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April 26, 2011
So Much For Natural-Product Nevirapine
Remember that weird Tetrahedron paper from last December? The one that claimed that it isolated the reverse transcriptase inhibitor nevirapine as a natural product from an Indian plant? In chiral form, no less?
Well, the journal would now like to say "Never mind". The lead author has retracted the paper, "due to doubt created in the scientific community on the origin of nevirapine from the seeds of Cleome viscosa". That's an odd way to put it. Isn't it? Doubts that other people might have are irrelevant if you're right, aren't they?
No, this is similar to the classic weasel-word apology, the one that goes on about regretting the way that some people took offense rather than regretting the original action itself. The reason this paper was retracted, surely, was that those doubts in the scientific community were well-founded. This paper made no sense on several levels, and those problems should have been caught immediately. Its publication was an embarrassment for Tetrahedron and for Elsevier.
I think that the reason I get so worked up about these things is the laziness and sloppy thinking involved. Scientific research deserves more than that, and the rest of us deserve more from the people who publish it.
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