A Disturbing Note in a Recent SI File

August 6th, 2013

ChemBark InvestigatesA recently published ASAP article in the journal Organometallics is sure to raise some eyebrows in the chemical community. While the paper itself is a straightforward study of palladium and platinum bis-sulfoxide complexes, page 12 of the corresponding Supporting Information file contains what appears to be an editorial note that was inadvertently left in the published document:

Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis…

This statement goes beyond a simple embarrassing failure to properly edit the manuscript, as it appears the first author is being instructed to fabricate data. Elemental analyses would be very easy to fabricate, and long-time readers of this blog will recall how fake elemental analyses were pivotal to Bengu Sezen’s campaign of fraud in the work she published from 2002 to 2005 out of Dalibor Sames’ lab at Columbia.

The compound labeled 14 (an acac complex) in the main paper does not appear to correspond to compound 14 in the SI. In fact, the bridged-dichloride compound appears to be listed an as unlabeled intermediate in Scheme 5, which should raise more eyebrows. Did the authors unlist the compound in order to avoid having to provide robust characterization for it?

ChemBark is contacting the corresponding author for comment, and his response will be posted in full when we receive it.

This story points to very real concerns that young researchers can be instructed and pressured to fabricate data. Would a scientist be so concerned that a journal would reject his manuscript over a piece of missing characterization data that he’d feel pressure to make something up?

Expect more as this story develops…

220 Responses to “A Disturbing Note in a Recent SI File”

  1. Sean Says:

    Wow, can’t view the article at the moment due to the pay wall, but reminds me of some fraud that I came across in the field of crystallography a few years ago.

  2. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    There is very, very important lesson here for PI’s and PI’s to be:

    Always make your comments using annotation features, not in the body of a document itself!

  3. student Says:

    The more important lesson is that this guy’s ass should be grass. A PI insisting on a student incorporating fraudulent data should be immediate grounds for termination.

  4. mevans Says:

    DAMN. One has to hope for a full-on retraction in this case. Of course, imagining alternatives to the likely truth is also fun…

    “Spurned Swiss lover pulls ultimate prank on chemist ex-girlfriend”
    “Crushed graduate student looking for ‘out’ despite parents’ pressures”

  5. Ian Says:

    Couple things–

    1.) My heart sank when I read the header for this. Ugh.

    2.) It should also be noted that this made it through at least three reviewers and an editor. Last I checked, we’re supposed to review the SI as well, not just the main text??

    3.) While this is an extreme case, I think that in MANY cases elemental analysis data is a little bit dishonest. For example, how often do purification procedures for elemental samples differ from the ‘normal’ synthesis/purification procedure? Anecdotally, I know of many cases where folks had to do multiple xtallizations, columns or other purifications to get a sample to pass EA–does this make it a useful analytical technique in regards to the original synthetic prep? My feeling is no. I’m personally a firm believer that you’re better off leaving EA off than going to such extreme lengths to get a sample to ‘pass,’ especially considering the myriad other modern analytical techniques that we have.

  6. subnaught Says:

    Excellent investigative work, Paul. Will be interesting to see how this unfolds…

  7. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    Agree with Ian. EA is an archaic technique. The attitude of the PI is the story.

  8. excimer Says:

    That was my initial thought: “Who the hell reviewed this paper?!?”

  9. Methodologist Says:

    EA is overkill unless you absolutely need an assay of trace impurities. Between NMR, mass spec, IR, chromatography-coupled instruments and x-ray (if available) it is (relatively) easy to establish the identity of your compound quite definitively.

  10. J.J. Emerson Says:

    It could be extremely inept fraud, perhaps. If such is the case, then appropriate action should be taken and heads should roll.

    On the other hand, did you even consider alternative hypotheses that aren’t as damning? I mean, you’re breaking out the really big, career-ending guns. Might this not be the case of a non-native speaker using a notoriously difficult aspect of English (phrasal verbs) in a less than native manner? If I’m not mistaken, even a native speaker can “make up a list”/”prepare a list”.

    Lest you think this a bit far fetched, see for example, these common reference sources for English:




  11. ScienceRocks Says:

    The reviewers and especially the authors need to be boycotted from the scientific community. This is a disgrace to all scientific fields and not just chem.

  12. Grad Chemist Says:

    Wow. Not only does this look bad but I guess it confirms the feeling that no reviewers actually look at the SI so it becomes a dumping ground.

  13. J.J. Emerson Says:


  14. Paul Says:

    @J.J. Emerson: That is indeed a possibility. I have e-mailed the author and promised that his response will be inserted, unedited, in the main post (not as a comment). I have also linked to the primary documents related to this story to allow readers to judge for themselves.

    I agree that the comment could be a benign misuse of English, but observations like the fact that the compound in question does not correspond to the one in the main paper suggest something funny might be going on. Also, I have much more information than what is posted here. I will be doing more investigative work in the coming days, and should it merit more reporting, I will write a new post.

    With that said, I felt I needed to get a quick initial story up (1) before the SI was retracted or modified and (2) before my very able “competitors” broke the story.

    Thanks for your input.

  15. Tantal Says:

    The instructions are clear, “insert” NMR data and “just make up” elemental analysis – the PI is not asking to measure or obtain the data or to insert it, but to make it up. Even for a non-native speaker, the most likely interpretation is that this is an instruction to fake it.

    However, I would agree that EA is an outdated technique that adds little value to a characterisation, unless a material is contaminated with huge amounts of inorganic materials which would not show up in most other analytical techniques.

  16. C Says:

    I have to agree with the point made by @J.J.Emerson, as a Brit, I ‘made up’ hundreds of samples for NMR, MS, during my studies. I did not fabricate a thing, the phrase ‘make up’ to me means ‘to prepare.’ And to ‘insert’ the data into a manuscript would perhaps mean to put the NMR data for that compound in that line of text. So it could be a simple case of unfortunate wording.

    This does not, however, excuse the error of leaving such a comment in the SI or mixing up compound number labels. I agree with most of the comments on EA, however, in my experience, a reviewer may insist on the presence of EA data for all compounds in order to approve publication.

  17. See Arr Oh Says:

    Just in case, Paul, I went to grab another copy of the SI. By 1:00 AM PDT 8/7, it hadn’t been altered.

    N.B. – When one of us reports this kind of stuff, it’s important for at least two other people from the community to immediately save versions of the paper in question. (I still have older versions of all the Breslow and Yan papers, if anyone needs ’em!)

  18. See Arr Oh Says:

    P.S. – Nice post! Interested to see how it unfolds…

  19. Simon Higgins Says:

    Oh dear. The idea that elemental analysis is obsolete (and so, by implication, this is not so serious) is wrong in my opinion. I have had cases where a procedure has given spectroscopically decent results, but the compound has clearly been impure, and the impurity has just not shown up in the NMR, either because it had a very complex NMR that was lost in the baseline, or because it just didn’t have any protons(!). It was the microanalyses that showed up the problems in both cases. Also, although ‘falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus’ is supposed to be a logical fallacy, I think it applies here.

  20. anotherbrit Says:

    @C: another Brit who often “made up” NMR samples, as in the act of making the solution and placing it in the tube ready to go. I’d also read “insert NMR data” as put in the data that should already be there.

    That said, I have never heard anyone say that they “made up” the data. Making up a sample, yes, making up data, not so much. Also, the note doesn’t say “make up an elemental analysis sample”. It says “just make up an elemental analysis…” and I think the “just” and the”…” are telling.

  21. crazedPHD Says:

    This is horrible! It smacks of scientific malpractice and I hate it. Especially if the profs go around pretending like what they do is gold. The quality of journals even for supposedly reputable journals are going down. Take for example this,
    “A Thermoresponsive Hydrogel Formed from a Star–Star Supramolecular Architecture” in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, Volume 52, Issue 24, pages 6180–6184. For those who are well versed in hydrogel formation, you can take a look at the TOC and tell that this is absolutely rubbish. If you use basic chemistry to work out, you will know that this system is not as elegant as it seems. Gel formation concentration is theoretically lower than what is presented here. Well, incidentally, they use EA to determine the molecular weight of the polymers……Wonder wonder wonder….

  22. ItsaSadStory Says:

    @J.J. Emerson, @C – I think your interpretation is very generous. it wasn’t “make up”, it was “just make up”, and it was “for this compound”. I do, however, admire your optimism.

    I also agree that the requirement for EA is outdated, as long as bulk purity is confirmed by some other technique.

  23. Bernie Says:

    Just a note on EA, because people seem to be missing the point of the technique. Most of the other techniques – NMR, IR, X-ray, etc. – have their own flaws in terms of determining the PURITY of the bulk product (as opposed to the identity of the major product, or indeed the identity of a single crystal of the product (for X-ray or even IR via ATR methods)). It has its own flaws, of course, but it’s still a valueable indication of purity. This is why journals (and referees like me) still insist on it. In this particular case, the SI comment points not only to fraud, but also to sloppyness and/or laziness in characterisation by the student.

  24. Andre Says:

    Note to Sean (and in general): supporting information is not behind paywall. Provided free of charge.

    Any claim of “it was just instructions for the student to provide a sample for analysis” should require significant evidence for acceptance (and this excuse seems likely to come up). A paper trail from the lab running the analysis should show the specific sample and percentages with sample ID and date run. This should be able to be produced from any credible lab.

  25. Andre Says:

    Also, I agree 100% with Ian above. If you’re jumping through hoops trying to get an elemental analysis to hit, you’re doing it wrong. Try two or three samples (from different preps… if you have to run purification techniques on your samples to get EA to hit, then your product isn’t pure). If these do not hit, either give other data that support purity or, especially if the numbers are relatively close, just note that the sample did not pass analysis (which might indicate minor impurity).

  26. Unstable Isotope Says:

    Well, if they retract the paper, at least the student can’t be blamed by the PI.

  27. Neil Says:

    I agree that the editing staff and the reviews should have noticed this and it should never have made it to print.

    I also agree that this could be a misuse of English – I am also a Brit but have lived in Germany/Austria for many years and have seen very often the phrase “to make” being translated from the German verb “machen” to make/to do. This is also the case in many other languages.

    Without comment from the authors, this discussion is academic and before we all… I wanted to say start, but continue is better…. continue to speculate and make this sitution worse, I would suggest that we wait for an appropriate response from the authors, rather than further speculation and heresay so you can give yourself a pat on the back and say that you were the first to write about it.

    This is ultimately about someone’s career and if they did fabricate results it will come out – there is no need to stir it up further.

  28. incitatus Says:

    Im a native english speaker and i am afraid make up in that context is not make up a list. its invent, concoct. that wont stop people using that as a defence though.

    Rather saddened to see the spurious attacks on elemental analysis. its not meant to be an assessment of the compound as produced, so the points about different methods of preparation are just plain wrong. What EA is for is to identify the empirical formula of the compound to confirm that you have made what you think you have. its for the identification of novel compounds not routine analysis or qa. And the fact it requires a pure sample- good. I may be a tad old fashioned but i dont believe you have made a compound until you have made it pure.

  29. Dave Fernig Says:

    “Just make up” would seem to the the product of a PI too busy to mentor, who has forgotten the joys and pain of research, but is more than happy to tread the circuit and grab the accolades. Data are often a bit messy, but that does not mean we are empowered to tidy them up. For the doubters, read Stephen Curry’s excellent post on the subject at http://occamstypewriter.org/scurry/2013/05/09/science-better-messy-than-messed-up/.

  30. Tyrosine Says:

    The PI here is a relatively young academic, probably feeling some pressure to carve out a career, and with a string of JACS and AICE papers already on his list. Succumbing to the temptation of taking such shortcuts is perhaps more common than we would like to think. Not forgiving the behaviour of course, but the guy must be mortified.

  31. Andre Says:

    incitatus- Sorry, but I think you were misinformed. Most journals use elemental analysis solely as a sign of product purity, not identity (i.e. empirical formula). For example, from the author guidelines of Organometallics (because that’s the journal involved in this story): “5.4.1 Purity. The “gold standard” for purity is elemental analysis (microanalysis), a criterion valued by the founding Editor of this journal as well as the present Editors. Authors should strive to submit microanalytical data for all new compounds. Carbon and hydrogen analyses should be supplied; data for additional elements (nitrogen, phosphorus, chlorine, etc.) are encouraged.”

  32. Anton Says:

    Elemental analysis is one of the few techniques to offer a proof of purity. Most others only identify the desired molecule as being present (NMR can have up to 5% impurity present before showing up, for instance). If you have systems that are very susceptible to minute impurities, like liquid crystals or supramolecular systems, elemental analysis or a combination of a host of other techniques is required to get a paper published.

  33. Neil Says:

    Furthermore “and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis…” could simply be an abreviation in this work group meaning “and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis sample and submit it”. The point is we do not know! The “…” would imply that the sentence goes on!

  34. Tobi Says:

    Regardless of what was intended with that message in the SI, whether to make up (fake) the EA (which should in my opinion result in the end of a scientific career, as it is against all scientific ethics) or to simply go and do it (because the student was lazy and still had not done it), it is the point that it passed the peer review process UNNOTICED that worries me so much. I cannot believe none of 2 or 3 reviewers even took a look at the SI! If this is general practice now, it just shows that peer reviewing is NOT ensuring a high quality of science or research standards. We are not talking about overlooked spelling or drawing mistakes here!

    For example, from the author guidelines of Organometallics (because that’s the journal involved in this story): “5.4.1 Purity. The “gold standard” for purity is elemental analysis (microanalysis), a criterion valued by the founding Editor of this journal as well as the present Editors.

    Even worse that it passed unnoticed, as it is directly concerning the “gold standard” of the journal!

    I would rather like to hear a statement of the editor and the responsible reviewers, than the author of the paper! Because the excuse that is going to be used by the author WILL BE that it is just a misinterpretation of the use of “to make up”. There is not even another real choice.

    But what is the excuse of the reviewers/editors for not doing their job?

    Maybe the time has come to change to a completely transparent reviewing process under the watchful eyes of the chemical community!

  35. Neil Says:

    I totally agree with you Tobi.

    I am an active reviewer (not for Organometallics I might add 😉 ) and I simply cannot believe that this kind of thing passes the peer review system and the editing staff. If or not we get a suitable explication from the authors is one thing, the review process staff have no such excuses. Its simply disgusting that this kind of thing can be overlooked.

