Yesterday morning I went on and on about the low quality of much of what gets published in the scientific literature. And indeed, the low end is very likely of no use to anyone, except (apparently) the people publishing it. But what to do with the rungs above that?
For organic chemistry, those are occupied by papers that report new compounds of little interest to anyone. But you never know - they might be worth someone else's time eventually. It's unlikely that any of these things will be the hinge on which a mighty question turns, but knowing that they've been made (and how), and knowing what their spectra and properties are could save someone time down the line when they're doing something more useful. These are real bricks in the huge construction of scientific knowledge, and while they're not worth much, it's more than zero. That's the value I assign to the hunks of mud that some people offer instead, or the things that look like real bricks but turn out to be made out of brick, yes, but about one millimeter thick and completely hollow.
So what to do with work that's mostly reference data for the future? It shouldn't have to appear in physical print, you'd think. How about the peer-reviewed journal part? Well, peer review is not magic. As it stands, that sort of information is the least-reviewed part of most papers. If someone tells you that they've made Compound X and Compound Y, and the synthesis isn't obviously crazy, you tend to take their word for it. It's a rare reviewer that gets all the way down to the NMR spectra in the supplementary material, that's for sure. And if one does, and the NMR spectra look reasonably believable, well, what else can you do? Even so, every working chemist has dealt with literature whose procedures Just Don't Work, and all those papers passed some sort of editorial review process at some point.
No, peer review is not going to do much to improve the quality of archival data. If someone really wants to fill up the low-level bins with junk, there's not much stopping them. You could sit down and draw out a bunch of stuff no one's ever made before, come up with plausible paper syntheses of all of it, use software to predict reasonable NMR spectra (which you might want to jitter around a bit to cover your tracks), and just flat-out fake the mass spec and elemental analyses. Presto, another paper that no one will ever read, until eventually someone has a reason to make similar compounds and curses your name in the distant future. The problem is, such papers will do you no real good, since they'll appear in the crappiest journals and pick up no citations from anyone.
Perhaps there should be a way to dump chemical data directly into some archives, the way X-ray data goes into the Protein Data Bank. That wouldn't count for much, but it would capture things for future use. Having it not count much would decrease the incentive for anyone to fill it full of fakery, too, since there would be even less point than usual. And before anyone objects to having a big pile of non-peer-reviewed chemical data like this, keep in mind that we already have one: it's called the patent literature, and it can be quite worthwhile. Although not always.