Archive for the ‘Science Media’ Category

Dorta Paper Link Roundup

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

For chemistry news stories that generate a lot of fragmented discussion online, I like to post a list of links to facilitate keeping track of everything. This post may be updated; I think there’s a good chance we will hear more about this story down the line….

Coverage of the Dorta-Drinkel paper in Organometallics

12 July 2013 – Organometallics – “Synthesis, Structure, and Catalytic Studies of Palladium and Platinum Bis-Sulfoxide Complexes” – Original published article

6 August 2013 – ChemBark – “A Disturbing Note in a Recent SI File” – Our original report

6 August 2013 – Reddit – “Check out page 12 of the supporting info…”

7 August 2013 – In the Pipeline – “New Frontiers in Analytical Chemistry”

7 August 2013 – Chemistry-Blog – “When Authors Forget to Fake an Elemental Analysis”

8 August 2013 – Reddit – “A Disturbing Note in a Recent Supplemental Information file for a published chemistry paper”

8 August 2013 – Reddit – “Editor-­in­‐Chief of Organometallics Responds to Paper by Reto Dorta”

8 August 2013 – ChemBark – “Organometallics Responds to the Dorta Situation”

8 August 2013 – In the Pipeline – “Make Up the Elemental Analysis: An Update”

8 August 2013 – Retraction Watch – “Insert data here … Did researcher instruct co-author to make up results for chemistry paper?”

8 August 2013 – Science Careers – “Note to Self: NEVER do This”

9 August 2013 – ChemBark – “The OM Paper vs. Drinkel’s PhD Thesis”

9 August 2013 – Slashdot – “Request to Falsify Data Published in Chemistry Journal”

9 August 2013 – Chemical & Engineering News – “Insert Data Here … But Make It Up First”

9 August 2013 – Chemjobber – “The Dorta Affair and others…”

12 August 2013 – Reddit – “[Recap] A failure in peer review enrages /r/chemistry”

16 August 2013 – Synthetic Remarks – “In Defense of Emma” – includes an e-mail from Dr. Drinkel’s mother

16 August 2013 – Reddit – “Emma’s Mother Responds to the Dorta “just make up an analysis” Affair. It’s a reminder that we need to be careful who we criticize in these controversies.”

17 August 2013 – ChemBark – “How Should the Online Community Handle Suspicious Papers?”

20 August 2013 – Der Spiegel Online – “Fälschungsverdacht gegen Schweizer Professor: ‘Erfinde einfach eine Analyse'”


Use the comments to call out other links; I’ll add them to the main post.

Nocera on BBC Horizons

Monday, June 24th, 2013



Of course, it’d be even nicer with safety glasses.

Also, beautiful new labs. Yum. Just About Makes Me Vomit

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Whenever you search for any standard do-it-at-home chemistry demo, most of the time you will come across an entry on is a site that tries to gobble up pageviews so it can attract advertisers, and one method they use for doing this is to pay “guides” to write about popular topics within a particular subject area.

The guide for chemistry is Anne Marie Helmenstine, who earned a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the University of Tennessee. Probably sensing an opportunity to gobble up pageviews, Dr. Helmenstine jumped on the liquid nitrogen pool party story. If all she wanted to do was attract hits, that was an excellent plan. Yesterday alone, ChemBark got 21k pageviews, which is about 7-10 times what the site gets on a typical day with a fresh post. But, if your job is to educate and inform, I would not recommend writing this:

Nitrogen is principal gas in air, so it it’s quite safe on its own, but the liquid nitrogen was believed to have reacted with treatments in the pool, releasing toxic gas. How do you avoid hospitalizing your party, if you want liquid nitrogen fog? Simply add the nitrogen to ordinary water, not chemical-treated water. You’ll get fog without additional compounds. The principal risk from liquid nitrogen fog is from asphyxiation. Adding more nitrogen to the air decreases the relative amount of oxygen. This isn’t an issue so much in an outdoor pool, but should be a consideration if you have an enclosed pool. It’s safer to use a fog machine or make real water-based fog in that situation.

That is Dr. Helmenstine’s expert advice, and it is atrocious. First, there is very little chance the nitrogen reacted with the hypochlorite in the pool. Second, adding the liquid nitrogen to non-chlorinated water would have posed the same danger to life as adding it to chlorinated water. Finally, to write that this “isn’t an issue so much in an outdoor pool” is not only wrong, it is a public health hazard. The pool party disaster took place at an outdoor pool.