  36. anonymous Says:

    I have to say that EA is important for determining purity. You won’t see that NaCl impurity (or other salt or random impurity) in NMR, MS (you aren’t looking for it and there are salts in there already if you use ESI), or other spectroscopic techniques. EA is the only way. X-ray crystallography only tells you the composition of that one tiny crystal you pulled out of the sample.

    Yes, EA is a total pain to get sometimes (if it takes additional purification, just say so in the experimental!) but it is important. If its too sensitive to get an EA, say so, the reviewers will understand, and that says something about the stability of the species.

    I always send off multiple samples, as I have found different results from different companies with the same batches, so there must be some human or instrumental error involved as well. Still, the bottom line is: if the EA is off, there is something else in your sample.

    EA is relatively cheap, and can usually be obtained within a few days (sometimes the same day if there is a place you can drop it off within driving distance), so there shouldn’t be a huge barrier to doing it.

    With regards to the PI’s note in the SI, I am angry that they said “just make up” if they meant “fabricate” instead of “prepare”. I understand the possibility that they might have meant “prepare”, but the context makes it seem like it was the former. Not cool. If true, the PI is spreading fraudulent habits.

    Hey Reviewers, pay more attention when reviewing!!! it’s could be partially their fault for not carefully reading the SI…. Although the PI may have made those changes in the revision (accept with minor revisions) and sent it in like that.

  37. Anonymous Says:

    Regarding the issue of reviewer culpability – it’s very possible that the EA and NMR for this compound were missing in the submitted version of the SI and one of the reviewers caught it and asked them to add EA and NMR data – that would explain why the author added this note to his coauthor in the working version of the SI. If this is the revised version of the SI file, and assuming the revision didn’t go back to the reviewers, then that would explain why this error slipped through. We shouldn’t necessarily blame the reviewers!

  38. eugene Says:

    Like I was arguing on some other blogs, and keeping in mind my respect for Dietmar Seyferth and hie legacy at Organometallics, it is very likely that he has not seen the data output from an EA machine during the last 40 years. This is the only reason I can explain the ridiculous 0.4% error requirement for that journal.

    Once you run it yourself, you first of all note that it mentions that the instrument error is given as 0.5% on most of the best instruments available that your university probably has, and this is due to element peaks overlapping, among other things. In truth, 1-1.5% is acceptable, but people just run multiple samples of a pure compound from the same batch, until all the hits are within 0.4% because the journals don’t accept the realistic numbers. This makes me very doubtful that EA is a more useful test for purity for a range of compounds. Also a lot of Organometallics are air sensitive, and even if you send it out to a company that promises to do everything in the glove box, your sample may be comprised while in transit, so you have to repeat very many expensive tests, that ultimately tell you nothing useful because back in the day it was one of the best characterization methods available and NMR and MS were rare and XRay too expensive.

    True, for Organometallics it is indeed more useful than for Organic Letters, because you’re likely to have metal salt impurities that don’t show up in the NMR, and you probably didn’t do a column on your complex, as it would have reacted with the silica, but on balance, EA is going the way of the dinosaurs as a general use technique. For my last paper in Chemical Miscommunications, I had a number of complexes that we really didn’t want to send to Germany for good EA (at 200 dollars or something similar each, plus special shipping), so I kept swearing at them as I was doing the in-house testing without glovebox and they kept bursting into flame as I put them in the tin weighing boat for EA. I said as much in the SI (not the swearing, but the bursting in flame part), and that we only have NMR and crystal structure data (if the compound crystallizes out, and gives you a structure, it is likely pure) to prove purity, and the reviewers let it through.

    I never had a case of all three reviewers not looking at my SI, as appears to be the case here. There was always at least one that would go through all the spectral data in detail. Also, I’m still surprised that this article was published with a Zurich affiliation, as I thought the PI was in Australia for at least two years now. Must be really an old project, that I guess was missing some data.

  39. eugene Says:

    “I have to say that EA is important for determining purity. You won’t see that NaCl impurity (or other salt or random impurity) in NMR, MS (you aren’t looking for it and there are salts in there already if you use ESI), or other spectroscopic techniques. EA is the only way. X-ray crystallography only tells you the composition of that one tiny crystal you pulled out of the sample.”

    The salts problem has relevance to things that are not run through a column in an organic solvent. So it has value for Organometallics, but not much for organics. And if you filter your complex in an organic solvent through a celite plug, you get rid of insoluble salts.

    If your sample is crystalline, I don’t see how it’s different if you’re being dishonest with X-Ray vs. EA? If you just take one small crystal, while the rest of the sample is amorphous and then say it proves purity, then you are being dishonest, but if it’s all crystal of the same morphology, then it is indeed a good proof of purity. Same with ultra-purifying your sample for EA, but not for general experiments that you use it for.

  40. Son O' Gashira Says:

    Sad thing is, if this turns out to be a legit case of fraud it’ll probably hurt this Emma far worse than the PI in the long term…

  41. Anonymous Says:

    Actually, Emma might be fine – it looks like she never saw the note; that compound still doesn’t have any NMR or EA data, so at least she can’t be shown to have fabricated the EA.

  42. The Iron Chemist Says:

    Well, it looks like the ACS got their money’s worth out of those referees.

    It’s things like this that have driven my opinion of my field to increasingly lower depths.

  43. notachemist Says:

    It’ indeed sad that this appears o be a case of lazy, inept, deliberate fraud. But let’s not forget that within all of us is the dark seed of cheating and cutting corners.Most of us just wrestle with it and subdue that inclincation. Please, Iron Chemist, don’t let this make you feel too badly about your profession. All in all chemists are intelligent, moral, dedicated people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working for many years.
    there’s always a few bad apples.

  44. eugene Says:

    “The compound labeled 14 (an acac complex) in the main paper does not appear to correspond to compound 14 in the SI. In fact, the bridged-dichloride compound appears to be listed an as unlabeled intermediate in Scheme 5, which should raise more eyebrows. Did the authors unlist the compound in order to avoid having to provide robust characterization for it?”

    Often schemes are changed around after reviewer comments are addressed. This could be a case of an intermediate SI version, and even an almost final version of the main manuscript, being sent in instead of a true final one by mistake. Maybe they thought they had the data for that complex when starting to write in an earlier version, but checking lab-books proved that they didn’t? You can’t really hang this sort of thing over anyone as only the authors know the full story and intent and none of us ever will.

    “Also, I have much more information than what is posted here. I will be doing more investigative work in the coming days, and should it merit more reporting, I will write a new post.”

    I’m afraid that unless there is a lot more information that comes to light, Dorta will get a pass on this one. There are too many known unknowns (with regards to Swiss not knowing English like native speakers as mentioned above), and too many unknown unknowns, for now. There was a famous person who said something like that once.

    I enjoyed the discussion on Elemental Analysis that this engendered though.

  45. Flathead Says:

    I’m wondering though, has a fraud been committed? It says in the SI “just make up an elemental analysis” but there is nothing more – neither NMR nor EA data. It might be incitement to commit fraud, which isn’t great, but I don’t see that it’s more than that.

  46. Peter Murray-Rust Says:

    First kudos to Paul/ChemBark.

    These problems would all be avoided if data were reported in their original digital form in a prescribed template. It’s trivial to include the spectra (the JCAMP standard can be obtained from all machines) and to tabulate the data. Then a machine can check that all the data are present. We wrote a tool (OSCAR) 10 years ago and many people use it – it would have immediately detected the problem.

    The idea of turning good data into PDF is bizarre and marks chemistry as looking backward rather than forward. By contrast crystallography requires all data in semantic form and the data in this paper (which has a structure) could not possibly show errors like this – the IUCr CheckCIF would have thrown it out. The ACS and other publishers should have taken a lead in this years ago – instead they looks backward to a 19th C way of reporting science. It’ absurd that structures are not available in machine-readable form. If the chemical structures had been entered along with the spectra a machine would have detected the problems that Paul has found.

  47. Chad Jones Says:

    Nice post. I’m interested in how this pans out. Unless the PI is upfront and honest that he was instructing her to fake the results I don’t know if there’s a good way to verify that accusation, though. As many others have said
    “make up” can refer to a legitimate data analysis. I’m currently making up figures for a paper right now; I have a lot of experiments to compile onto one figure.

    That being said, I think the word “just” is interesting. It implies a simplified process “make up an elemental analysis” could mean “put together the data on the elemental analysis we did” but “just make up an elemental analysis” sounds more like “don’t bother doing it, just make something up”.

  48. Zee Says:

    This is disturbing at many levels. Did the PI commit fraud? Was a grd student pressured into committing fraud? Why did the reviewers miss this? I’m afraid that as long as numbers of publications are used as the metrics for promotin and tenure decisions, and grant reviews, this kind of stuff will continue.

  49. GG Says:

    When you look on the EA data of the other compounds, so they are adjusted with varying amounts of water. And even then, at least one time the data is not in the wanted range of <0.4%. Do you think all this data is fabricated?

    In my opinion, only the NMR and EA was not inserted for this spacial compound and the PI mentioned this. When I look at may German translation machine, "come up" has also the meaning of "to complete"………

  50. marmotita Says:

    I ask myself if we have reached a point where we dont care anymore…is it all about publishing no matter what?. The striking issue is that we always submit the SI together with the main manuscript and still no reviewer seem to have the SI in his/her reviewing plans…how come that this paper is accepted with such a comment from the PI on the SI? Don’t you wonder if all the paper is fake? Jeopardizing the whole research lab for an EA. Why not leaving the complex out if is not a good match?Of ourse no need to need to mention the lack of interest of the authors to double check the whole document carefully …so yeah, I guess that my question is easily answer: NO, who cares! The comfort zone that many scientist have reached throughout their careers, “no one is going to know”…that is even more sad. For some time now I look at articles and I wonder, is this real or is just a fake result?…pity, chemistry is such a beauty…now is in the hands of the pimp, sell it the best you can.
    And sorry, but I cant accept that the blame is only on the PI! as a researcher you have to say no to your PI! values are important!

  51. Peter Murray-Rust Says:

    I have run our (Open Source) ChemicalTagger over the SI and it immediately picks up the non-chemical sentence. In http://blogs.ch.cam.ac.uk/pmr/2013/08/07/fraud-or-publisher-indifference-why-chemical-data-must-become-semantic/ I argue that publishers should adopt modern ways of publishing data and forget PDFs. Then machines can detect these problems before publication.

  52. Sean Says:

    @Andre I didn’t see the separate link for the supporting information, thanks!

    Here is a direct link to the pdf for others:

  53. Ian Says:

    A bit late to the party with my response (mornings are the worst)–but I’d like to emphasize that although I have a problem with the way EA is collected in many cases, I don’t believe it’s an “archaic” technique.

    It is the best way to determine whether or not your material is pure, especially for inorganic/organometallic compounds. Unfortunately, because it is *required,* the analytical method gets abused (multiple purifications, “adding in” solvent molecules, etc etc). Some compounds just refuse analysis and I think it’s important that we be open about that.

  54. Anonymous Says:

    As an American living in Germany who has edited many papers for my colleagues, I don’t find the phrasing itself to be suspicious at all. I have no idea what the native language of the PI is (I’m assuming it’s not English), but “make” and its various prepositions are frequently confused by my German colleagues, even those with excellent English language ability, at least in part because there is just one verb in German (machen) which means both “to make” and “to do”. (http://dict.leo.org/#/search=machen&searchLoc=1&resultOrder=basic&multiwordShowSingle=on)

    Clearly there are some other strange things going on with the data, and I’m not sure what other evidence Chembark has that he mentioned in the comments above, but over-analyzing the English of a non-native speaker seems more than a bit unfair on its own, especially in a case where he was writing informally and likely being less careful with phrasing.

  55. Bob Says:

    Some of the responses have proposed that the author may have used a translator to convert the English and so on. I think the English is unambiguous (especially with the “just”). The starred author has worked in several international labs, including a PhD in Israel, he was a post-doc in the USA for 3 years, and has been a faculty member in Australia since 2011. There is no question of the author’s English competency or intention in this case.

  56. Owen Says:

    So organometallics no longer requires elemental analysis. As long as you have a printed NMR spectrum showing that your compound is clean its ok. Journal policy changed a couple years ago.

  57. Hap Says:

    A10:52: The “just” is probably the killer, though – using “make up” for a sample and applying it to data is sketchy, but could be OK; the “just” implies something off the cuff or ad hoc which doesn’t seem consistent with sending out/performing an EA. The professor also seems to have had enough English experience that his English should not be a factor in parsing the request.

    I am slightly curious why the request was in the paper – why not an email to the student in question, and a placeholder (“Insert EA/NMR data here”) in the document? I wouldn’t have made the document the method of conveying issues back and forth between authors except in rough or internal drafts.

  58. Alex Says:

    There is no doubt that the note is controversial and I am looking forward to read what does the PI have to say about this.
    However, I am surprised that very few people mention another very serious issue – gross editorial mistake by the Journal.
    The whole editorial team collectively bear significant responsibility in letting this note be published. This opens the question not only about the the peer-review process (someone mentioned the possibility of reviewers suggesting minor revisions maybe even in the form of adding NMR and EA data, so hopefully reviewers did actually read SI) but also about the system of pay journals. If a journal that charges for reading articles makes such a gross error, wouldn’t it be better to publish in open source journals and let the public decide on the quality of the article?

  59. ajsp Says:

    I really hope that Emma left that in on purpose. I look forward to hearing the “justification”.

    Whether EA is dated is irrelevant. That said, to my mind it still has it’s place, especially in inorganic chemistry, where crystal structures rule, but tell you nothing about purity. We could do with something better as a gold standard, though.

    Interestingly, my biggest worry with EA data has not that researchers fabricate data, but that those performing the analysis do. We had serious concerns about those running the EA service we used by post from a major UK university, with a lot of suspect false positives (including some random stuff off the shelf as we were getting worried). This culminated in many people changing to another university’s service that was happy to give negative results (to the point some believed them slightly vindictive towards outsiders).

  60. Barney Says:

    For reasons I don’t understand, the reviewing system (Paragon) used by the ACS and a number of other publishers makes you download the SI separately from the main article.
    The “Supporting Information” link gives no information about whether or not the article actually has any supporting information. The SI is often only made available as a .doc file. I always download and read the SI, but it is often a hassle. If the publishers would embed the SI in the main review file, I think it would be easier to get reviewers to include it in their reviews.

  61. Sam Says:

    I’m also hoping that the note meant “work up” instead of “make up.”

  62. J.J. Emerson Says:

    Again, I reserve the right to withhold judgment until there is actual evidence. I’ll be just as disappointed and aggressive in calling for punishment if evidence is ever made public of actual wrongdoing. But, after sleeping on this issue, the reporting of this case here has my hackles up a bit, even if there ultimately turns out to be wrongdoing.

