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September 9, 2013
What To Do About Chemistry Papers That Don't Work?
I wanted to follow up on a point raised in the comments to this morning's post. Reader DJ writes that:
Our lab recently tried to repeat a procedure from a TL methodology paper on the amination of amines to make protected hydrazines. We noticed that the entire paper is wrong since the authors did not analyze the product NMRs carefully, and incorrectly assumed that they were forming the desired hydrazines, rather than the rearranged alkoxyamines. It's a systemic error throughout the paper that renders the entire premise and methodology essentially useless. So our quandry is this: (1) This is clearly not a case of fraud, but just bad science. (2) Our discovery is not all that interesting on its own, since the unusual reaction pathway has little practical value, and (3) the original report is from a TL paper that probably not many people will read in the first place. Still, I am tempted to do SOMETHING to correct the public record, but what? Maybe contact the original authors (somewhere in India)? Try to write a 'rebuttal style' paper in the same journal? Any suggestions?
That's a really good question. And I have a personal interest in it - no, I didn't write the hydrazine paper. I've recently tried to use a method in a paper from Chemical Communications that I cannot get to work. I gave it several tries, messing around with fresh reagents and so on, but I get nothing. In my case, I've written to the authors, and received no reply whatsoever. So, like DJ, I'm wondering what to do next. Writing to the authors is the first step that I recommend that he take, but he might well end up in the same situation I am.
So what next? Neither of these rise to a Blog-Syn level, I think, because just having half a dozen more people confirm that "Yeah, this stuff doesn't work" doesn't seem like a good use of people's time. (I think that Blog Syn efforts are better for reactions that work, but not as well as they're supposed to, because of some variables that aren't well worked out in the original papers). I'm not particularly interested in running a "Name and Shame" site for organic chemistry papers that can't be reproduced (and anyone who does will, I think, find themselves with a lot more work and many more headaches than they'd imagined). But what is there to do?
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