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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 25, 2012

Breslow's Chirality Paper: More Than Just Alien Dinosaurs

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Posted by Derek

Update: the paper has, for now, been pulled by JACS. More to come, no doubt.

I didn't written anything about the Breslow origins-of-chirality paper that mentioned, as a joking aside, the possibility of intelligent alien dinosaurs. As most readers will know, the ACS publicity office, most cluelessly, decided to make that throwaway line the focus of their press release, and much confusion ensued.

But things have gotten weirder. Stu Cantrill read the Breslow paper, and realized that he'd already read a lot of it before. See these three pictures (1, 2, 3) and realize the extent to which this latest paper was apparently a cut-and-paste job.

I've met Breslow many times (he used to consult for one of my former employers), and I've enjoyed reading much of his work. But this really shouldn't be acceptable - we wouldn't put up with it from some unknown chemist, and we shouldn't put up with it from someone famous. Chembark has an excellent summary of the situation, with recommendations about what the ACS should do next. These range from fixing that idiotic press release, to retracting the paper, to barring Breslow from publishing in JACS for a period.

In retrospect, the alien dinosaurs are becoming my favorite part of the whole paper.

Update: Breslow defends himself to Nature News.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. anchor on April 25, 2012 11:27 AM writes...

I say transformation of an excellent scientist to snake oil salesman is complete!

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2. Stu on April 25, 2012 11:50 AM writes...

Just to point out that I wasn't the first to spot the plagiarism (I think one of the commenters on See Arr Oh's blog was). I think my pink highlighter attack on the hardcopy perhaps revealed the extent of the copy-and-paste, however.

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3. Hap on April 25, 2012 12:10 PM writes...

This might be the post:

Martyn Apr 12, 2012 11:47 AM

He's done this at least twice before:

Tet Lett, 2011, 2028-2032
Tet Lett, 2011, 4228-4232

But obviously nobody reads Tet Lett...

comment link

The post author doesn't mention the Israel Journal of Chemistry article - I don't know if the TL and IJC articles contain common material or were all sources. This is pretty embarrassing.

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4. See Arr Oh on April 25, 2012 12:21 PM writes...

Wow, the Lowe Lift AND the ChemBark Crush, all at once! My blog counter's spinning off the charts!

Thanks, gents. Great job to @ChemBark, @dereklowe, and @sci_ents for followup coverage.

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5. Anonymouse on April 25, 2012 12:36 PM writes...

This seems like much ado about nothing. Breslow was probably invited to do a perspective on the particular topic. Perspectives are not intended to be original research articles.

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6. cynical1 on April 25, 2012 12:46 PM writes...

First of all, Breslow has it all wrong. We all know that the enantiomer of Earth exists in the other enantiomeric Universe which coexists with ours in the same space-time continuum. Enrichment of unnatural amino acids in meteorites is almost certainly from transportation from the opposite universe through wormholes and/or black holes. I mean, didn't he ever watch 'Star Trek'? Jeez! And yes, Spock really does have a beard in that universe and Breslow never even got tenure there. (I know because I have built a prototype transporter in my basement after I got laid off and all you have to do is switch the polarity and you can visit the other universe any time you wish! Unfortunately, I got laid off there too so I didn't stay.)

I'll be writing up my findings shortly to submit to JACS as a rebuttal to his hopelessly flawed hypothesis for the origins of life.

Oh, there was one thing I found out on the enantiomeric earth that you chemists might be interested in. The activity of emeprazole and esomeprazole are essentially equivalent there, as well. They are both reversible agonists of the ATPase and increase gastric acid secretion very similarly. (Sorry AZ) And in the political arena, Ted Nugent won the Republican Primary promising to play Muzak in the White House and Obama is half white not half black.

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7. Martyn on April 25, 2012 3:31 PM writes...

@Hap: I was only commenting on the dinosaur line, rather than the overall content. I hadn't actually read through the JACS paper at the time, just seen all the coverage on the BBC, boingboing and a couple of other sites, and wondered why everyone was suddenly getting worked up about something that had been published months earlier. I had no idea about the existence of the Isr. J. Chem. paper until it was mentioned on Chembark.