    1) As of this comment, there is still no actual allegation of wrongdoing. The entire case, such as it is, amounts to the text in question being “disturbing”, but not actually constituting fraud in and of itself. On this point, I agree, it is disturbing, if taken at face value. The only other problem seems to be that labeling in the main text doesn’t correspond to labeling in the SI. (I’ve made this mistake myself as recently as last month, and it only got caught in copyediting.) Paul claims there is much more evidence, but won’t provide it yet. This is the quintessence of innuendo. I think the scooping justification for publishing quickly with only innuendo at hand is pretty disreputable. You either have a case or you don’t. If you don’t, that’s no excuse to publish with only innuendo in order to gain priority, even if you fear that others will get to it first;
    2) Many commenters find it implausible that the last author wasn’t in fact urging the first author to commit fraud. There is apparently something magical about the juxtaposition of “just” and “make up”. Had the author said “just put together an elemental analysis”, would that ring any alarm bells? Was the corresponding author simply grumpily replying in the SI to some back and forth between the authors, editor, and reviewers? Or is that handful of words actually evidence of intent to commit fraud? Context matters here, and as a biologist, I don’t feel that I grasp the whole context, so please correct me if I’m wrong. Would it be plausible to say, after the typical back and forth of manuscript revisions for a paper such as this, “just do the damned EA, already”? As for wether “make up” = “falsify” or “do / put together / assemble / construct”*, I think it is clear that non-native speakers may have trouble with English phrasal verbs, even if they’ve spent a decade or more in the English speaking world (I know this through personal testimony from such speakers in academics, which is why I bothered to comment in the first place);
    3) The “evidence”, such as it is, doesn’t smell right at all. Would someone intent on fraud actually ask someone else to conduct fraud on his behalf by committing that request to an easily shared electronic document? This doesn’t seem like the MO of the fraudsters with whom I’m familiar.

    In short, even if this turns out to be another cause célèbre of fraud, this reporting really fumbled it, and for the wrong reasons. Fear of being scooped and possession of confirming evidence that you won’t share aren’t sufficient justification to run with a story that is, in its current form, nothing more than innuendo. In reporting, as in science, how you get to a conclusion is just as important as what your conclusion is. I’m not even sure if there is a conclusion here.

    * Another language note: In thinking of synonyms for different senses of “make up”, “fabricate” came up for both senses. It is interesting that “fabricate” can mean both “falsify” and “make / put together”. When these sorts of cognates get shuttled back and forth between languages, mistakes can easily be made.

  63. Roby Says:

    When, I saw the SI…it was shocking. It is a shame on the PI and all those who involved in it. What does it say now, is neither the authors, nor the publishing house noticed it!!! Moreover, reviewer didn´t look at the supporting information file !!! or overlooked at it. Making up elemental analysis is cheating and unethical. Who knows, how many time they made up the elemental analysis. Being a reviewer, I myself noticed many such things. Horrible mistakes and incomplete sentences, data, wrong data are increasing. What is even more shocking is it happens in high impact journals where it is thought to be reviewed by better reviewers!!

  64. EC Says:

    1. The authors (PLURAL) must be mortified. All of them.

    2. In such situations, the PI always takes all the blame. Period.

    3. NOBODY checks Supporting Information once a paper is accepted. It does NOT go through any kind of Editorial check after acceptance, and the publisher will publish whatever you wish online.

    4. This also implies that, at any time, you (as the corresponding author) can write to the publisher/Editor and request that your SI file be changed if you detect any mistake. I am surprised that Reto Dorta hasn’t done so yet, but it may suggest that he will not necessarily try to dodge the bullets being fired at him.

    5. After having seen a paper go through the very stringent peer-review of JACS communications reporting an alcohol oxidation CATALYSED by sodium hydride untouched, I cannot say I am disappointed that no referee caught a glaring sentence in page 12 of the SI of an otherwise perfectly reasonable manuscript in Omets.

    6. Fabrication of data and non-reporting of “inconvenient” data is, unfortunately, a common practice. In today’s times of publish or perish, especially in the top journals, I don’t see an easy way to avoid it. Both constitute fraud, although I hope we are all much more comfortable doing the latter than the former.

  65. Paul Says:

    @J.J.: This story is a work in progress. You may quibble with the presentation, but the facts are accurate. For a variety of reasons, I omitted a lot of content from this report. You’ll get a follow up in the near future that will contain many of these additional details.

    I think that this post is of value to the community, and the community is certainly interested in the story. I further think the circumstances of this case merited an initial “communication” instead of my waiting to file a full report.

    Still, you are entitled to your opinion about my reporting and you have supported your opinion well. I just happen to disagree with you.

  66. Flo Says:

    In Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands etc etc people really well know the meaning of “just make up” by the way.

  67. SpeedyGonzales Says:

    I just want to congratulate Dorta on a novel approach to assuring his article is the most accessed paper of the month in OM!

  68. Graduate Dropout M.Sc. Says:

    FYI… SI files for ACS journals are all free… It’s on page 12: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/om4000067/suppl_file/om4000067_si_002.pdf

    And Wow! This is the sort of attitude that helped me justify leaving my program. We’re getting too competitive and losing sight of standards.

  69. Stu Says:

    Just a quick reply to EC concerning supp info at Nature journals, including Nature Chemistry (where I work) – from our guide-to-authors: “Please note that modification of Supplementary Information after the paper is published requires a formal correction, so authors are encouraged to check their Supplementary Information carefully before submitting the final version.” I can’t speak for the ACS, but you can’t just go about replacing/changing SI files without any kind of notice going up over at our place. And we do check SI files before we publish papers – that’s not to say we don’t miss things, but the editors do look; some referees do look, but I imagine many don’t.

  70. WoodyPTom Says:

    I’m afraid I completely disagree with those saying that he could have meant ‘just make up’ as in ‘prepare a sample’. The meaning is unambiguous to my mind. Furthermore, the rest of the paper is written in clear and eloquent English, which doesn’t sound to me like it was written by someone who would make such a mistake. I think we can rule out the possibility that the editors thoroughly corrected the English in the main manuscript…

  71. Rob Says:

    For those really interested:

    In her thesis (http://opac.nebis.ch/ediss/20121319.pdf, pdf page 116, thesis page 106) the mu2-chloro compound 14 is mentioned, but the prep (pdf 131, thesis 121) references the wrong compound (i.e. the acac compound, ak.a. 15). Apparently, they never found the data… Editing of the thesis wasn’t the strongest point of the author or the advisor, either.

  72. Chemistry Blog » Blog Archive » When Authors Forget to Fake an Elemental Analysis Says:

    […] first posted by ChemBark, a recent paper in Organometallics by Professor Reto Dorta at the University of Zurich is catching […]

  73. Dave Says:

    I also don’t think the meaning is “prepare” instead of “lie.” Both the first and second authors are listed as ‘former group members’ on the Dorta group website.
    How would they prepare new analytical samples if they’re no longer working for the PI?

  74. Nanotechnologist Says:

    Another example of flaws in peer review system. … and of importance of using the highlight tool while editing the text

  75. Some Scientist Says:

    I fully agree with Bob:

    “Some of the responses have proposed that the author may have used a translator to convert the English and so on. I think the English is unambiguous (especially with the “just”). The starred author has worked in several international labs, including a PhD in Israel, he was a post-doc in the USA for 3 years, and has been a faculty member in Australia since 2011. There is no question of the author’s English competency or intention in this case.”

    The sentence is clearly the direct request to fabricate data. In Switzerland this PI surely would have lost his job over this. In Australia, we’ll see…

  76. Sneha Says:

    i cudn’t find the sensational line in the article. kinda hard to believe coz the copy-edit process even spots spell/grammar errors!

  77. Just some chemist Says:

    You know, considering how there can sometimes be bad blood between doctoral advisors and former grad students, I wonder if this is a result of friction between Drinkel and Dorta. It could be possible.

    I could see a hypothetical situation occurring where the former advisor wants to publish data that the former grad student, presumably at a job at this point, could care less about (assuming the former grad student is trying to get to the point where said advisor’s name is off her CV). Advisor needs to publish for grant money, calls up former grad student. Former grad student goes, “I thought I was done with you – go look at my dissertation.” Advisor sends former student SI riddled with notes for changes, and the former grad student kicks something back to the former advisor just to get him off her back. The advisor isn’t satisfied, is frustrated, and sends it back to her with more corrections. Former grad student thinks “hahahaha NO,” and sends it back saying the corrections are made, or just honestly misses one of the many notes the former advisor has put in and sends it back. Former advisor at this point is sick of looking at the SI and decided to just submit, assuming the former grad student put it all in correctly.

    The manuscript is accepted because hypothetically only maybe 50% of reviewers actually look at the SI these days (just look at how many terrible SI’s there are in high impact journals these days and how many experimental procedures have things in them that are simply wrong), and former advisor thinks he can breathe after a round of back and forth with reviewers. Then, this happens.

  78. George Says:

    I think there is more here than just the fact that the PI asked for fabricated data. There was a failure at many levels. Primarily, this is a failure of the PI. But as others pointed out, the reviewers and editors should have caught this and rejected the article outright. Furthermore, this is published in an ACS journal, and as such all authors are held equally accountable for the the manuscript and supplementary material. The other authors should have taken the time to proofread this and confront the PI. In the end, though, I sympathize with the first author (Emma). As a student, it would have been difficult for her to challenge her advisor. If any of the authors deserves a second chance, I believe it her. As for the others, let the chips fall where they may.

  79. Joe referee Says:

    Why are so many people so quick to blame the referees? It is a naive comment to assume the referees ever saw this version.

    My assumption is to go with the following: The referees did the best job that they could. They likely had a comment that the NMR and/or the EA was not presented for this material and recommended minor revisions. The author got the comments back, wrote a note in the SI related to the comments and the author either never looked at the SI again or even possibley sent in an earlier revision. The editor then accepted the revision based on the response letter.

    For those of you so quick to judge ACS editing, give it a break, they specifically state the SI will be published AS SUBMITTED!

    Quit jumping all over people without knowing the facts. The only fact is that there is a note for the first author to put in these results and the tone sounds like they are asked to fabricate data. You don’t even know who put in that comment but I will agree that regardless who put in the comment, it is the corresponding authors responsibility.

  80. Just some chemist Says:

    Joe referee,

    Maybe this ACS editing policy needs to change. When bare-bones experimentals, doctored data, and blatant BS in the SI gets into journals like JACS, OL, and Organometallics, alarm bells should be ringing. Amos Smith was shocked to learn how much data doctoring occurred in SI’s for his journal (OL) – so shocked that he wrote an editorial about it.

    There apparently was a comment from one of the reviewers asking for NMR and EA on a complex (I’m presuming X-ray was submitted, which is usually enough for the reviewers but not always), although it’s unknown if the complex noted in the SI was the one referred to. It could be presumed. Either way, it’s the editor’s job to make sure reviewer concerns were addressed.

  81. Joe referee Says:

    I am just hurt that I reviewed that article and never saw that comment in the first version and it feels like people are jumping all over me.

    Look, supporting information is ripe for abuse. Not that reviewers are blameless (they obviously said yes to even doing the review) but it is not always obvious that there is supporting information if the article does not state it and one might even easily find the link for the SI (I’ll give that it is pretty easy in ScholarOne). The journals started this trend to minimize the number of pages thus reducing costs. Now that many (most) papers are accessed online, maybe it is time to readdress this practice.

    My point is that there are just not enough facts to really make judgment. I would argue that the Editor should can also be held responsible, but John does have another job. I am not even going to stick my neck out that John is to blame since we don’t even know if he handled this paper. I don’t know how much of a stipend ACS gives its editors but you can do the math on how many papers they publish, what their rejection rate is giving how many papers they handle. They are not full time employees for ACS but are expected to do a full time job?

    Regardless, this brings forth a good discussion topic in reviewing, editing, but most of all, author ethics. Let’s assume this never got published. If we assume that this PI did indeed do an unethical thing, without this manuscript being ‘outted’, they would continue to do wrong. I do not think this is at all an isolated incident and honestly think it happens all the time (geez, there is a retractionwatch blog and I am amazed with the number of papers retracted weekly – and those are just the ones that got caught). Say what you want, and blame whoever you want, but the responsibility lies solely with the author to explain their actions. Let’s see if they do.

  82. CHeese toast Says:

    How do we even know it was the author who wrote this? It is clear that the sentence was addressed to Emma – but the author is not clear and it may have been added after refereeing by a malicious third party with access to the manuscript and then overlooked by all the authors upon resubmission. I would be interested to hear from the reviewer if the offending text was present in the refereed version, but even if it was it does not prove that the author wrote it. Just as a referee can overlook something important, so can an author.

  83. Al Chemist Says:

    Joe referee, if you actually reviewed that article, you deserve to have people jump all over you. Your fail may not have been as quite as epic as the authors’, but, my lord, man, you have most certainly shit the bed on this one.

  84. Just some chemist Says:

    Joe referee,

    I figured you were one of the reviewers based on your response. It’s entirely possible that comment wasn’t in the first version you saw. People on the internet are quick to jump all over everyone. It’s the internet – people are jerks on the internet,bigger ones than in real life, so take what’s said in a blog’s comments section with a grain of salt. The problem here isn’t with a personal attack on you, though, as there has been a plethora of stories coming out lately calling the integrity of the peer review process into question. Too much is falling through the cracks, and at the end of the day who does it fall on? If the reviewers missed it, they need to share some of the responsibility. If the editors missed it too, the editors need to share responsibility too – it is “their” journal, after all. In the end, most of the responsibility falls on the authors. The PI has a responsibility to be the gatekeeper of quality. The co-authors have the responsibility to be make sure they live up to the quality standard. What’s happening is there’s a breakdown at all levels, and stuff like this falls through the cracks.

  85. EA is the worst Says:

    OK seriously, who puts a huge amount of investment in the combustion analysis. It’s the only characterization technique I know of where one does 5 or so experiments on the same sample, then picks out the one that fits. THEN, if there’s variation in the samples, one can blame the technician, or possibly instrument calibration, for producing the 4 craptastic results to the 1 that fits. It’s a nice technique that is abused by chemists.

