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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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April 29, 2011

Keep On Scrollin'

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Posted by Derek

I've been browsing through my journal RSS feeds, and a question occurs to me. When you're scanning through the current literature, what sort of paper makes you most likely to keep scrolling? What kind of work are you least likely to actually read?

We'll stipulate that you're looking at a journal or subject that's relevant to your field - I read a lot of stuff, but I'm most certainly not going to slow down to look over (say) a theoretical paper calculating the stability of isomeric inorganic complexes. But that said, there are things that make you slow down while going through the abstracts, and there are things that absolutely made you speed up.

My particular biases are to walk more quickly past the following sorts of titles, which have been only slightly exaggerated for effect. And you?

"Synthesis of A Natural Product That You Don't Care About, Using Methods That Bore You"

"Slight Enantiomeric Excess Realized Through Use Of A Humungous Catalyst That Takes Nine Steps To Make All By Itself"

"Nanorods Attached to Nanoplates by Nanosprings: Progress Toward a Nanomattress"

"Green Chemistry, Part 87: A Novel Reagent to Prepare Nitriles from Oximes"

"Isolation Of Known Terpenoid Natural Products From Weeds In Our Back Yard"

Comments (46) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Hap on April 29, 2011 9:23 AM writes...

"Computational Analysis of the Conformations of Angels on the Heads of Pins - A Potential New Energy Source"

"Yet Another Way to Convert Biomass into Tar Using Only Half of the Periodic Table"

"How to Break Nitrogen-Nitrogen Bonds Using Stoichiometric Heavy Metal Catalysts Under Argon"

"More Pretty Shaped Nanoparticles Obtained Sometimes By Solution Methods"

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2. Toad on April 29, 2011 9:31 AM writes...

"Structure- and Fragment-Based Design, Traditional and Parallel Synthesis, and Evaluation of Novel, Really Big and Greasy, Fused Heterocycles Containing Substituents Easily Analoged By Our CRO Chemists Overseas as Potent Modulators of that Recent Really Exciting Protein Found by a Well Known Academic Lab and Published in Nature Which Left Out Critical Experimental Details So We Had to Develop Everything Ourselves, Towards the Potential, But Unlikely Really, Treatment of that Condition for which Our Company Can Charge a Lot of Money"

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3. luysii on April 29, 2011 9:35 AM writes...

Not exactly chemical but

l. Anything with meta-analysis -- garbage in garbage out

2. Anything involving cryo-electron microscopy -- sort of a Rorschack test allowing you to see what you want

3. Anything involving Aplysia, C. elegans or rodent models of learning -- way too far from humans to be relevant.

4. Anything with mathematical modeling of intercellular (or extracellular events). In most cases we simply don't know all the players -- this leaves out modeling in biophysics (e.g. Hodgkin Huxley etc. etc.).

5. Any detailed paper on protein folding (I just don't know enough to read it intelligently -- hopefully, this is the year of serious PChem and physical organic chemistry and then I'll be able to tackle this stuff and be able to read the sacred texts in the original).

a. Ditto for any paper with molecular dynamics simulations of cellular events (same reason).

b. Ditto for ab initio quantum mechanical calculations (hopefully Anslyn and Dougherty will have me there at the end)

6. Any molecular biology concerning plants -- although fascinating, probably not relevant to human work, and also such a deep subject that I could probably spend all my time there

That still leaves tons of stuff that I just don't have time to go through and read in detail.

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4. pete on April 29, 2011 9:52 AM writes...

"Extracts of Wheat Hulls That Reduce Tumor Growth in a Xenograft Model" - Crop Science, State Univ. of Southeastern Dakota.

"Extracts of Cardamom Seed That Reduce Tumor Growth in a Xenograft Model" - Southeastern Kerala Institute of Agronomic Economics.

"Extracts of Lychee Rind That Reduce Tumor Growth in a Xenograft Model" - Southeastern Cantonese Directorate of Fruit Production.

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5. barry on April 29, 2011 9:52 AM writes...

Buckyballs! Anything with buckyballs on it. And anything with more than two Mass Specs in series

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6. Dickweed Jones on April 29, 2011 9:58 AM writes...

