists, with sparse European presence. The first Korean author appears at #21 (Wonwoo Nam), tied with the first Chinese (Lei Liu; 7 papers each). I didn't find any Indian colleague in the “top 1%”.

To do look at this in a more quantitative manner, let's look at the distribution of countries (this is not per author, but per affiliation):

Affiliation distribution per country, JACS

(In the legend, only countries with ≥3 papers are featured). Obviously, over the course of 30 years, globalisation had a large impact on authorship: the US share of authors has gone down from two-thirds to a small half, while other countries have progressed. China went from 0.1% of papers to 7%. Europe, as a whole, has grown from 14% to to 25%; diversity within European countries has also increased.

Still, the US dominance is quite prevalent, and China's slice of the whole is rather small… It seems that, even today, there still remain an overly large prevalence of American authors in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Which is not, after all, a bad thing in itself (other countries have their specific journals), but can reinforce bias when bibliometric factors are used in evaluation of researchers.

Gender balance

Oh, just kidding. I'd love to study this further, but given that no systematic data is available, there's not much I can do. I scrolled the list of 1961 and 1981 top authors looking for female scientists, and I got bored before I found any. In 2011, there were 3 female chemists among the first 36 authors (8%): Naomi Mizorogi (University of Tsukuba), Wei Wang (UCLA), and Melanie Sanford (University of Michigan).