  86. Dr. MJP Says:

    I e-mailed the editor of Organometallics, here was his reply:

    Wednesday 07 August
    Dear Friends of Organometallics,

    Chemical Abstracts alerted us to the statement you mention,which was overlooked during the peer review process, on Monday 05 August. At that time, the manuscript was pulled from the print publication queue. The
    author has explained to us that the statement pertains to a compound that was”downgraded” from something being isolated to a proposed intermediate. Hence, we have left the ASAP manuscript on the web for now.
    We are requiring that the author submit originals of the microanalysis data before putting the manuscript back
    in the print publication queue. Many readers have commented that the statement reflects poorly on the moral
    or ethical character of the author, but the broad “retribution” that some would seek is not our purview. As Editors, our “powers” are limited to appropriate precautionary measures involving future submissions by such
    authors to Organometallics, the details of which would be confidential (ACS Ethical Guidelines, http://pubs.acs.org/page/policy/ethics/index.html). Our decision to keep the supporting information on the web, at least for the time being, is one of transparency and honesty toward the chemical community. Other stakeholders can contemplate a fuller range of responses. Some unedited opinions from the community are available in the comments section of a blog posting: http://blog.chembark.com/2013/08/06/a-­disturbing-­note­‐in-­a-­recent-­si-­file/#comments

    If you have any criticisms of the actions describedabove, please do not hesitate to share them with me.
    Thanks much for being a reader of Organometallics, and best wishes,

  87. Just some chemist Says:

    Kudos to Dr. MJP. Thanks for putting that up!

  88. Euro-English Says:

    Just as a note as a native English speaker living in Switzerland, I come across these verb substitutions all the time. Even as a native English speaker who has been here for just a few years I am already starting to do them myself!

    It’s this ‘unconscious make yourself sound like everything around you’ happening and makes me marvel at the fluidity of language and the brain. So the writer, despite years of English training in English speaking countries, could after being here a few years, start using verbs the way everyone else around does.

    That being said, it was missed by reviewers, editors and authors. Use Track Changes or something and never miss this kind of comment again!

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take a coffee.

  89. Gurky Says:

    “The sentence is clearly the direct request to fabricate data. In Switzerland this PI surely would have lost his job over this. In Australia, we’ll see…”
    I agree. My second thought was that “make up” meant present existing data, but the word “just” indicates clearly
    that it is a request to fake data, and a close to native speaker.
    I would hope that the main author, employed in Australia, will not be so employed much longer…

  90. Brutal Truth Says:

    I fully understand that prepare and make up can be used interchangeably … but the fact of the matter is prof dorta did a phD with milstein in israel (lots of english there), then went to steve nolan at new orleans (lots of english there), then to bercaw at caltech (lots of english there) and then to western australia (lots of english there). the phrase “JUST make up” = literally make it up/fabricate! and he knows that. there is no loss in translation bs. as a white american male, if this clown gets off by the ridiculous double standard that “me speak-a no english” and gets to play the pseudo race card like everyone who isnt a white american-born male does when they get pushed up against a wall and arent man enough to step up the plate/admit their mistake/punch someone in the jaw – im gonna freak the F out. he absolutely was pressuring/forcing a student/postdoc to falsify data and the fact of the matter is im sure this has happened before.

  91. Gabriel Says:

    As a non-native speaker, I have to say, if the PI wanted to say “prepare”, then probably “make” would have been used on its own. Phrasal verbs are the terror of non-native speakers and we tend to avoid them unless we know what they mean.

    I find this appalling. But I agree, it leaves the referees and the editor(s) in a really bad position. And not just for Organometallics. This is the ACS after all!

  92. Dr. G. Says:

    Stop bashing the reviewers! As a faculty member, I get between 60 to 80 manuscripts to review per year, with SI of up to 100 pages. Do you really expect the non-paid reviewer to go through each compound, and count all the carbons in the 13C? While I occasionally do this, it is beyond my time allotment for all papers that I review.

    To get the data right is the responsibility of the authors, and of nobody else.

  93. ChemGuy Says:

    Dear All,

    I think this discussion regarding whether or not his knowledge of english is sufficiently high to recognise how bad the “just make up” comes across is unnecessary.

    There are two reasons i say this:
    1) The corresponding author claimed no language issues in the response to organometallics.
    2) The student addressed in this comment has already left Dorta’s lab.

    Based on the email from Organometallics, the author is claiming to “downgrade” the molecule from an isolated compound to an intermediate. Surely, if they were going to claim that they didnt recognise the difference between prepare and fabricate they would do it at that point.

    Additionally, as someone said in the chain earlier, only the corresponding author is still working in that lab, with the first two authors having already left the lab, and the third author being a professor with their own lab. Therefore, how can one instruct someone to prepare something when they are no longer in the same lab.

  94. Lhac Says:

    I add to the above of Dr. G: Stop bashing reviewers!

    Whenever there is a discussion of some form of scandal in scientific publishing of this kind on the blogs, there are people blaming referees (and editors): “How could this have gone past the referees”.

    My impression is that such comments are from people not doing any referee reports.

    The job of a referee is (example from a letter to referees from a leading journal): “Please help us form a balanced opinion of the scientific quality of the above-mentioned Communication. Any advice you can give to the authors to improve the manuscript would be highly appreciated.”

    Please note: The above is in fact what a referee has to do! (There are also guidelines for referees. See for example: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)1521-3773/homepage/2002_web_ref.html)

    Here is some food for thought for you stone-throwers:

    1. It is NOT the job of the referee to correct the paper!
    2. It is NOT the job of the referee to guarantee for the correctnes of the contents of the paper!
    3. Why do you assume a referee actually has to read the COMPLETE article if she/he can form a balanced opinion of the scientific quality by reading through the most important parts of it? Refereeing is no proof-reading. It is forming an opinion!
    4. Referees are scientists, not accountants. They will judge a manuscript mostly by the scientific innovation and not care too much for technical details. They will naturally assume that the work is legitimate. If its fabricated, then bad luck for the original author – not the referees problem!
    5. Now extend the above statement to the supporting information. Why should a referee invest more time in proof-reading it than the original authors did? If you as a student write your section for the SI, will you also read and correct the sections of your co-authors?
    6. Why do so many people believe it is other people’s job to correct their faults, and for free?

  95. notachemist Says:

    Good point Lhac. We live in times where it is very easy to slough off the responsibility to someone else…

  96. J Says:

    I have worked with many non-native speakers and lived in countries where English is not the native language. It’s not out of the question that this is an English mistake. However, I believe that many scientists engage in fraud at some level so my feeling is that this is in fact a request to falsify. I’m aware of one university in which all ea was fabricated for several years. It turned out that the person being paid to do ea wasn’t doing it at all. Just sending back perfect numbers. They found out after the guy retired. I’ll tell you another technique where people modify numbers: XPS.

  97. Lhac Says:

    As a follow-up: Here is how some students think what the referees should do:

    “The biggest thing I learned from this self-caused debacle is to always get everything checked out by someone you know. I remember submitting my sections and thinking that if there was any mistake, the anon peer reviewers would catch them.”


    Seems that several commenters here have a similar attitude.

  98. drbillyo Says:

    As a non-chemist scientist I have been watching this post for a couple of days now with interest. Am am intrigued to find out what will happen to the authors plural. All four authors are responsible for the entire manuscript and SI which they have all put their names to. They are all equally culpable in my opinion. Whether one of them will fall on their sword to save the others remains to be seen, though having seen similar things happen in my field, I feel the junior authors may end up taking the brunt here.

    Having said that the reviewers/editorial team still have a major case to answer. If as reviewer Joe says this line was added between review and submission then so be it (though I understand there are still discrepancies between the labeled structures and the SI).

    However if it was in the reviewed SI then Reviewers deserve all the bashing that’s coming their way. Their job is to thoroughly review the manuscript. If you don’t have time to do a good job of reviewing a script, because you have too much faculty work to do, or already have another paper to review this week/month, then you should say no when you are asked to review a manuscript.

  99. J Says:

    Reviewers do deserve blame. You get all the respect of being a professor, so you are expected to do the work that comes with the job. I know some academics who look over manuscripts in pains-taking detail. It’s not fair that others do cursory work and then hold their heads high as they are flown to conferences around the world on the tax payers dime.

  100. ChemGuy Says:

    I think what we are suffering from here is a “real world” vs “ideal world” problem. I see both sides of the argument.

    Firstly, in an “ideal world” this wouldnt even be a point of discussion since in this utopia there would be no statement of “just make up” written.

    On one hand in an “ideal world” all people would read all papers in precise detail. However, this would require far fewer manuscripts to read (i.e. ease the pressure to publish), i.e. far fewer published papers in general! In the “real world” a high profile professor may easily receive 2-3 papers for review per week. They are not paid for this. Editorial staff have so many papers to read, it is understandable how this happened.
    What they are paid to do is manage a research group, write their own papers, write grants, etc. With all these responsibilities it is understandable that things fall through the cracks.

    So yes, in an “ideal world” this would have been picked up by editorial staff or reviewers, however, with all the responsibilities of reviewers, and the volume of papers by editorial staff, it is understandable how in the “real world” this fell through the cracks.

    I think it is easy to point the finger and say, look this mistake was made when you had nothing to do with any of this process. However, all people, all reviewers, all editorial staff make mistakes. Last year Organometallics published 998 papers. Therefore this represents a 0.1% failure rate, assuming that this is a fair comparison (i recognise this is a generalization)
    It is how they deal with those mistakes that is important. In this case I think the staff at Organometallics are doing an ok job with the fall out.

  101. Vinylogous Says:

    Re: Lhac, Dr. G.:

    Your reviews of reviewer responsibility basically give no legitimacy to the peer review process. If you don’t have time to read the article thoroughly (including the SI) because you get 60 to 80 per year, then simply review fewer articles. When it comes to science, reproducibility is more important than impact. Reproducibility is basically the only thing that separates science from everything else.

    Former PI would thoroughly check the SI when it came in (at the very least read it, and usually checked the numbers for all or a good fraction of the characterization data). Reviews took a while, but they were quality, and the manuscripts were more trustworthy for that reason. This was lab policy, too–students double-checked each others’ NMR writeups, HRMS, and EA data. Not that wild a concept–and I don’t think it’s “sloughing off” the job from the authors to the reviewers to insist on good reviews. It’s acknowledging the cooperative and fundamentally self-checking nature (ideally) of the peer-review process.

    (You say: “They will judge a manuscript mostly by the scientific innovation and not care too much for technical details. They will naturally assume that the work is legitimate. If its fabricated, then bad luck for the original author – not the referees problem!” … but if bunk data gets published that could have very easily been spotted, it becomes a problem for everyone who cites it, benefits from it, or tries to use it).

    In this case, you wouldn’t even need to check the SI thoroughly. It’s flippin’ right there, separated from other text. Shame on the reviewers.

  102. Paul Says:

    My network access is down, but I’ll have a post later confirming the response from the journal to those who sent in alerts (mentioned in an above comment).

  103. J Says:

    Old Man Alibi’s at it again…

  104. J Says:

    …in reference to chemguy’s shampoo job.

  105. Dr. G. Says:

    Re: Vinylogous

    Reviewers need to make sure that the main hypotheses of the manuscript are supported by reasonable scientific evidence. This can be achieved in organic chemistry without trying to rationalize each peak in the NMR spectra, especially for the intermediates. Again, while I occasionally like to count carbons and request from the authors that a melting point should be taken (if it is a white crystalline solid), I rather spend my time reading background literature (cited and non-cited) of the authors and the competitors of the manuscript in question.

    Looking at the reviews for our papers, roughly one out of 20 reviewers made a comment about the SI. Now, this could also be because of the stellar quality of our SI material. 😉

  106. El Selectride Says:

    I bet all the apologists with “alternate use of the phrase ‘make up'” theories believed Sideshow Bob when he said “The, Bart, the.”

  107. drbillyo Says:

    To say that reviewers “will judge a manuscript mostly by the scientific innovation and not care too much for technical details.” is to admit why they are keen to accept 60 to 80 articles a year to review.

    Reviews like this wish to be privy to non-published material before their competitors in the field. They are only interested in making sure that those papers they deem to be innovative enough (or perhaps check that the authors are worthy enough, forgive me if Chem field is not like this) for the journal they are reviewing for. They are only interested in controlling what (and who) gets published in which journals, rather than the quality of the work therein. This surmises everything wrong with the peer-review process at the moment.

  108. Just some chemist Says:

    Dr. G & Lhac:

    All I’m hearing from your whining is, “I don’t read the supporting info becuase I don’t have the time or I don’t think it’s my job as a reviewer.” Then decline to be a reviewer! You’re right that it’s not your job to comb through the data, but it is your job as a reviewer to provide feedback on the scientific quality of the paper. Guess what that means – looking over the SI and the spectra at least once to make sure the submission isn’t absolute BS and making sure there exists data in the first place supporting the claims made in said manuscript. When people say, “How did this get past thre reviewers?” nine times out of ten it’s a glaring eyesore that should have been caught.

    Sorry, but I came from a lab where the PI was rigorous with our data handling & interpretation, and when he reviewed papers he inspected the SI quite closely to make sure the submissions he was asked to review were actually legitimate claims reasonably backed up by supporting data. This garbage about how the reviewers aren’t obligated to look at the SI is ridiculous – there is NO claim to be made if there isn’t any data backing it up!

  109. ChemGuy Says:


    I am simply trying to put forward an explanation of how this could have happened, and trying to put this into a perspective of the field, given the number of papers published, and that reviewers do not automatically assume that every piece of data coming from every group is a mistake. I only said it is understandable that in this real world situation that this happened.

    My main points are,

    1) I think the vast majority of the blame sits with the authors. If an author is acting unethically, then they are the cause of the problem, and should bear the brunt of the consequences and anger.

    2) I do not mean to imply that the reviewers of this manuscript, or the editorial staff are beyond reproach or blameless, but in this real world situation, all I am saying is that it is understandable how this happened, a series of mistakes that all added up. Given the vast number of papers published, it is understandable how things made it through the cracks. It does not make it ok.

    3) I am worried that with the current pressure to publish, this sort of unacceptable behaviour will continue.

    Instead of pointing the finger at the 2-3 reviewers and 1 editor involved, why not be constructive and figure out what caused this mistake to happen, what caused it to fall through the cracks, and what can we do to fix it?

    If we point the finger 3-4 people will never make this same mistake (in fact they probably will not make this mistake again regardless). We could reduce the number of mistakes if we think how the work environment could change to allow for better peer review process perhaps, more time for peer review, peer review incentives beyond you get your paper published next time, fewer external burdens on professors, a more specific checklist for editorial staff, fewer papers published as a whole.