Anything by Amos Smith

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7. Anonymous on April 29, 2011 10:00 AM writes...

Anything with gradient-colored rings in the graphical abstract, or the term "hydrogen storage."

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8. johnnyboy on April 29, 2011 10:39 AM writes...

All the chemistry in-jokes are way above my head, but I did love your nano-mattress one.

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9. InfMP on April 29, 2011 11:10 AM writes...

I scan past everything that does not show an organic chemistry scheme or any molecular structure. And if it's just balls and sticks, I skip it too.

In other words, I skip past anything that's colorful unless it's Nicolaou colors.

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10. leftscienceawhileago on April 29, 2011 11:16 AM writes...

"Towards Biocomputation: DNA Based Computers That Take A Day To Find A Solution To Trivial Computational Problem"

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11. Rick on April 29, 2011 11:32 AM writes...

I don't generally ignore them altogether, but I do take a deep breath before reading articles with titles that use a flashy new name for something that scientists have been doing for a very long time in order to make it sound new and sexy and worthy of being on the cover of Nature or Science or attracting VCs. In pursuit of sexiness, articles with such titles often bypass stodgy-old-fart things like controls or the fact that somebody else already did the same thing a long time ago. Specific phrases that come to mind right off are:

Chemical genomics (= pharmacology)
Synthetic biology (= biochemistry)
Pharmacogenomics (= genetics without the gene part)
Computational ADME (= computer-assisted bad guesses)
Rational drug design (= medicinal chemistry)

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12. nitrosonium on April 29, 2011 11:35 AM writes...

ANY paper that CLAIMS to describe probing/understanding molecular interactions using AFM. Really?? That certainly is a real nice Adobe graphic you've created that shows a bunch of neat (ordered) molecules on a surface and some sort of organically appended AFM tip bouncing up and down.
"we've interpreted this force curve to mean...." what exactly???

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13. Kent G. Budge on April 29, 2011 11:52 AM writes...

My field is astronomy. I tend to skip past anything that begins with "Detection of towards "

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14. Pete on April 29, 2011 12:06 PM writes...

I always find the word 'novel' a turn off and if reviewing a manuscript I always suggest (sometimes insist) that to be removed. I just think that it sounds so silly and cringeworthy especially given some fo the crap that it gets applied to.

Here are my contributions (admittedly more exaggerated than Derek's set):

Novel, highly predictive proprietary QSAR models for hERG blockade, fully tested and validated, using data that you will never get to see.

New and Original strategies for Predictive Chemistry: Why use knowledge when fifty cross-correlated molecular descriptors and a consensus of over-fit models will tell you the same thing?

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15. anon the II on April 29, 2011 12:07 PM writes...

Good question Derek. I wasn't sure of the answer so I looked at the last two JACS just to see what I do. It appears that I pass over just about everything. I only stop if I recognize an author (where are they now?) or if there is a specific organic structure that catches my attention.

There was one paper that I looked at further where the author started with a simple 3-furanone and made complexmolecumycin. I remembered from 30+ years ago that 3-furanones are not so easy to come by and they go to crap easily so I followed the references and, sure enough, they're still a pain to come by.

And Rick is spot on with the renaming thing. It's annoying and we all know who the culprits are.

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16. barry on April 29, 2011 12:13 PM writes...

re: Rick #11

I would add one to your excellent list:


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17. BFS on April 29, 2011 12:26 PM writes...

HTS = irrational drug design

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18. ryan on April 29, 2011 1:24 PM writes...

"Event X is weakely correlated to a (seemingly randomly chose) Event Y"

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19. Fernando on April 29, 2011 1:44 PM writes...

*A simple esterefication method using an extremly expensive photo-electro-enzymatic-flow-reactor which I won't see in my life

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20. Exorcist on April 29, 2011 2:08 PM writes...

Headlines about royal weddings.

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21. johnnyboy on April 29, 2011 2:58 PM writes...

Why ? There's no lack of chemistry between Will and Kate.

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22. Pharmaheretic on April 29, 2011 3:02 PM writes...

