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June 6, 2014
The Robustness Test: Why Don't We Just Require It?
There's a follow-up paper to that one on the robustness of new synthetic methods that I blogged about here. This one's in Nature Protocols, so it's a detailed look at just how you'd go about their procedure for shaking down a new reaction.
The reaction they've chosen is a rhodium-catalyzed indole formation (phenylhydrazine plus substituted alkyne), which is a good test bed for the real world (heterocycles, metal-catalyzed mechanism). The authors suggest a matrix of additives and reaction conditions, analyzed by GC, as in their original paper, to profile what can be tolerated and what can't. It's good to have the detailed reference out there, and I hope it gives referees and journal editors something to point at.
But will they? I can imagine a world where new reactions all have a "standard additives" grid somewhere in the paper, showing how the yields change. You could even color-code them (the old stoplight slide scheme, red/yellow/green, would be fine), and then we'd all have a way to compare synthetic methods immediately. Aldrich and others could sell the pre-assembled kit of the standard compounds to use. This would also point out reactions where more useful work could be done, since it would be immediately obvious that the new Whatsit Cyclization fails in the presence of tertiary amines, etc. Too often now you have to work that our for yourself, usually by seeing what the authors left out.
So why don't we all do this? It's more work, that's for sure, but not an incredible amount more work. If the major synthetic chemistry journals starting asking for it, that would be that. It would also make the publication landscape even more clear, because the titels that don't ask for an extra few days to be spent on the reaction conditions would be hard-pressed to make a case that they weren't just venues for hackwork (or for people with something to hide). I'd rather read about reactions with a clear statement of what they'll work on and what they won't - wouldn't you?
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