  110. notachemist Says:

    Hey guys… ding, sing, ding…back to your corners.
    Every single person who has written has valid points but it seems to be all about pointing fingers. From what i read all Chemguy is saying is that people should NOT COUNT on the reviewers catching their mistakes. Sets up a very dangerous paradigm.
    BUT, let’s look at the take-away here instead of blame let’s look at solution…
    Tighten up the labs and stop succumbing to the pressure to publish …something…anything… FIrst!
    Tighten up the review process and maybe take a little more time to dig.
    And overall… Let’s all take responsibility for our own actions!!

  111. Been There Says:

    At the time of the Sezen affair, I tried to raise the issue with various ACS officials and with Rudy Baum, then editor of C&E News, what role the ACS, as the chemistry professional organization ought to be playing in these circumstances in which allegations of potential fraud are made. In particular, there needs to be mechanisms in place for those less powerful, such as graduate students, to receive support and advice.

    Since my own case was so thoroughly swept under the rug, years ago, I’ve always believed that there must be many other such cases. The matter was not even publicly discussed within the department, let alone explicitly resolved. My adviser was allowed to (or suddenly just happened?) to make an abrupt career change. I was the one left in the awkward position of not really having an explanation as to why I had jumped from grad school to the agency that had funded my research. And I’m the one who never completed my PhD degree. Although I was given a letter by the department that I was in good standing, I was never given any coaching as to what could happen next. I was just left with the general impression that everyone was unwilling to admit that anything had happened.

    Of course at that point I was thoroughly burned by academia, and industry seemed a great option. But from the standpoint of the integrity of the entire field, this should not be the accepted practice of handling these difficult situations.

    It is about time something changed.

  112. Djerassi Unchained Says:

    This is certainly a “teachable moment”. And the discussion here does give us the opportunity to go beyond finger-pointing and reflect on our responsibilities. I do get the impression that many people bashing the reviewers have not actually conducted much peer review. I’m also somewhat mortified (but perhaps not terribly surprised) to learn that some reviewers have a pretty cavalier notion of their obligations to verify the conclusions of a submitted manuscript.

    As a point of comparison, I just looked over my last 20 reviews for submissions to ACS journals (I agree to review about 10-15 submissions per year, although I am asked to conduct substantially more and often decline). In 11 out of the 20 reviews, my comments address issues in the Supporting Information explicitly. In some cases, I bother to point out that the SI section is solid and the compounds properly characterized. For most of the cases in which I don’t comment on the SI, I have recommended that the paper not be accepted.

    My opinion is that reviewers do have a responsibility to evaluate the material in the SI. There are realistic limits to how thorough this can be, especially as SI sections can balloon to 100 pages. It would be great for journal editors to weigh in with their views.

    For those not familiar with peer review, it’s important to point out what we cannot control. If reviewers request that changes be made to the text or SI, and that the manuscript should be accepted following those minor changes, we typically never see the manuscript again. If the authors then insert garbage into the revised versions of the submission, the reviewer may have no opportunity for oversight. ACS journals often make this explicit to the authors, that the responsibility for ensuring accuracy of the final version of the SI is up to them.

    Instead of finger pointing, let’s all figure out what we can do to make the process work better in practice.

  113. EA Says:

    Journals, and authors who want to be trustworthy, should now require that the supporting info contains the ‘raw’ elemental analysis data. That is, scans of the official reports from the analytical laboratories.

  114. J Says:

    Let’s face it: most reviewers just check to make sure their papers get cited.

  115. Catherine Says:

    Djerassi unchained – thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m chiming in as requested from the point of view of an editor (I work at Nature Chemical Biology). You’re right that referees aren’t always in control of the final product – for us, once the referee comments are only minor in nature (a few text/presentation requests), we don’t bother the referees again. But, that does mean that we (the editors) are checking that every point was addressed, and not just by reading the cover letter. Indeed, we do the same check on revised manuscripts even before we contact the referees to make sure the authors haven’t missed anything that would annoy the referees or cause another unnecessary round of review. I doubt that all editors (particularly academic editors, who as someone has noted are very busy running their own groups) have the time for this, though, which gets us further from the ‘ideal’ that chemguy was talking about. What to do about it? As a start, I agree with several of the other commenters that it is better to decline a referee request than do a bad/slow/etc. job.

  116. Catherine Says:

    Oops – and I forgot to comment on what Djerassi unchained originally asked for editorial feedback about, which is the mammoth SI files. This is a bit hard to resolve – it’s true that SI can get out of hand, but the current standard (though this was not always so) is that data is shown whenever possible, not asserted, in part to enable other researchers, in part for those curious people who want to see what a ‘small’ change is, etc., and likely in part to curtail fraud as much as possible. There’s a separate question involved of what is the appropriate amount of data to go in a single paper (i.e., could the 100 page SI be split over 2-10 papers?), but it seems to me that what I hear most when I talk to people is that they’d like to have less pressure to publish so many papers, allowing them to publish fewer, more important papers. So, that points to bigger and bigger SI on the way…? I’ve heard some discussion about limiting the size of SI to some arbitrary number of images/pages/etc, but I’m not sure that’s the right solution.

  117. ktwop Says:

    What is particularly noteworthy is the casual nature of the instruction to “just make up the data…”. It would almost appear that faking data is a routine and regular procedure. Less shocking but a telling commentary on the review process is that such a statement made it all the way to publication.
    The affiliations of the authors is given as the University of Zurich, but the senior author, Professor Reto Dorta now seems to be at the University of Western Australia

  118. a Says:

    If you’re Djerassi Unchained, would Christoph Waltz play Peter “King” Schultz?
    Or would PS be more like the DiCaprio character?

  119. PChem PI in CA Says:

    This is truly a disgusting story. Regardless of how important this characterization is, its our duty as mentors to teach students that research is not the place to cut corners. I often ask my lab members to spend significant effort to get additional data that may not even make it to the paper, just to make sure that our interpretation is right. Reto Dorta was dishonest enough to ask his student to fabricate the data and stupid enough to put that in writing. Regardless of what the explanations are, the facts are damning enough. He has no business being a PI, or a mentor. I’d let his school determine whether he is a good enough teacher to justify his salary.

  120. JohnDakota Says:

    Both the PI and the student have since moved from Switzerland. The student went to Brazil in 2011-12, and the PI to Western Australia in 2012. While some people may use the phrase ‘make up’ to mean ‘prepare’, it’s pretty hard to ‘prepare’ any sort of chemical material when your’e no longer in the same lab, or working on the same projects. In this case ‘make up’ most likely means ‘fabricate.’

  121. Sadly not surprised Says:

    @Gurky – I’m not sure from where you have your impression that Australia would show any tolerance to fraud – perhaps you’re also so well informed about Australia that you consider it a developing country? I’m not going to make any sweeping statements about Swiss and ignorant arrogance…

  122. eugene Says:

    “That is, scans of the official reports from the analytical laboratories.”

    So what’s the point of the department buying a combustion analysis machine and a really good microbalance if you can’t save money on doing it in house? Are we also going to have to soon send away NMR samples and get an official report from the spectral laboratories? Or to do all those tests that prove you had a homogeneous catalyst?You always reach a point at which to some level, you just have to trust the honesty of the person getting the primary data.

    Also, I’m pretty surprised that so many have come out so vehemently against Dorta because from what Paul wrote, I didn’t think the case had much of a leg to stand on. It’s just a random note where you can imagine a number of scenarios and the data is missing anyways so no fraud has been committed pertaining to the compound in question. You’ve only got the justification to give him the evil eye at a conference, but not much beyond that. Like they said in some Kids in the Hall sketch that I saw too many times on youtube: “Innocent until proven guilty. Honor the constitution baby. Honor the flag that hangs in our bedroom window as temporary curtains. You can sulk if you want to, but you’ve got no case. You’ve got no concrete or circumstantial evidence. Habeas corpus baby, you’ve got no body, you’ve got no case.”

  123. Frank Says:

    This is incredible, what a shame, I absolutely agree with Ian

  124. The Iron Chemist Says:

    I’ll retract a bit of my earlier comment; the referees in this case MIGHT not have been able to view the amended SI, particularly if they considered the inclusion of the requested data to be a minor revision. This doesn’t mean that referees haven’t let some pretty egregious things slip through (arsenic in DNA, NaH oxidative catalysis, the Xi Yan plagiarisms).

  125. Sufi Says:

    So I emailed Reto and this was his response:

    Dear Sufi,

    Thank you for your e-mail.

    Compound 14 in the SI is an intermediate and has not been fully characterized, hence does not have a number in the manuscript. Wording and numbering of the compounds in the supporting information are wrong (on different levels!). Characterized compound 14 and 15a-c of the article correspond to compounds 154, 165a, 165b and 165c of the supporting info.

    Anything else is being dealt with by the editors of the journal as we speak.

    Best regards

    Any thoughts?

  126. Paul Bracher Says:

    @Sufi: Thanks for that note.

    I have sent two e-mails to Professor Dorta and have not received a response. What e-mail did you use? The one he gave as corresponding author in the manuscript?

    Also, if anyone has a current e-mail address for Dr. Drinkel, I would appreciate it if you would send it to paul-at-chembark com. I have sent her a message by other means, but I would prefer using a solid e-mail address.

  127. Alsoareviewer Says:

    Re: Responsibility of the reviewer

    I tend to check the SI rather carefully when reviewing, but I do not so line by line. A reviewer is not a PROOFREADER. And the SI is not a text, which is necessarily read in on go from beginning to end. One normally checks the SI when one is referred to do so by the paper.

    In a case like this, I might have checked the experimental details of the compounds when they appear in the paper. Even if I verify them all in one go, I read through a paragraph and then my eyes jump to the next. The standardized way of writing experimentals helps us to find information quicker, but when information is in the wrong place, we miss it. Thus if you add information such as “This works only in 10% of the cases” in an experimental way after the characterization, in a new paragraph, most chemists reading this experimental will miss it, because they do not EXPECT do see information there. Thus, I am not at all surprised that the reviewers missed those lines.

  128. Woof woof Says:

    Oh now come on! Everyone does it – most people aren’t stupid enough to get caught – that’s the only difference. You see it all the time. Yields rounded up. Elementals adjusted to their correct values. Spectra cleaned up on paint. Publications are worthless these days. What adds value is when someone repeats your work. And that’s quite rare.

  129. Djerassi Unchained Says:

    Woof woof:

    I really hope it’s not necessary to actually state this but…

    No, everyone does not do it. I don’t do it. My students don’t do it. The many colleagues I respect and work with don’t do it. Not to say that any of us are perfect. We make mistakes. But we do our best not to cut corners. And when we do, we lay it right out there for everyone to see.

    So for those still pondering a career in chemistry, yes, it is possible to survive and even to thrive without the shenanigans.

  130. Woof woof Says:

    Djerassi Unchained:

    Don’t be so naive man! OK you don’t do it. But your students definitely do. And your colleagues definitely definitely do it. It might not be something big. Maybe just rounding up the yield. 52%? Let’s call it 60%. Happens all the time I’m afraid.

    Not saying it’s right. Just saying it happens. Chemistry has a problem like cycling does with doping. It happens everywhere. Everyone does it. Its an open secret. People feel they have to do it just to compete. I’ve seen it. Student says he got 50% yield. Professor says “well x got 70%…you must be an idiot”. Next time student says he gets a 70% yield.

  131. Real Elemental Analysis Says:

    The most important aspect of this story is that peer review fails again.

  132. Meow meow Says:

    Woof woof:

    You’re making ignorant generalizations. How would you know that someone’s students or colleagues cheat? You can’t know. So stop speculating out of cynicism or perhaps paranoia. It is not necessary to cheat in order to survive in science, and it should not be acceptable to do so.

    Published work is repeated frequently; well, maybe not your work.

    Publications remain the primary venue for communicating science, so how can they be worthless?

  133. Reviewer vs. Editor Says:

    In ACS journals, the SI may be changed after minor revisions. At that point, the reviewers will not see the changes. The editor, however, has ultimate responsibility for deciding whether or not to accept the paper. It is interesting that the editor in chief of Organometallics, according to his comments printed above, appears to be washing his hands of this problem instead of accepting responsibility.

  134. Vojsov Raison Says:

    Big mess up by the PI here, but still worrying that the journal didn’t actually know what they were publishing on their website until others pointed out the problem. Referees are unpaid and do the best job they can in the time available to them. Editors have a tough job to do too, but surely journals can afford to pay someone to check the SI before it appears online. In the days before the SI explosion, all of the experimental section would have been in the main paper and that would have been scrutinised by the copy editors.

  135. Woof woof Says:

    Meow meow:

    Looking at science publishing in rose tinted spectacles is part of the problem. Cheating is widespread. I have worked in 4 different labs and 2 in industry. Cheating happened in every single one. Yes even in industry. I don’t know why people cover their eyes about this so much.

  136. Meow meow Says:

    I’m not talking about pretending that cheating doesn’t exist. I’m condemning any attitude that suggests that cheating is ok because everybody does it and that the problem is just that people get caught. There will always be cheaters in the world. I too have known dishonest scientists. But I don’t believe it is as prevalent as you suggest, and I don’t believe it should be acceptable in any way just because people get away with it.

  137. lhac Says:

    Discussions on such blogs show that (mostly) students and maybe lay-people have unrealistic expectations towards peer reviewing.
    Maybe such matters should be discussed more often in group seminars, and the referee reports should be discussed in more detail between PI’s and the co-authors when they arrive.

    Just keep in mind that the referee helps the editor in forming a balanced opinion.
    Nobody should expect the refereeing system to be infallible, and neither the editor or the author, for that matter.

    Thus the system has not “failed again”. Get real! Has anybody been killed, or what?

    The way I see it, the paper in question is not a bad one, some interesting structures of platinum(II) complexes with chelating chiral sulfoxide ligands. As you all know, such ligands have found much interest recently, especially in palladium catalysis. Maybe read the paper, and you might learn something, maybe get an inspiration for your own work!

  138. Perhaps Says:

    The difference in the numbering between SI and paper sounds a bit like the SI has been lifted directly from a thesis. This would also fit with the main authors no longer being in the lab. Could be that a comment from a (possibly remotely supervised) thesis correction has been incorporated by mistake months or perhaps years after being made.