Chemical-Free Chemistry

"I’ve been puzzling over this idea. How would a budding chemist do these “chemical free” experiments when everything in the box from plastic to paper is made of chemical compounds? One could imagine that these small scientists might put water in the plastic test tubes pictured below. But, no, that would be H2O. Another known chemical compound."

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23. Hap on April 29, 2011 4:18 PM writes...

You do it on a computer - if you ignore the chemicals in your head (and in the computer), it's chemical-free. (Actually it's not, but if you've suspended rationality this long...)

How about...

"Yet Another Organocatalyst for Henry Reactions/Aldol Additions to Imines/Aldehydes to Give Amino/Hydroxy Carbonyl Compounds in Moderate Stereoselectivity"

"It's Time to Play with Diethylzinc - An Amino Alcohol Ligand for Enantioselective Diethylzinc Additions to Benzaldehyde"

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24. Anonymous on April 29, 2011 5:04 PM writes...

"Slight Enantiomeric Excess Realized Through Use Of A Humungous Catalyst That Takes Nine Steps To Make All By Itself"

Or the cousin of this one;
"Concise Synthesis of a Mildly Interesting Target Using a Complex Starting Material That Takes 12 Steps to Make (Which We Conveniently Don't Talk About)"

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25. Gon on April 29, 2011 6:13 PM writes...

#11 addendum:

Translational medicine (= drug development)

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26. Rick on April 29, 2011 6:38 PM writes...

Gon (#25)
I'm still trying to deconvolute "Translational Medicine". It also seems to mean:
- "actually reading journal articles"
- "explaining science to physicians"
- "explaining science to MBAs"
- "explaining medicine to scientists"
- "explaining medicine to MBAs"
- "explaining drug discovery to academics"
- "explaining basic research to pharma"
- "an NIH scientist or administrator lunching with an MD"
- "an MD visiting NIH on a pharma-sponsored junket that, ahem, coincidentally involves taking his wife and kids to the the Smithsonian, getting free tickets to a Kennedy Center performance and staying at the Ritz Washington free of charge."
- "anything that pharma CEOs think sounds sciency and they can make money off it"
- "whatever the hell biotech analysts think it means... today"

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27. Secondaire on April 29, 2011 7:05 PM writes...

"The Activity of A Protein Abbreviated By A Long Alphanumeric Code That May Just As Easily Be The Serial Number from Your Washing Machine is Modulated Weakly by Another Long, Alphanumeric Protein That Promiscuously Binds To Everything Anyway"

...and similar titles.

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28. Secondaire on April 29, 2011 7:10 PM writes...

Oh, and

"Here's Yet Another Class of Greaseball Benzindolopyrroloquinazolinoimidazolylpyrimidinylpyridines that Inhibit Yet Another Tyrosine Kinase That There Are Already Seventy Inhibitors For."

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29. Anonlymous BMS Researcer on April 29, 2011 9:30 PM writes...

I read a number of these titles out loud to my wife, a former journal editor who said with a laugh, "some of these sound like articles I rejected!"

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30. gyges on April 30, 2011 5:08 AM writes...

I skip anything that doesn't have a chemical scheme in the feed.

Chemists think in pictures: if I'm not presented with a picture I don't bother going further.

I've stopped following 'Synthetic Communications - informaworld' for that reason.

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31. anonymous on April 30, 2011 10:15 AM writes...

@Derek: What RSS reader do you find useful for journals? I tried a few of the add-ons in Firefox and have been disappointed that they only feed the titles, and nothing from the abstracts. Or is that what I should expect?

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32. RD on April 30, 2011 1:47 PM writes...

Secondaire: {{snort!}}
Medicinal chemists are fascinated by that damn hinge.
Run away! Run Away!

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33. milkshake on April 30, 2011 1:56 PM writes...

Anything that has "virtual screening of chemical libraries"

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34. j on April 30, 2011 2:44 PM writes...

I dislike posts like these because it is a wholesale opportunity for people to display their uninformed opinions, and have everyone polish them with equally uninformed group think.

I can remember a few of these posts over the years, and am happy that it is mostly an anomaly.

Regardless, I take the good with the bad, so keep up the good blogging!

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35. Anonymous on April 30, 2011 4:20 PM writes...

