Copy Editors Redefine Standard Units During the Proofing Process

03 Nov

I write a lot of publications, averaging about one peer-reviewed publication or book chapter per month. I have published with a number of publishers including my employer (Royal Society of Chemistry), with Elsevier, Wiley, Springer, ACS and many others. The experience with each publisher is different but, generally, pleasant, and high quality. However, once in awhile the experience is “interesting”. I especially have had some very interesting peer-review “experiences”. But that is not the point ot this post. This post is about the other end of the process…paper reviewed, paper accepted and into proofing stage.

Last month Sean Ekins and I had a paper accepted and we listed in the paper some physicochemical parameters. These included logP, pKa, Lipinski parameters and Polar Surface Area, commonly known as PSA. When we got the paper back for proofing PSA had been replaced by “Prostate Specific Antigen“. It was a good catch on Sean’s part as first proofreader to spot it! How would that happen? One has to imagine a set of scripts that are searching for abbreviations and doing a find and replace. For PSA clearly context matters. For most biology papers the prostate specific antigen conversion for PSA might make sense. It doesn’t really make sense for chemistry and QSAR modeling. So, it’s all about context.

We recently submitted an article in relation to our work on Computer Assisted Structure Elucidation. This is at a time when our book on CASE is about to go to the printers! This is one of our most interesting applications of ACD/Structure Elucidator and will be discussed in more detail when the paper is published. The paper is going to be published with Wiley’s Magnetic Resonance in Chemistry. MRC is my favorite NMR journal by far and I am always happy to publish there! After all these years I was shocked when the feedback from the copy-editors for our paper said…

The copy-editor was suggesting that we changing all instances of PPM for chemical shift to mg/g. Excuse me, but reout usually? Are you serious. First of all PPM is THE defined unit for chemical shift. Did IUPAC change it without us knowing? PPM is a dimensionless unit, based on Hz/MHz, thus the 1oE-6  dependence. Even if it was in terms of Gauss (another interpretation of the mg/G) it should be microGauss/Gauss, so mcg/G.

Anyway, it makes no sense right? Surely it is just an oversight, just a one off? Unfortunately no…this entire paper HAS been published with every PPM reference to chemical shift changed into mg/g. How did that happen? We have to imagine a search and replace replacement, acceptance of the “house style” by the author and no oversight by the editor post-proofing. The result, chemical shifts are now quoted in milligrams/gram. Terrific! Surely a context issue of some type…but truth be told, I am not sure for what!

Is this a side effect of non-skilled copy-editors? A result of off-shoring? Whatever the reason it is wrong..unless IUPAC truly decided on a new standard????! NOT….


About tony

Antony (Tony) J. Williams received his BSc in 1985 from the University of Liverpool (UK) and PhD in 1988 from the University of London (UK). His PhD research interests were in studying the effects of high pressure on molecular motions within lubricant related systems using Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. He moved to Ottawa, Canada to work for the National Research Council performing fundamental research on the electron paramagnetic resonance of radicals trapped in single crystals. Following his postdoctoral position he became the NMR Facility Manager for Ottawa University. Tony joined the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York as their NMR Technology Leader. He led the laboratory to develop quality control across multiple spectroscopy labs and helped establish walk-up laboratories providing NMR, LC-MS and other forms of spectroscopy to hundreds of chemists across multiple sites. This included the delivery of spectroscopic data to the desktop, automated processing and his initial interests in computer-assisted structure elucidation (CASE) systems. He also worked with a team to develop the worlds’ first web-based LIMS system, WIMS, capable of allowing chemical structure searching and spectral display. With his developing cheminformatic skills and passion for data management he left corporate America to join a small start-up company working out of Toronto, Canada. He joined ACD/Labs as their NMR Product Manager and various roles, including Chief Science Officer, during his 10 years with the company. His responsibilities included managing over 50 products at one time prior to developing a product management team, managing sales, marketing, technical support and technical services. ACD/Labs was one of Canada’s Fast 50 Tech Companies, and Forbes Fast 500 companies in 2001. His primary passions during his tenure with ACD/Labs was the continued adoption of web-based technologies and developing automated structure verification and elucidation platforms. While at ACD/Labs he suggested the possibility of developing a public resource for chemists attempting to integrate internet available chemical data. He finally pursued this vision with some close friends as a hobby project in the evenings and the result was the ChemSpider database ( Even while running out of a basement on hand built servers the website developed a large community following that eventually culminated in the acquisition of the website by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. Tony joined the organization, together with some of the other ChemSpider team, and became their Vice President of Strategic Development. At RSC he continued to develop cheminformatics tools, specifically ChemSpider, and was the technical lead for the chemistry aspects of the Open PHACTS project (, a project focused on the delivery of open data, open source and open systems to support the pharmaceutical sciences. He was also the technical lead for the UK National Chemical Database Service ( and the RSC lead for the PharmaSea project ( attempting to identify novel natural products from the ocean. He left RSC in 2015 to become a Computational Chemist in the National Center of Computational Toxicology at the Environmental Protection Agency where he is bringing his skills to bear working with a team on the delivery of a new software architecture for the management and delivery of data, algorithms and visualization tools. The “Chemistry Dashboard” was released on April 1st, no fooling, at, and provides access to over 700,000 chemicals, experimental and predicted properties and a developing link network to support the environmental sciences. Tony remains passionate about computer-assisted structure elucidation and verification approaches and continues to publish in this area. He is also passionate about teaching scientists to benefit from the developing array of social networking tools for scientists and is known as the ChemConnector on the networks. Over the years he has had adjunct roles at a number of institutions and presently enjoys working with scientists at both UNC Chapel Hill and NC State University. He is widely published with over 200 papers and book chapters and was the recipient of the Jim Gray Award for eScience in 2012. In 2016 he was awarded the North Carolina ACS Distinguished Speaker Award.

Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Quality and Content



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