  139. Woof woof Says:

    Meow meow:

    I’m not going to convince some people how big the cheating problem is. But I’ll say one last thing. Look at the cavalier way that this message was written. Clearly he has done this before. Clearly his students have done this before. Reto has worked in Australia, Switzerland and the USA. Where did he pick this behaviour up? He probably behaved in this way before at these other institutions. If so that’s a lot of cheats spread out around the world. Which doesn’t surprise me at all. It may surprise you.

  140. ChemGuy Says:


    I think you have missed a crucial point. As far as many people can tell, the PI was actively encouraging a student, and someone they were mentoring, to fabricate data.

    This goes fundamentally against scientific ethics, and encouraging that sort of behaviour you very quickly end up on a slippery slope to a place where, the group fabricates all the EA, then fabricates half the NMR, then all the NMR, then why not the catalysis performance?In this scenario which data can one trust? I recognise that yields can be inflated, and that is a related issue, but honestly we cannot as a community accept PIs encouraging anyone to fabricate any data. The whole trust in people’s results would very very very rapidly break down at that point.

    Whether or not the paper contains interesting results is beyond the point. The paper probably contains structures that are interesting, and they may be good catalysts. But given that Dorta, at least to me, was actively encouraging a student to fabricate data, at this point in time I do not trust a single one of his results, perhaps he fabricated a few, perhaps 30% perhaps 99%.

  141. paul Says:

    “Make up” seems to mean something different in southern US dialect than elsewhere, if that matters. I’ve heard “make up the bed” where I would have said “make the bed”.

  142. JohnDakota Says:

    @Woof Woof

    I’ve always found it interesting that cheaters seem to be predisposed to thinking everyone else cheats. I suppose I can take comfort that you don’t work for me because I’d have to expend effort, in the near future, on finding a replacement.

  143. baby Says:

    All these speculation should focus in one thing, did the authors faked the data teh PI supposedly asked to? I read the paper and couldnt find prove that they faked it. If the data was incerted in the paper, then may or may not constitute a fraud, but if the data is not there, then is quite clear that the authors havent incerted fake information…. aby the way the NMR data already proves the validity of the work, so EA is just an additional information, that could be even be considered unnecessary. Well, it just look like a lot of people is just speculating without knowing anything about it.

  144. Tyrosine Says:

    @J.J. Emerson. I believe that part of the reason most synthesis chemists have been quick to assume the worst in this case is that EA is likely to be THE MOST fabricated data in the chemical literature. Why? For two reasons…

    1. Once you have proved you structure by NMR, mass spect, X-ray etc. the EA is only a proof of purity of the compound in your hands. In other words, it’s not reproducible data for other labs. If you fabricate an NMR spectrum, someone else might make the compound, run the spectrum, and note the discrepancy. Same for X-ray, and mass spect (to a lesser extent, unless the raw spectrum is supplied). But if an EA is fabricated it’s highly unlikely such a fraud can be uncovered. By the way, requiring original certificates of analysis won’t work on the determined cheater either. It would be trivial to submit a pure Aldrich compound with the same empirical formula to get an in spec EA.

    2. Secondly, EA can be notoriously difficult to get in spec for publication. Oils in particular, and hygroscopic compounds can sometimes be nearly impossible to get right. I have no problem with just stating “compound x failed to give satisfactory combustion analysis”, but doing that for most of the compounds in a paper is not a good look. Under those circumstances I’d just leave out EA and try to prove identity and purity by other techniques – NMR, MS, HPLC or GC, sharp melting point etc. Other scientists may take a less ethical route.

    So put those together – a technique that: these days in an of itself is of questionable value (see many comments on this page), is trivial to fabricate because there is no paper trail, gives data that can not be independently reproduced and verified by another lab, and can slow down the publication process. It’s a perfect storm of fraud temptation.

    incidentally, many of the above factors also apply to various biology and medicine techniques, which is why I suspect biology/medical publications are overrepresented in retraction watch.

  145. Anonymous Says:


    This a link to the supporting information section of the document in question. Some users here have said they cannot access the report due to a paywall, but the paywall does not forbid seeing this bit of it.

  146. number cruncher Says:

    It’s worth pointing out that some of the EAs in the SI (e.g. those of 10 and 12) have closely matching found and calculated values, but these don’t match what the calculated values SHOULD be for the given empirical formula. Coincidence? I can’t be bothered checking if the empirical formulae are correct, but someone might?

  147. tom Says:

    I have downloaded original paper and supplemental info pdfs. I confirmed this is real and still on the website. Please let me know the response from the corresponding author.

  148. Daniel Says:


    > I believe that part of the reason most synthesis chemists have been quick to assume the worst in this case is that EA is likely to be THE MOST fabricated data in the chemical literature.

    Is this what passes for proof among chemists? Conjectures based on innuendo and accusations from a two-bit “journalist” chasing a scoop? There hasn’t been a shred of conclusive evidence that points to wrongdoing! Shame on you for perpetuating this junk and shame on Paul for his “reporting” of it.

  149. catalyzer Says:

    There is absolutely no excuse for the fabrication of data. But when rules aren’t respected by a community, this stuff will happen. No doubt EA was a big deal when it was added to the taste/smell/melting-point arsenal of analytical techniques, but historical significance is not a legitimate reason to treat it differently than other methods. All analytical techniques are worthwhile in some cases and not in others, and EA is no exception. (Ian and many others above have pointed out its limitations better than I could have done).

    This incident highlights one more reason to reconsider the sacrosanct status of EA. Hopefully few other students have been pressured into such clearly unethical behavior. (Or am I being naive?) But the comments above leave little doubt that many have at least been coaxed into a “grey” area, and that can only have a corrosive effect. So aside from merely being annoying, the blanket requirement of EA turns it into a gateway drug for unethical behavior.

  150. The Grand Inquisitor Says:

    Come on folks. Why all the need for speculation when no one in the general public knows the context of the comment inserted by someone at some time into the SI? Just suppose that the author’s laboratory had moved from Europe to Australia and that supplies, notebooks, spectra and other experimental records were shipped from one continent to another. Suppose that the shipping container with these items were sitting in port somewhere waiting for customs clearance. Suppose also that you had an article submitted to a journal and that the article had just been accepted pending a few minor changes and considerations. One of those minor alterations might have been the inclusion of additional characterization data, read elemental analyses. Suppose in a cover e-Mail message to a co-author one wrote “… You’ll be please to know that our OM manuscript was accepted pending minor modifications and considerations of the referees’ comments …’, “We need to respond in the next two weeks,’ ‘… since we can’t get to the precise data because it’s held up in customs and because we know that the data were fine, just …’

    Let the investigation run its course and then decide based on facts – don’t jump to conclusions based on random speculation from unknown sources. Are you scientists or gossips? One reveals more about one’s self through speculation than about the object of the speculation.

  151. SIddhartha Says:

    Grand Inquisitor: Minor modifications to supplementary data? Now that is novel. I guess the main manuscript was perfect that they did not need to review it. Only the SI.

    J.J. Emerson: What ever happened to TOEFL and other english language exams that non native english speaking students are expected to pass before entering into graduate programs in english speaking nations. That ought to have taken care of the confusion between make, making, made, made up etc…

    I guess the non native english speaking students will have to now pass a mandatory moral science exam.

  152. Tyrosine Says:

    @Daniel. No one said anything about proof. We all know this is speculation and only the authors know the actual truth. But prima facie it looks pretty bad, and the evidence is continuing to stack up. Also, you’re out of line bagging the “two bit journalist” for breaking this story. Identifying and discussing possible cases of scientific fraud, supervisor coercion, and editorial sloppiness are all legitimate issues to discuss and debate.

  153. KGM Says:

    I scrolled quickly through these posts and perhaps I missed it, but has anyone thought of looking through the paper and SI for red flags, problems, etc.? I did and I see problems. Page 2 of the SI states “hygroscopic compounds were corrected for water content”. What is that supposed to mean? For example, compound 7, according to the text and also the crystal structure file, is isolated as a solvate with 1 molecule of dichloromethane. However, the elemental analysis is calculated for 3 moles of water and no dichloromethane. Compound 6 is described as a 2 mole solvate with diethyl ether (text, x-ray), yet the elemental analysis is calculated as a 0.5 mole water solvate. I suspect that the elemental compositions were adjusted with just the right amount of hypothetical water to bring the microanalysis results into line, consistent with a just make it up attitude (also note that all operations were done under nitrogen, rigorously anhydrous solvents, …..) Given that Organometallics is requesting the original EA data, in turn from U Zurich/ETH, it will be interesting to see how this works out.

  154. SwissGuy Says:

    Woof woof is right, it is very common to ‘optimize’ data to get a paper published (my experience from 2 academic and 1 industrial lab). I remember being shocked when my PhD advisor told me to write things differently in my very first paper because “the referees would reject the paper otherwise”. These weren’t big things, but once you got used to the whole data optimization/selection/omission procedures that were considered ‘normal’ there is no way back…

  155. Joseph Merola Says:

    This issue is going to be an increasing one given the huge proliferation of open access journals, some of which have been shown to be “predatory” and in it just for the money. I am not going to repeat at length a lot of the comments already made, except to point out my personal view of what needs to be in a publication and why. My research is in the area of organometallic chemistry and catalysis, so meshes well with this particular issue.

    Sufficient experimental detail should be given so that the synthesis or other experiment can be reproduced by other laboratories. Saying “Compound A was made by a modification of the procedure in Ref 5” is NOT sufficient. What was the modification? So, the details of amounts, solvents, even order of addition is very important. (Saying “X, Y and Z were combined in THF” without specifying order , for example, can lead to another laboratory getting very different results or, tragically, even an explosion.) How you isolated the final compound and what purification steps you used is very important. Not knowing that a particular compound tenaciously holds on to a solvent can lead to very unexpected results if you use that material in a further reaction. Appropriate spectral characterization with specific assignments, not just a pdf of the spectrum, must be included because that is the way most other labs will check on their success in repeating your experiment. Elemental analyses are critical to show purity of compound*, but I do NOT think they should be required for every single compound. Often, an extended series of compounds are made and my personal belief is that a representative sample is sufficient to show that your procedure provides compounds of high purity. High Res Mass Spec may be sufficient to identify that SOME part of your reaction mixture is the desired compound, but not much more than that given that one reports the exact mass without usually reporting other features of the spectrum or of the LC analysis that is often the front end for the mass spec. My group carries out a lot of X-ray crystallography, but we do not rely on that for identity and certainly not for purity since that involves picking one small crystal out of a bulk sample. We often use powder diffraction to compare to the simulated pattern from the single crystal experiment as confirmation that the bulk is the same material, but even there, the crystal could be a solvate that is not represented by the bulk.

    I am not going to comment on this paper in question. Let the Organometallics review process run its course and let that individual’s university also investigate the issue. That is in their purview, not mine. But, I am using this as a cautionary tale for my students – get this data as soon as possible. Too often things like EA are left to the last moment and the student finds they are writing their dissertation or a paper and don’t have it. The temptation to “make it up” may be intense, so take care of these things at the front end of the work and avoid that temptation. Heaven help any of my students who are found to “make up” data.

    *Personal disclaimer: Dietmar Seyferth, the founding editor of Organometallics was my research adviser and he was a stickler for C,H analyses. As a graduate student, I never fully understood this point, but when I became an independent researcher, I certainly came to see his point.

  156. SwissPI Says:

    SwissGuy and Woof apparently do not understand the difference between appropriate data selection/omission and fabrication. A lack of understanding the former should NEVER become a gateway to the latter. I hope that they fail in trying to convince others that data manipulation/fabrication are somehow normal/acceptable behaviors with “no way back…” This is simply not true. Dealing with they grey areas of scientific ethics while remaining productive is a constant challenge that we all must face. There will certainly be differences of opinion along the way, but cheaters use the existence of ambiguities to justify actions that are clearly wrong. Do not let yourself fall into this false logic! People who do invariably loose in the end.

  157. SwissGuy Says:

    @SwissPI: I never said that data manipulation/fabrication was acceptable! But I stand by my statement that it has to a certain extent become a normality when publishing a paper. As a student/postdoc I was often asked by the PI things like “don’t you have a ‘nicer’ spectrum of this”. Well sure I did, but it was not representative (unlike the ‘noisy’ spectra). Of course the nicest spectrum / best performing sample always made it to the final paper (always related to claims that this was the norm and not the exception).

  158. njord Says:

    while of course I do not condone fabrication, to say

    “People who do invariably loose in the end.”

    seems wildly unrealistic. I am confident data fabrication is rampant, it is widely accepted and goes unpunished when found out, even when there is an internet witch hunt.

  159. SwissPI Says:

    Njord: I did not say everyone gets caught, just that cheating always causes losses: lost sleep, loss of self respect, loss of purpose etc., not to mention losses to others in the field (lack of reproducibility etc.) and loss of one’s career if/when caught.

    SwissGuy: your PI asking for a better NMR is not exactly a huge ethical or moral dilemma. Overestimated yields of the analytically pure material is indeed a common problem usually caused by lack of a communication by/with the PI, and laziness when it comes to writing experimental proceedures. Yields can/should be calculated at every step in the purification process. If your PI wants to take a yield from a crude product and report analytical data from the 5x purified product, that is fine, just make the exact process transparent in the experimental proceedure. Believe it or not, most issues in the ethical grey areas of chemistry are resolved by transparency.

  160. Franz Says:

    As a native German speaker, I can confirm that in German you could at best say “to make an EA” for “to do an EA”, but the addition of “up” shows clearly that the writer knows the meaning.

    His English is very good, read the rest, and the writer knows the difference between making, making up sth, and making out with sb better than others.

    The bluntness to write this to a coworker shows that it is common practice: the PI knows Emma would follow.
    As university, I’d request all EA certificates of Emma’s past papers.


  161. physics Says:

    Let me say something else.
    Does a scientific paper really need a SI file? SI is a good idea at the beginning. But now…Some editors and Journals will much more like to publish a paper attached a long long useless SI. Or vice versa.

  162. physics Says:

    So why not add a Comment Function in the page of each paper. Let the authors decide to attach some files maybe useful for readers to understand their research. And also readers can comment and discuss this paper easily with the authors and other readers.

  163. Retro DA Says:

    Universities do not follow up on these things unless there is outside pressure and they can predict that they will be behind instead of ahead of the curve of public outcry, the publishing houses act the same way. It simply is not in their interest to draw negative attention. I have dealt with both (again in inorganic chem) and there is a high resistance to act morally. The ACS claims a moral high ground on paper, but with these matters they are silent. This editor spoke out because the cat was out of the bag and he’s doing damage control and staying ahead of the curve to insulate against possible backlash – good for him, but he NEVER would have made an open letter or even a confidential letter to two parties if the discussion was contained. Those who say wait and let the facts come out with an investigation have little idea for the low incentive anyone has to investigate this or the usual cases that you never hear about. Note all I did was add an ‘r’ to Reto for my name, sue me for misrepresentation better yet start an investigation.

