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What other treasures could be hidden in conference papers?

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In the obituary of Anatol Zhabotinsky (Nature 455, 1053; 2008), Irving Epstein mentions Boris Belousov, with whom Zhabotinsky shared the Lenin Prize in 1980 for their contributions to the Belousov–Zhabotinsky oscillatory chemical reaction system.

Epstein says “Belousov tried to publish his results in peer-reviewed journals, but eventually gave up after referees and editors insisted that such behaviour contradicted the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He instead published a one-page description of his observations in an obscure conference proceedings on radiation medicine.” That paper1, 'A periodic reaction and its mechanism', gained little attention at the time.

Papers published in symposium proceedings do not usually merit citation, because they are not peer-reviewed. They receive little recognition. Very few are even indexed in the main journal databases — one notable exception being PubMed's listing of the annual Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Quantitative Biology.

However, other 'hidden' conference papers have also subsequently provoked acclaim. The pioneering work of physicist Abdus Salam and chemist Koichi Tanaka aroused little interest when it was first published in this way2,3. Fortunately, these findings were later recognized for their originality and importance: Salam went on to win the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics, and Tanaka was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

References

  1. Belousov, B. P. Compil. Abstr. Radiat. Med. 147, 145 (1959).

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  2. Salam, A. in Elementary Particle Theory, Proceedings of the Nobel Symposium held in 1968 at Lerum, Sweden (ed. Svartholm, N.) 367–377 (Almqvist & Wiksell, 1968).

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  3. Tanaka, K. et al. in Proceedings of the Second Japan–China Joint Symposium on Mass Spectrometry (eds Matsuda, H. and Liang X. T.) 185–188 (Bando, 1987).

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Wong, ML. What other treasures could be hidden in conference papers?. Nature 456, 443 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/456443a

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