Recently there was a commentary made about the “highly curated data” on Wikipedia. To me curators are heroes. They are detail oriented, committed to the cause and simply “care”.

As a result of reading that post you saw me go off and check on Taxol, post a few comments and come out the other end of the work with a “more highly curated record” on Wikipedia.

Then I commented on there are better ways to ensure the quality of structure drawings than redrawing them…specifically dictionary look-up and optical structure recognition.

I don’t mind being taken to task on my opinions. As my late father said…”Opinions are like nostrils, everybody has them”. Okay, the body cavity was a little more south but you get the point. However, this opinion stirred me…

“If you wish to spend your life recording typos in chemical documents, I hope it is fulfilling.”

Now, sometimes when you are stirred emotionally, it helps to sit down and think about it.


So, I’ve thought about it… and I’m happy about where I’ve ended up.

My life IS fulfilling. I might need therapy for this particular passion but I DO actually enjoy checking typos in “documents” – of course our conversations are about chemical documents (structures) and I DO confess I like it. Why? I care about Quality.

When I see an acknowledgment that Wikipedia is highly curated and I know I have contributed to that I have a certain pride to having contributed to community science. Those of us cleaning up the historical record for others to benefit are doing a lot of the grunt work that others talk about being necessary and espouse the need for platforms to do so. You can throw a palette of colors and a brush on a floor but someone has to pick it up and do something with it. Platforms, tools, visions are great…we need thinkers but we also need doers. Doers are important and necessary and people who find typos in chemical documents likely do find it fulfilling. I’m a thinker and a doer. until I have experienced the challenges of curating historical records I do not feel I am sufficiently immersed in the challenge. Oh…there’s another nostril (opinion).

So, who are my heroes? Some of them in this domain are:

1) Barrie Walker, ChemSpider Advisory Group member and our KING OF QUALITY.

2) Ann Richards, EPA, founder of the DSSTox effort and quality guru extraordinaire. Ann and her team have taken on the task of assembling, from various sources (and of various quality levels), a public resource of incredible value to the Tox community. This paper explains in detail. With her fine eye for detail, commitment to detail (checking CAS numbers to the digit, stereochemistry of each bond and the accuracy of the chemical names) her databases are likely the cleanest and most highly curated databases from any government labs (no intention to offend others here and if your DB is as good as DSSTox you are my heroes too!) In particular I acknowledge Marti Wolf from Ann’s lab who has spent thousands of hours assembling data, “recording typos in chemical documents” and correcting them to the benefit of the community.

3) People like Peter Corbett. He really seems to care about what’s in a database and the quality of what’s there. He is discovering these issues by observation and checking. His careful eye, clearly necessary for the development of OSCAR, makes him a hero (I look forward to meeting him!)

4) The people I worked with at ACD/Labs in the database compilation office are heroes. This group of 10s of individuals over the years, have manually curated 100s of thousands of structures and associated properties (Physchem parameters, NMR shifts, name-structure pairs). They have done it with a fine eye. THEIR efforts were the basis of what led to industry leading NMR prediction algorithms which were used recently to provide feedback to the Blue Obelisk team member, Christoph Steinbeck, to help clean up errors in the NMRSHIFTDB. While others were attacking the open data effort those of us concerned with the details helped curate the data.

5) The curators at CAS, at MDL (now Symyx), at GVKBio, and in software houses and labs all over the world who manually curate data, and, from their experience, build robots to help their processes and improve the data for all.

For all of you who wish to spend your life recording typos in chemical documents, it is likely very fulfilling if you care about quality.

I find it fulfilling. It’s a necessary part of understanding the problem. Quality is hard to define. But, we’ve been challenged on the quality of our science on ChemSpider enough. We’ve been challenged for sodium chloride dimers and shown it’s valid science. We’ve been challenged for logP prediction of Calcium Carbonate and had an industry great acknowledge our attention to detail. We’ve been challenged on inorganic chemistry and compared ourselves to others.

We Monkeys have been told to close the gates of ChemZoo. We didn’t. Instead we are doing great things for the community I hope. We have opened up a series of services that the Open Access world likes (specifically the Blue obelisk players..), we are donating our database to PubChem shortly, and we are working with some of the best people on our advisory group to satiate their needs. It’s pretty damn fulfilling.

* I will acknowledge that the comment “If you wish to spend your life recording typos in chemical documents, I hope it is fulfilling.” is removed from the context of the entire post. So read the post. Then read all the others I’ve mentioned. I made my interpretation of the comment based on the ongoing flavor. Maybe my nostril was clogged…

Stumble it!

One Response to “Curators Perform Heroic Duties. They Should be Celebrated!”

  1. ChemSpider Blog » Blog Archive » One Day I’ll Have Lunch with Egon Willighagen Too… says:

    [...] InChI was originally called the IUPAC-NIST Chemical Identifier. I’ve spoken previously about heroes and these people are truly the heroes of InChi. The rest of us get to use it, talk about and [...]

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