  164. John A. Gladysz Says:

    I have been meaning to contribute a post to this blog, where there has been so much good dialog involving the Reta Dorta manuscript on the ASAP site of Organometallics (om-2013-00067 or DOI: 10.1021/om4000067). There have been hits and misses, but I’d like to thank everyone for all input and commentary. Although I write this sentence with a wink to all my friends on my masthead page (http://pubs.acs.org/userimages/ContentEditor/1219929142245/orgnd7-masthead.pdf), this has made me muse whether an Editor-in-Chief could dispense with a high-maintenance Editorial Advisory Board and simply throw the various thorny issues that arise out for adjudication on a quality blog like Chembark.

    I’ll attempt to address some of the many good points raised in a series of posts. I can’t promise I can reply to any counterpoints (e mail traffic has been heavy and will likely remain so), but I’ll be sure to read them.

    A lot of comments have been made about the breakdown of the peer review process in this particular instance, and if you read to the end of this post you will get some specifics, within the confidentiality bounds that I am obliged to maintain as an Editor. However, you are going to have to bear through a general analysis of the many things that can go wrong with SI first.

    The first vulnerability is in the initial submission. I don’t want to put down coauthor written manuscripts, but there are some corresponding authors who have clearly never laid an eye on their SI. Without this check, and I’m talking about a word-by-word read with attention given to every reagent quantity, spectroscopic data point, significant digit cutoff, etc., major errors are much more likely to slip through. My research group uses a proofing checklist, with every author fully participating, crystallographers excepted (except for their sections).

    The second vulnerability is with the referees. I want to comment that I consider the pool of reviewers used by Organometallics as extremely conscientious. But obviously there will be cases, with any journal, where the SI is neglected.

    A relevant digression involves JACS manuscripts. A reviewer may decide that the manuscript does not meet certain breadth/urgency criteria, and therefore not critique the SI. When such manuscripts are resubmitted to Organometallics (often with copies of the JACS reports), we do not render an Editorial decision until we are confident that the entire manuscript has been thoroughly peer reviewed.

    The third vulnerability is with the Editors. I do not expect my Editors to carry out a word-by-word examination of the SI. However, we do follow an internal check list that I could in principle share, but all of the points therein can be found in our “Author Guidelines” (http://pubs.acs.org/paragonplus/submission/orgnd7/orgnd7_authguide.pdf)

    An attendant vulnerability, pointed out by several on this string, involves the submission of the revised manuscript and accompanying SI. Suppose a reviewer or Editor requests that a melting point be added. At this stage, the Editor is unlikely to check anything other than the relevant paragraph. If an author has introduced other errors by some means (many comment about fixing minor typos), these will be overlooked.

    In summary, it is necessary to look at error introduction from a number of perspectives, and it may be difficult for “younger” authors with less publishing experience to view things from the inside. I’ll eagerly “steal” any substantive additions that anyone offers if I ever have to present this analysis again, or incorporate it into a future Editor’s Page of Organometallics.

    There are other things that can be done to reduce errors. When I did my major rewrite of the “Author Guidelines” that I inherited from my predecessor, I stole an idea from Dale Poulter at J. Org. Chem. and more or less required that all experimental data be reported in the main text of full papers. This excerpt is from section 4.3.8:

    “For Articles and Notes, the bulk of the experimental section should be presented in the main text. Supporting Information should only be used to describe the syntheses and characterization of new compounds of subordinate interest: for example, the preparation of an isotopically labeled species by an otherwise known procedure or a salt with an alternative counteranion. Characterization data for known organic compounds prepared using a new catalyst would also be appropriate for Supporting Information.”

    When om-2013-00067 was submitted, the experimental section (including all compound syntheses) was in the main text and the referees did exemplary jobs. One commented among other remarks “There is a fair amount of work in this paper, however 51 pages is definitely too much so downsizing the article would be appreciated especially as the relevance of the work is lost in the size of the article”. Neither the reviewer nor the processing Editor in his response recommended moving any content to SI. However, the author, in a not illogical attempt at accommodation, replied to reviewer 2 as follows: “We have shortened the article by taking away …. We have also incorporated all experimental data into the supporting information.” Exceptions are sometimes allowed to our policies, and in the processing Editor’s judgment it was more appropriate to honor the reviewer recommendation than adhere the protocol in section 4.3.8 of the Author Guidelines. Most Editors, including myself, would assume that a straight up cut/paste transfer between two documents could be competently carried out. However, this was not checked and nothing was returned to the referees, so the rest is history.

    As noted above, additional posts may follow if time allows.

    May your chemistry be highly successful, and may you execute it thoroughly and write it up in such a way that it can forever stand the test of time.

    Best wishes,

    John Gladysz
    (on whose desk “the buck stops” for everything, good and bad, at Organometallics)
    (for non-native speakers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buck_passing)

  165. Chad Says:


    “Grand Inquisitor: Minor modifications to supplementary data? Now that is novel. I guess the main manuscript was perfect that they did not need to review it. Only the SI.

    J.J. Emerson: What ever happened to TOEFL and other english language exams that non native english speaking students are expected to pass before entering into graduate programs in english speaking nations. That ought to have taken care of the confusion between make, making, made, made up etc…

    I guess the non native english speaking students will have to now pass a mandatory moral science exam.”

    You do realize that you have at least four grammar mistakes in your comment, right?

    Learning a foreign language is hard. Very hard. Phrasal verbs like “make up” are especially difficult to perfect. You are asking others for more than you seem to be able to demonstrate yourself.

  166. Daniel Says:


    > Also, you’re out of line bagging the “two bit journalist” for breaking this story. Identifying and discussing possible cases of scientific fraud, supervisor coercion, and editorial sloppiness are all legitimate issues to discuss and debate.

    Scientific fraud et al are indeed legitimate issues to discuss and debate. However, when levelling accusations of wrongdoing, one needs to make sure their case is water-tight. Paul’s reporting of this issue is anything but. The article at hand is entirely speculative and predicated on one possible interpretation of three little words “just make up”.

    What if he’s wrong? Oh, whoops, sorry authors. Sorry journal editors. My bad. I just wanted a scoop.

    Give me a break. This right here is some shameful shit and it needs to be called out as such. The quality of the reporting is on-par with the junk that appears in a tabloid daily and not a specialist a Science blog.

  167. Matt Says:

    @Daniel, ChemAbstracts notified Organometallics about this issue on the 5th, the day before ChemBark posted on it. We are not the only ones to find this note disturbing. Also, we are interpreting three words and an ellipsis… which might as well be called ‘the innuendo mark’.

    If you are ever tempted to think that no one will ever read your SI, remember: ChemAbstracts will read it.

  168. RCR good Says:

    @John A. Gladysz, thanks very much for your thorough and meticulously worded response.

    I have many thoughts and comments on this general topic and this specific case, but a key point to add to the discussion is as we ‘move forward’, we need to embrace Responsible Conduct of Research training, RCR. Several years ago, I was an RCR naysayer, but I have come to see RCR as having the potential to very positively enhance the scientific enterprise.

    How do we discourage and perhaps head off research misconduct? When misconduct or even perceived misconduct surfaces, it is generally messy, costly, and time consuming. Investments in misconduct prevention, in the long run, both improve the scientific enterprise AND improve efficiency. RCR is part of the investment.

    How do we help our community, in this case the community of chemistry, deal with the trauma of inevitable unethical behavior? Again, RCR can help.

    Sure, as @Matt points out, ChemAbstracts (part of ACS), may catch some errors, perhaps due to misconduct. Sure, reviewers and editors could catch some misconduct. But wouldn’t it be better if the science was done responsibly and the editors, reviewers, and databases could focus their intellectual efforts on helping debate and improve quality science rather than being tasked with ferreting out misconduct? Again RCR can help.

    By no means is RCR a panacea, but it can help us ‘move forward’.

    Does anyone other than me think it would be useful to see ACS offer some well designed, chemist oriented, Responsible Conduct of Research training? Maybe someone should propose an ACS short course on RCR? What would be useful?

  169. Paul Bracher Says:

    @Daniel: Is there a fact somewhere in these reports that I got wrong? Tell me and I’ll correct it immediately. And given the embarrassing note in the SI, I don’t think it is remotely out of line to raise the possibility that someone was being instructed to commit scientific misconduct. None of the reports here stated that misconduct definitely took place.

    Furthermore, I have given the authors ample opportunity to respond to these stories (and will continue to do so). I think the vast majority of readers here would disagree with your assessment that the coverage here is unfair.

  170. Chad Says:

    @Brutal Truth

    “fully understand that prepare and make up can be used interchangeably … but the fact of the matter is prof dorta did a phD with milstein in israel (lots of english there), then went to steve nolan at new orleans (lots of english there), then to bercaw at caltech (lots of english there) and then to western australia (lots of english there). the phrase “JUST make up” = literally make it up/fabricate! and he knows that. there is no loss in translation bs. as a white american male, if this clown gets off by the ridiculous double standard that “me speak-a no english” and gets to play the pseudo race card like everyone who isnt a white american-born male does when they get pushed up against a wall and arent man enough to step up the plate/admit their mistake/punch someone in the jaw – im gonna freak the F out. he absolutely was pressuring/forcing a student/postdoc to falsify data and the fact of the matter is im sure this has happened before.

    Given the fact that you are a “white american male” and whining about a non-native speaker’s lack of perfection with respect to phrasal verbs (one of the most complicated aspects of any language to master), one would at least think you could write a short post that wasn’t loaded with third grade level punctuation and capitalization failures. I’ll leave you to reconsider your line about “double standards”.

    Oh, and what foreign language do you speak at a high level, perchance?


  171. Franz Says:

    Emma did not see Reto’s comment. The EA has never been made up. Of course, the EA has never been made either. In another post Reto claims the compound was meant to be an intermediate only (no EA required). The editor defends the quality of the journal and protects the referees. The posters defend the nonnative speaker. Where is this going?

  172. Daniel Says:


    > I don’t think it is remotely out of line to raise the possibility that someone was being instructed to commit scientific misconduct. None of the reports here stated that misconduct definitely took place.

    I find this statement completely dishonest. You’re not “raising the possibility”; what you’re doing is strongly implying fraud took place. You editorialise that instances of Scientific dishonesty are common because results are easy to fabricate, you link this story to a prior case of fraud and you end with a bunch of FUD that paints the authors as dishonest.

    You did not make any effort to spell out that the comments alone do not constitute any kind of proof. You made no attempt to consider other possible interpretations of the comments and you do not have any other supporting evidence except some after-the-fact gibberish about mislabeled diagrams.

    I also find your offer to allow the authors to respond as disingenuous. Did you even contact them before you posted this piece? Did you contact the journal for comment before you posted? Why not wait until you had more information? Oh, wait, you’ve already answered that in these very comments:

    > With that said, I felt I needed to get a quick initial story up (1) before the SI was retracted or modified and (2) before my very able “competitors” broke the story.

    What on Earth could the authors possibly say that could undo the damage you’ve done to their reputation? You’ve jumped to conclusions and dragged their names through the mud just so you can be “first”.

    Shame on you.

  173. Chemical JUSTICE Says:

    First of all it is the case when the prof Dorta was caught red-handed. The students are just technicians and do whatever prof says them (please consider the case when Emma could be under pressure etc.) What does it mean ” just make up an elemental analysis…” comon Emma does not carry all her synthesised compounds, or maybe I am wrong and she puts them under the pillow after her Ph D naively thinking that maybe my former boss will need them…
    It is understandable that Reto will not confess at any cost (because of fear of loosing his reputation and troubs with the future career). Though I know some profs who did it even at the conferences (the student was cheating and prof after publishing paper noticed it, then prof himself confessed for the action of his student an took away his publication – for this I respect this prof very much!!!).
    I can even predict that Dorta will make himself the compound and send it to Swiss for EA. OMG how shitty it smells. Personally I think that Reto indeed knows how to use English (having Ph D and several postdocs in English speaking countries, it is hard to believe that he misused the phrasal verb, it is just ridiculous)
    Organometallics (as well as the other journals) should seriously consider this author for the future publications.

    For Organometallics I suggest to reject this crap from publishing, because it is lowering the reputation of such a serious journal!

    Justice should win!!!
    Otherwise many scientists (fair ones:) ) will seriously think where to publish their papers.

    Colleagues is there any justice in science? If so the paper should be rejected and the heads should roll.
    Regarding this current adress the uni should also take it upon consideration whether to keep such a scientist at the department or not.

  174. OldGuy Says:

    @Chemical Justice. Are you trolling? No one has been caught red handed. There is some indication of impropriety, that may or may not be a one-off occurrence, or a complete misunderstanding, or indication of a systematic fraudulent operation. A process will be followed, and a conclusion – or whatever can approximate a conclusion under the circumstances – will be arrived at. The Editor of the journal is doing an outstanding job of communicating, and the authors are keeping quiet, which is what the accused should do, while a process of investigation is under way.

    I don’t know where you work or study (do you do either?), but if students are technicians where you come from, please don’t send them my way. Students sit at a more vulnerable place in the scheme of things than the profs, but they are not technicians. (And I advise you to never say “just technicians”. Technicians are incredibly valuable contributors to the scientific process, filling a different but vital role. Technicians are not research students, and research students are not technicians. Both roles should be respected).

    Your attitude is what drags these sorts of discussions down into the dirt and away from the constructive and valuable dialogue that it could be. Everyone can learn something here, but you need to put away your torch and pitchfork, and have a rational conversation, based on the available evidence, not wild extrapolations from the evidence. You wouldn’t, I assume, do that in your science, so don’t do it here.

  175. z Says:

    Another point that I haven’t seen anyone raise is that there are four authors on this paper, and, as far as I know, we aren’t clear about who actually wrote this note in the SI. I can easily envision a case where the corresponding author receives the reviewer comments, forwards them to rest of the team with instructions to address the comments, and then whoever was in charge of moving the experimentals to the SI noticed that the characterization of this compound was missing so added these instructions. In such a case, we could say the corresponding author should have been more vigilant about proof-reading the final document, but that’s a far different level of blame. The point is that we don’t know the full story, so we can say it certainly looks bad, but we can’t be so confident in the exact details of finger-pointing.