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8. Flackychemist on April 25, 2012 4:17 PM writes...

Is there something with ethics in Columbia? First Dalibor Sames publishes some crap while crippling a few careers in the process (well, the students were unable to reproduce some bogus experiments). Now Breslow (great researcher otherwise) is self plagiarizing. Not sure about the ACS but Columbia changed their ethical code to "accommodate" professor Sames...

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9. Justin Peucon on April 25, 2012 5:45 PM writes...

If an original article may be verbatimly transferred into a "Perspective article", is it really necessary to publish the Perspective? I'm afraid the next step will be a "perspective on perspective". I really feel uncomfortable with the recent inflation of Highlights, Spotlights, Reviews, Minireviews (why not nano- and picoreviews?), Concentrates, Perspectives, Focus, Lead articles, Short reviews, Features, etc. etc. After all, what is expected from a journal of science is to release Original Articles. No advertisements.

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10. Old Man on April 25, 2012 6:53 PM writes...

So sad. Come on Ron, you're better than this. This kind of self plagiarism and double /triple publication has been going on forever. It is just that in this day and age of powerful search engines you can't get away with crap like this anymore. This is only marginally worse than the never ending search for the LPU (least publishable unit) that is such a plague on our scientific literature, which is of course driven by our overly metric focused reward system that finds it easier to enumerate pubs on a CV than to evaluate the importance of the work.

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11. schinderhannes on April 26, 2012 2:51 AM writes...

Compleltely of topic:
As a non native speaker, I´s always amazed by the ongoing evolution of the (American) English language.
I ain´t never seen the verb form:
"I didn't written".
Is it something I has to start using to sound up to date?

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12. Iridium on April 26, 2012 2:58 AM writes...

You cannot trust an author that is not even able to draw decent looking structures!!!

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13. Virgil on April 26, 2012 7:38 AM writes...

So that's 2 posts this week on retraction worthy papers. Maybe you could make a joint blog with Ivan & Adam over at Retraction Watch. You can call it "In the Retraction Pipeline"!

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14. Anonymous on April 26, 2012 9:52 AM writes...

Here is my self plagiarism taken from ChemBark

"If enough folks send email to ACS questioning about the plagiarism like Mark did, and express outrages about the double standard, maybe they'll have to do something about it. They can drag it though (claiming they are still investigating it) so that after several weeks many of us all move on to the next thing and forget about it. Problem solved!"

Well at least I reference it and put on quotation marks!

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15. InfMP on April 26, 2012 10:25 AM writes...

no it is not new english slang, it's a typo.

wonder if bres has any NaH to demonstrate oxidations under prebiotic conditions.

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16. okemist on April 26, 2012 4:15 PM writes...

Would someone please post a complaint to the ACS so that I may cut and paste one to forward myself.

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17. D.J. on April 26, 2012 8:56 PM writes...

Am I the only one that thought this would be on offshoot of the gyre paper?

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19. molecule on April 27, 2012 6:21 AM writes...

why so much noise for this? This is not original paper but a perspective, a kind of review. Sure, he might have modified language but is it such a big crime that he be banned for publishing in JACS.

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20. Oh snap! on April 27, 2012 7:49 AM writes...

I just tried to read the infamous paper. I got this message from the JACS website:


This article was removed by the publisher due to possible copyright concerns. The Journal's Editor is following established procedure to determine whether a violation of ACS Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research has occurred.

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21. Hap on April 27, 2012 10:30 AM writes...

19: You don't write reviews by copying the papers from your sources into yours and publishing them - you're actually supposed to write something new that summarizes the work covered (in this case, his work) - that what a review does. People could have read the original articles if they wanted to (though it would have been more expensive). If you were unfortunate enough to have paid for this article, and hoping for general insights, you probably would have figured that you got ripped off.

In any cases, as ChemBark noted, the ethical guidelines make no distinction for the type of article - if you copy large amounts of your own material or someone else's into an article, no matter what type, you are in violation of the guidelines. You are also likely in violation of copyright law, as said above, since the articles copied (those of you or others) are probably copyrighted by someone else.

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