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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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May 17, 2012

The Breslow Chirality Paper Mess, Resolved

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Posted by Derek

Just a note: the Breslow origins-of-chirality paper, also known more widely (thanks to some bizarre PR work at the ACS) as the "alien dinosaur" paper, has been withdrawn, and on the correct grounds. The pun in the headline is intended.

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. Quintus on May 17, 2012 9:55 AM writes...

I'm sorry but I do not agree. Why should Prof. Breslow not be able to use his own results in an invited perspective article? It's not as if he stole them from anyone. So what, he repeated some of them which he previously published, so what?
Why the witch hunt here?
There certainly is a lot of fraud going on in scientific publications these days, you only need to look at Retraction Watch to become aware of this, BUT Prof Breslow's work hardly comes under this heading.
The JACS editors should re-instate this paper and apologize.

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2. See Arr Oh on May 17, 2012 10:09 AM writes...

@Quintus - It's the principle of the thing. Prof. Breslow did what was right.

Let's say I publish the best paper ever. It's so good, in fact, that I decide to send it to Nature, Science, and three other top-flight journals. They all publish it. Yet, I haven't changed it much, it's essentially the same paper in all cases.

Now, when tenure decisions, job interviews, awards committees, or grant agencies come calling, what do I tell them? Do I have one paper (duplicated five times), or do I have five separate high-impact papers? This might considerably swing things in my favor... Also, each journal has different copyright rules, and I believe that this paper went afoul of those, too.

The science is exciting, and the data valid. It just needs to be reworked next time.

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3. Hap on May 17, 2012 10:12 AM writes...

1) ACS has a specific policy on reusing your own work in newly published work in their journals, and he broke that policy. Badly. Since he used to be, like, their president, he probably should have known that.

2) As noted by others, when you publish work in other journals, the journals (may) have copyright on it (as in this case). The research isn't theirs to control, but the writing is. Hence, he wasn't really copying his own work - he was copying someone else's (the journals' that he originally published in).

If an invited speaker came and played YouTube videos of his other speeches for the audience instead of giving a new speech, I'm not sure why the inviters wouldn't be right to feel cheated, particularly if someone else owned the speeches. I wouldn't think the inviters would have anything to apologize for.

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4. Quintus on May 17, 2012 11:04 AM writes...

Just look at Retraction watch and make a comparison with Breslow's papers and those quoted in that Blog.
As for copyright I don't accept that it applies in this case or the case of any other author writing about his own work. It should be applied to those borrowing others work, without proper reference.
If his previous work can be utilized to support arguments in current research then he has a perfect right to use these arguments in any way he likes, if he wishes to re-use sentences he already published then that is his good right. Why waste time rewording something you have already written?

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5. Curious Wavefunction on May 17, 2012 11:06 AM writes...

Quintus: There is no witch hunt here. Breslow's scientific reputation is secure and this will be an unfortunate albeit mild footnote in the list of his stellar achievements. The problem here was the sheer degree of similarity between the review and the other papers; as See Arr Oh asks, would you list this review as a separate article in your CV? In any case, Breslow did the right thing and it's the kind of thing we expect from a scientist of his great stature.

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6. mike on May 17, 2012 11:12 AM writes...

It's easier to understand in the context of art. If you paint a picture and sell it to a publisher to be used as cover art on a new book, you are typically selling the publication rights to that picture. You can't just change the buttons on a character's jacket and sell the same picture to another publisher, even if they are publishing a book about great cover art and invited you to contribute. If they want to republish pre-published work, they need to go to the person who owns the publication rights to the work. If they ask you for a new contribution, even a review, and you give them pre-published work instead, retraction on the basis that it was pre-published is the very least that should be expected.

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7. Hap on May 17, 2012 11:17 AM writes...

Whether or not you accept that copyright includes your own work that you've submitted to others, it does. Your acceptance isn't required for the law to apply to you.

Had he only reused the arguments and rewritten them, it would have been annoying (at least if you had read the earlier articles) but would have violated neither copyrights nor publication policies.

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8. Quintus on May 17, 2012 11:23 AM writes...

Two last comments on this from me: I agree that his scientific achievements stand way out there as great contributions. I do not agree with the comments here concerning copyright.

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9. Ir2 on May 17, 2012 12:42 PM writes...

Breslow did the right thing.... after he got caught, and after there was enough pressure applied, after he first tried to claim there was nothing wrong with what he had done.

It's not just ACS journals who have such a policy of not republishing papers that are already published. Nor is this practice obscure.

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10. deceased on May 17, 2012 12:49 PM writes...

The real reason his paper was withdrawn has nothing to do with policies or copyright, it drew unwanted attention to the shadowy order of intelligent reptiles who secretly control all governments and industries on earth!

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11. TFox on May 17, 2012 2:02 PM writes...

Can we please kill the term "self-plagiarism"? Plagiarism is a serious academic sin, the borrowing of other people's work without credit. You cannot plagiarize yourself, by definition. Extensive borrowing from your own work may be another kind of infraction, if eg you've sold an exclusive right to those words to someone else before, but that infraction is *not* plagiarism.

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12. Sherman on May 17, 2012 3:30 PM writes...

Quintus: you don't have to agree with the comments here on copyright, however, they are law in the United States. If he had kept his copyright (and not assigned it to another publisher), he might have been okay (the self-plagarism rules of JACS notwithstanding).

They maybe stupid laws (I certainly think they are), but plain and simple, what he did was against the law and JACS would have been liable to a lawsuit if they left the paper published.

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13. old man on May 17, 2012 9:05 PM writes...

Come on, four publications of the same stuff? And what is with the title change from "A likely possible origin..." (somewhat modest) to "The origin of homochirality..." (no room for doubt) Sounds like he was there to witness the event.

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14. The Iron Chemist on May 18, 2012 6:27 AM writes...

When you submit anything to a journal (article, review, book review), it is supposed to be an original work of scholarship. This was not.

This was essentially duplicate publication, which is highly frowned upon (getting 2+ papers' worth of credit for one work).

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15. Anonymous on May 22, 2012 6:06 PM writes...

Its not the self plagiarism or copyright issues or weird space dinosaur BS thats really getting people upset. Those are just gotchas. However, there's been a bit of a failure to call a spade a spade on this case so let's face it, we are faced with a pretty blatant case of cronyism: privilege given to someone because of who he knows. That's what's been rubbing people the wrong way.

Had some less well connected individual tried these stunts the editors would have rightly slapped them down fast. However, an insider has clearly been given a pass to do such things and it was only through public outcry that the situation has been remedied.

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16. Steve on May 24, 2012 8:03 PM writes...

Breslow also signed a letter to the Wall Street Journal denying that global warming is man made. Not sure of his expertise on the subject but one wonders what's happening to a formerly very good scientist.

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