  176. Chemical JUSTICE Says:


    1. It does not matter where I am from (India, Malaysia, Europe or US etc), and I am sorry If you were hurt by my post.

    I do differ technicians with the students (of course there are the cases when poor bosses couldn’t afford to have a good technician (and I agree that technicians do great job) and then the students do technician’s work as well as their own – personally I faced it long time ago doing my PhD). My point was that the students probably were doing what the BOSS was saying them. For sure it should be adjusted to every individual case.

    2. I am not blaming an editorial office with this case and I do respect Organometallics as a good quality journal, therefore such kind of cases should be avoided.

    3. I will not believe, but it passed some time since I finished my Ph D studies and still I have my NMR (original fids), MS as well as HRMS (scanned), IR (Scanned), EA (scanned) versions.
    For me is not a big deal to send any of this data the same day it was requested.
    In my growing group I keep the same order. Moreover as a group leader I am responsible for the results of our studies (of course I demand from students all the information and they are aware that ESI should be given to me with scans and original FIDs).
    One more important stuff the order of proofreading of our manuscripts goes student+postdoc (doing the same project), then another postdoc and then ESI arrives with all the comments&data to me. So we dedicate some more time and meet all the participants and discuss all that stuff. In the end after all suggestions I myself correct and proofread the ESI and then starting to write the article.
    Maybe it will look weird, but my group is not big and I am not carrying BIG name to be all the time busy, as a result I am always involved in meeting with my coworkers and writing the articles.

    Hope that this story will be a lesson for those who are not taking care about the quality (and not running just for quantity) of their papers.

  177. Joseph Merola Says:

    @John A. Gladysz
    Nice post, John. I think you did a great job explaining the process which is especially helpful for younger scientists.

    Joe Merola

  178. Paul Bracher Says:

    So Daniel, you cannot point to a single fact that is incorrect from the coverage presented here.

    If I have wronged the authors as badly as you claim, I invite them to sue me for libel. I think the discovery phase of the proceedings would be quite interesting, but the case would be laughed out of court first.

    The authors have no one to blame for raising the suspicion of misconduct other than themselves. If they have information, explanations, or evidence that counter the suspicious evidence, I will write about them here as well.

  179. Paul Bracher Says:

    Just pulled six comments that were mistakenly blocked by the spam filter, including those of some other thesis investigators.

  180. Daniel Says:

    > So Daniel, you cannot point to a single fact that is incorrect from the coverage presented here.

    There is not a single fact to point to. That’s the point!

  181. Insert data here … Did researcher instruct co-author to make up results for chemistry paper? | Retraction Watch Says:

    […] Chemical Abstracts alerted us to the statement you mention,which was overlooked during the peer review process, on Monday 05 August. At that time, the manuscript was pulled from the print publication queue. The author has explained to us that the statement pertains to a compound that was ”downgraded” from something being isolated to a proposed intermediate. Hence, we have left the ASAP manuscript on the web for now. We are requiring that the author submit originals of the microanalysis data before putting the manuscript back in the print publication queue. Many readers have commented that the statement reflects poorly on the moral or ethical character of the author, but the broad “retribution” that some would seek is not our purview. As Editors, our “powers” are limited to appropriate precautionary measures involving future submissions by such authors to Organometallics, the details of which would be confidential (ACS Ethical Guidelines, http://pubs.acs.org/page/policy/ethics/index.html). Our decision to keep the supporting information on the web, at least for the time being, is one of transparency and honesty toward the chemical community. Other stakeholders can contemplate a fuller range of responses. Some unedited opinions from the community are available in the comments section of a blog posting: http://blog.chembark.com/2013/08/06/a-disturbing-note-in-a-recent-si-file/#comments […]

  182. OldGuy Says:

    @Chemical JUSTICE. No damage done to me, so no need to apologise. My point was you don’t know for sure what has happened, but your attitude is made clear by the handle you’ve chosen for the thread, and I was just suggesting you calm down while the facts are investigated. While I’m sure you are the most organised chemist there is, sometimes things can be complicated. Somewhere on one of these whopping threads, someone floats the idea that maybe key documents are in a shipping container waiting to be cleared by customs. Pretty reasonable scenario which would explain slow responses by the author, and maybe explains a really bad decision made in trying to respond to referee comments to meet a deadline.

    I don’t know what the actual situation is. I do know running around yelling “off with his head” isn’t helping anyone. The best we can do, if we do feel the need to contribute, is to engage in constructive conversation, that might help the younger folk in particular, to understand what can happen if you choose to take a shortcut, however well (or poorly) intentioned.

  183. SwissPI Says:

    @OldGuy and others

    I agree with you that this should not turn into a witch hunt, but at the same time, this discussion should not be downgraded to a simple warning to students about the dangers of “cutting corners”. Rather, the discussion might focus on what to do in the very difficult situation when your supervisor asks you to participate in scientific misconduct. I am not talking about showing the best available spectrum or dropping certain data from papers, I am talking about black-and-white situations of cheating.

    So, what should Emma have done here?

  184. OldGuy Says:


    Fair point. And a tough question, there is no doubt. It is easy to give various options, but when it comes down to it, it is very difficult for a student to challenge the supervisor (and I’m not making the jump that is definitely the relationship of relevance here). I’ve seen it quite a few times – a student with legitimate concerns about supervision (not ethical issues usually, but there are many other possible problems) will not take it up, for obvious reasons: concern about completion, about career etc etc. It is a very tough problem. We require all students to have more than one local supervisor, to try and mitigate the issue, but it is not a perfect system by any means. Be very interested to hear what others have to say.

  185. Could more be done to teach young chemists the right ethics? | Doctor Galactic & The Lab Coat Cowboy Says:

    […] by now most of the chemistry community is aware of the “Dorta affair” that has been recently exposed by ChemBark.  In brief, a recently published article in the journal Organometallics contained a rather […]

  186. Commenting: What To Do, What Definitely Not To Do - Off The Pasteboard Says:

    […] this week, ChemBark, a chemistry blog, picked up an interesting line left in the supplementary information of a journal […]

  187. Ton Says:

    According to my information in this matter: the latest version of the supplementary material was never seen by at least one of the co-authors. It is saddening that your good and trusted name as a scientist can so easily be associated with possible fraud claims. This could happen to anyone who is not the submitting author.

  188. Does science self-right? | Ferniglab's Blog Says:

    […] to manipulation. This has been blogged on at length by others here and here We can add to this the comment in SI from the PI that found its way, inadvertently, into the published article, which has gone viral. The note is […]

  189. How Should the Online Community Handle Suspicious Papers? | ChemBark Says:

    […] the authors together without much thought. Obviously, Dr. Drinkel’s mother—as well as another commenter—is upset with my coverage of her daughter’s paper. My question is how would […]

  190. Fallout from the Dorta – Drinkel paper | The k2p blog Says:

    […] since the news came out in ChemBark and RetractionWatch and other sites, Emma Drinkel’s reputation and career are severely […]

  191. Just LoL Says:

    Already 30 years ago yields and elemental analysis were sometimes obtained in a … creative way…

  192. njord Says:

    RE: internet witch hunting

    I don’t think I said it was a bad thing actually, more that it was essentially a pointless exorcise as the perpetrators are not punished by their host institutions.

    As to losing sleep over it, sure, for me (and let me cast the first stone (oh, too late…) from my anonymous IP) it’s not pleasant to watch guys getting away with it, and the more I dwell on such things, the more likely I am to lose sleep, but I am not convinced (@swiss PI) that the guilty ones are likely to be losing sleep (and of course I may be quite wrong, so come on serial data fabricators and tell us about your mental state).

    So I can see how _I_ would lose…

  193. Al Chemist Says:

    Why the heck is girl’s momma getting on here and spreading this sob story. Who cares? Our job, Our purpose is the pursuit of truth and to present that truth in an open and honest way to inform the community and the world about the things that go on around us.

    Unless a real REAL good explanation of what the heck is going on, this shit is criminal. It violates our prime directive, so to speak, as scientists. She can get on here and point fingers and tell the community about how badly this is has affected her daughter. Tough Shit. The fact is her name is the lead author, and last time I submitted to an ACS journal, every author on the paper has to give their ok. There’s even a little section in the template ‘Author contributions’. The second line in that section says “All authors have given approval to the final version of the manuscript.” Everybody who has ever published in an ACS journal knows about it.

    In summary, if the S.S. Dorta goes down, so does Emma Drinkel. Sad, but hey that’s science. She’s a cruel mistress. That, kids, is fact.

  194. Umbisam Says:

    @Al Chemist: Sounds to me like your directive is more about being a martinet than doing science. You would hold every co-author accountable for every mistake they didn’t catch? It’s not uncommon for some of the co-authors not to read the manuscript, and most who do just skim it other than the first and corresponding author. This looks like the PI telling the student to cheat, in which case the PI is to blame and the student has learned the lesson to always check everything closely. Would be great if all authors did, but they don’t. That, kids, is fact. Science a cruel mistress? Not if you’re tenured.

  195. Al Chemist Says:


    I wouldn’t say that. My directive, to quote the great philosopher Prof. H. Slavedriver, is ‘being 100% balls in.’ I mean, come on, man, you put your name on it, you better check it. It doesn’t fly by your standards don’t sign off on it, be it PI, postdoc, or lowly grad student. Just because it’s outside of today’s norm doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Sure, PI’s hold your life and death in the palm of your hand, mine sure does. But, at a certain point, brother, you gotta man up. You gotta have standards. There’s no cop out here. You eat, sleep, breathe, and die for this crap or you don’t. Fine, my perspective is colored by nicotine, red bull, and my thesis defense, but, tenure or not, nothing excuses sloppy chemistry. But, then, again, I don’t have tenure.

  196. Al Chemist Says:

    Their hand

  197. Questionaire Says:

    Look at the CV of this Reto guy. Top institutions, Weizman, Caltech, Asst Prof at U Zurich, he is from Switzerland. Then why go to a place such as Univ of Western Australia?? Given, Perth is a nice city, but the abrupt kink in that career is strange. I guess the U Zurich didn’t give this guy tenure, so he had to find some place to move along.
    Did anybody inform already the dean and the president of UWA about their black sheep? Australian Universities are very sensitive to this, as income from foreign students paying outrages feels for a standard education is a big part of the Australian business model. “UWA is one of Australia’s top universities, where dynamic research and higher degree programs underpin undergraduate teaching”. http://www.uwa.edu.au/

  198. OldGuy Says:

    @Questionaire. I’m no great believer in ranking systems, but just as an observation, in the last ARWU, those institutions ranked, Caltech 6, Weizman, 92, U Zurich 60, U Western Australia 91. So it’s not exactly a huge plummet into oblivion on those terms. As mentioned elsewhere, you can be sure the UWA powers that be know about this – it’s sure to be all over every academic chemistry department. I imagine they are waiting for the due processes at the journal to be completed, rather than leaping to conclusions – as I’m sure everyone else is doing… or not.

  199. Umbisam Says:

    *Al: Yes, everyone should be this diligent, but they aren’t. And it’s impossible to catch every mistake. People who don’t worry about these kinds of things typically get ahead. I wish I got credit for my own diligence, but I don’t.

  200. Señor Chemist Says:

    Good discussion, but here is one point that has not come up. When I review papers, the most important section is the data. What did the authors actually do, and what data did they gather. In 10, 20, or 50 years, could somebody repeat this work? In general, too much space is used by the authors for unsupported speculation about the mechanisms. The idea that the Supplemental Information that contains most of the actual data are an ‘extra’ that doesn’t need to be reviewed is wrong.

  201. The Grand Inquistor Says:

    This was a very large volume of work. Clearly, the authors could not be expected to know everything that was in the manuscript that they were attempting to publish. Nor could the editors or reviewers be expected to spend the time to carefully read such a tome. To slightly paraphrase one of the greatest political minds of the 21st century “… we have to ‘publish’ the ‘manuscript’ so that you can find out what’s in it….” Let’s face it folks it is the way of the world in which we now live and most have contributed to the current state of affairs in one way or another.

  202. Just some chemist Says:

    @ The Grand Inquisitor:

    Um, no. That will never be acceptable. Also, not sure if /sarcasm or *trollface*

  203. I did make up this Says:

    It seems the issue is forgotten and the Chem community will be living happily ever after … if this is the case, this level of sensitivity by the Chem community in following potential/past fraudulent behavior and making researchers including PIs and CIs accountable is shameful.

  204. Joseph Merola Says:

    The lack of comments on a blog site does NOT mean the issue is forgotten. Fortunately, snap judgments are not made and punishments are not doled out by public opinion.

  205. SandyD Says:

    The English in the paper is of such quality that it is not reasonable that the the note “make up” by the senior author meant anything other than just that – fabricate.

  206. Jay Says:

    “ChemBark is contacting the corresponding author for comment, and his response will be posted in full when we receive it.”

    Any response? I would love to contact the corresponding author or school dean again.

  207. JimR Says:

    The authors have been cleared of misconduct. This was clearly a misunderstanding and an issue the editor should have caught at the very least prior to publication. Unfortunately this investigator has had his name dragged through the mud and, prior to the finding that there was nothing untoward, he was clearly convicted as guilty by the general community.

  208. Anonymous Says:

    Link to the editorial review:

  209. logical rigor Says:

    they didn’t “clear him of wrongdoing”. They required to see the actual analysis notes for his work and checked that and it was OK.

    However, several places where he said there was an analysis are now corrected to show no analysis (this is the NMR instead of EA). Also, the journal said that it was not it’s mission to police the moral aspect of how Dorta had wrote a note urging a fabrication. That’s not exonerating…it’s just passing back to the Dorta institution. I hope they investigate and terminate.

  210. zorpadorp Says:

    27 July 2015– the original SI is still online. wow! have to admire editors for not simply sweeping it under the rug

  211. booklibrary Says:

    I know this is out of date by now, but just reading through it I realised it was mentioned that the author of the paper in question above worked in New Orleans for Steven Nolan.

    Am I right to say that he has recently been sacked from St Andrews University over accusation of gross misconduct with the department’s money???
    I looked at the chemistry homepage in St Andrews and he is not there any longer despite his wife C. Cazin somehow still being there. God knows how! This is apparently being kept very quite in order not to damage the University reputation. Please note that this might well be speculation and gossip though but having had the misfortune of knowing Nolan, I would not be surprised at all if this is true. So, it does not surprise me that tricks and misconduct Reto Dorta would have been probably learned during Dorta’s staying in Nolan’s group

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