Anything with quantum or nano in the title. Anything that takes a simple 2 step synthesis and promotes the product as a new material. Any chart or graph as the abstract graphic makes me turn away.

Oh and the usual tubes, spheres and rods of the nano variety....worthless.

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36. Rick on April 30, 2011 5:02 PM writes...

Your generosity of spirit is breathtaking. Indeed, I am profoundly moved that I breath the same air as you, let alone share overlapping blog-space. Somehow it helps me deal with the thought that I may never be like you. Please know that Serious People with Informed Opinions like you make a big difference every day in the lives of people like me, who group-think uninformed opinions and force them on you. Where would we be without you?!
Your humbled and obedient servant - Rick

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37. Anon on April 30, 2011 8:39 PM writes...

I'm in materials chemistry, so I'll take the nano-mattresses.

I find some computational chemistry interesting, but most molecular dynamics papers make me scroll faster, as will papers about shooting lasers at things. The "New dye sensitized solar cell gets 6% efficiency and still uses ruthenium" paper is the bane of my existence. I can avoid it on the feed, but someone will present it in group meeting, and I'll be rolling my eyes the whole time. "New Suzuki coupling indistinguishable in all ways from old Suzuki coupling" paper is definitely a pass, as are most papers that have the initials "EE" anywhere on the page. "Rhodium catalyst puts together strange rings from acetylene and acrolein" paper is a guilty pleasure of mine, as are a lot of "concise total synthesis" papers. "Large polymer sack full of cisplatin" paper is another that I move away from as fast as possible.

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38. luysii on May 1, 2011 8:38 AM writes...

#37 Anon -- why do molecular dynamics papers make you scroll ? Do you have a problem trusting the results? No axe to grind, just asking.

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39. Kevin on May 1, 2011 10:26 AM writes...

Anything in polymers with nano and clay.

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40. Curious Wavefunction on May 1, 2011 5:23 PM writes...

Luysii, every single item on this list lends itself to good and bad examples. There are good examples of virtual screening, mathematical modeling, protein folding and MD. MD is generally a very slow technique and it's a stretch to use it for protein folding but it can be very useful for specific problems if used intelligently. As usual, no technique or approach is going to make you swoon if it's being used for solving the wrong problem.

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41. anonymous on May 1, 2011 10:16 PM writes...

I skip anything from China, India, Korea, most asian countries in fact as personal experience has proved to me that 9/10 procedures don't work and hence it's probably fabricated.
Yes, I know this is controversial but I also tend to flash past papers from Italy, France, Spain and most eastern europe sources, plus South American. I know a lot of reputable scientists in these countries and lot of good work comes out of these centres, but unfortunately so does a lot of unreproducible garbage.

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42. Ir II on May 2, 2011 1:06 AM writes...

I don't read the literature at all just in case it might be crap.

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43. Stiv on May 3, 2011 3:38 PM writes...

Any feed that has a picture of a fluorescent liquid in a vial.

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44. cliffintokyo on May 6, 2011 4:26 AM writes...

Apologies for being late to party.
#26 Rick - You missed one:
"Explaining MBAs to Scientists" [without making them foam at mouth?]
When I have time, I scan med rel papers only, and skip anything with "aspirin for treating...." in the title ;-)
Its just so *yesterday's news*, know what I mean?

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45. Anon on May 16, 2011 12:29 AM writes...

37 Anon -- why do molecular dynamics papers make you scroll ? Do you have a problem trusting the results? No axe to grind, just asking.

MD is highly technical, and I don't have a background. In some cases I've been able to extract useful information from time independant ab-initio stuff, as it jives with my physical organic and semiconductor background, but I usually have no idea what to do with MD. In some cases I've tried, but I haven't come away feeling better informed.

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46. Steve on December 11, 2012 4:15 PM writes...

No title would make me keep on scrollin' more than this: "3-Methoxypyrazoles from 1,1-dimethoxyethene, few original results"

That's a real title BTW and it's not that I have anything against 3-methoxypyrazoles per se, but if the title says there isn't anything original here then I definitely have better things to do.

I presume this is a problem with the authors' first language not being English, but surely some editorial attention could have sorted that out.

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