Today’s Unit Conversion Error: Poop in Pools

Friday, May 17th, 2013

A friend on Facebook brought my attention to a very interesting article from NBC News:

People always worry about pee in the pool, but number two is the No. 1 problem, government health experts say. They found plenty of evidence that someone’s pooping in the pool. It’s not only disgusting, but it’s evidence that people are not following basic hygiene rules, says Michele Hlavsa, chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Swimming Program.

“It is time to stop treating the swimming pool as a toilet,” Hlavsa told NBC News. “Nowhere else except for the pool is it acceptable to poop in public or pee in public. In other places if we did this in public, we’d be arrested.”

The pool-poo expert went on to say:

“The average person has about .14 grams of feces on their rear end,” Hlavsa said. “If that rinses off into the water, the amount from one person might not be that much. But as more and more swimmers introduce it that much, it does become an issue.”

She’s actually done the math.

“Let’s imagine 1,000 kids go to a water park. They have as much as 10 grams of feces on their rear ends,” she said.  “We are now talking about 10,000 grams or 10 kg. That translates to 24 pounds of poop in the water.”

I am willing to grant Hlavsa’s obscenely high estimate of 10 grams of poo per bottom—which does lead to 10 kg of poo per 1000 bottoms—but that does not equate to 24 pounds! The correct conversion factor for poo (or any other substance at the surface of Earth) is 2.2 pounds per kg.

I am immensely relieved her hypothetical pool contains only 22 lbs. of poo.

On Accuracy

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

ChemBark Logo with Ed the DogOne of the things I take pride in is the accuracy of the information posted to this blog. ChemBark has done a significant amount of original reporting on some pretty massive stories in the world of chemistry. We’ve publicly exposed scientific fraud, identified cases of ethical misconduct, shone light on peculiar hiring practices, and even reported the results of an ACS election before the ACS/C&EN.

The main purpose of this blog is to bring attention to interesting news in the world of chemical research such that, collectively, we as chemists can analyze the facts and improve ourselves. I try to pay special attention to the types of stories that—for whatever reason—C&EN chooses not to cover. There are people who consider some of these stories to be “negative” or even “gossipy”, but I will adamantly maintain that they are also interesting and important.

When stories may cast a member of our field in a negative light, I work especially hard to be fair and get the facts right. I work hard to maintain your trust, and ChemBark has a sterling—if not pristine—record of accuracy. The information posted here over the years rests on a foundation of hundreds of sources. These sources are the heroes of the blog, and we (as a community) owe them an immense debt of gratitude. It takes a great deal of guts to approach an outspoken blogger and share sensitive information, but the result is wonderfully democratic: thanks to the Internet, anybody in our field—not just those privy to private conversations—can participate in the discussion.

So, thanks again to all of you who have passed along or verified information for the blog. Your contribution is greatly valued.

The academic hires thread from yesterday was a good example of the importance of having a variety of sources. I was able to start from a decent base of knowledge, but the bulk of information arrived later, pouring in via hallway chats, e-mails, tweets, and blog comments. Having personally applied to many of the positions on the list, I am fascinated by all of these data. Whom did each school end up hiring? Was each successful candidate more organic/inorganic/biological? What research do they work on? Are there any trends/patterns? How many schools advertised openings but elected not to hire?

There is a wealth of information in that thread, but I am also a little disturbed by some of the comments. I really don’t like when people write about something as if they are certain when they are not. The statement:

“Professor A was granted/denied tenure.”

is very different from:

“I think/heard Professor A was granted/denied tenure, but I’m not sure.”

Please try to avoid playing fast and loose with the facts, because it sidetracks and erodes the validity of the discussion. Also keep in mind that we are talking about real people’s lives. If you are going to talk about whether someone was denied tenure or is leaving a school, you had better be right, because this info has the potential to do things like scare away prospective students.

I sign my name to all of the information I post to the blog. If I am uncertain about the validity of a piece of information, I will say so (but, usually, I’ll just avoid writing it). And you can probably tell that I am not too shy of a person, but whenever I am uncomfortable sharing my opinions about a subject, I will keep the opinion to myself. While I don’t comment or post anonymously, maintaining the ability for readers to comment anonymously is important because it represents a completely open system for keeping me in check (i.e., anyone is free to attack what I post). It also helps foster discussion (because I know some of you fear that your opinions may be held against you). Please do not abuse the system by asserting uncertain information as hard fact. Also, I encourage all readers to treat the facts reported in anonymous comments with a healthy amount of skepticism.

The same goes for all of the comments regarding Stoltz. I have heard all sorts of rumors and have attempted to figure out what, if anything, is going on. I don’t have anything useful to report, other than to say that most of what people are saying is pure speculation or incomplete fact. I suppose anyone is free to speculate, but as I said above, you should remember that real people are involved. When I write stuff, I sign my name to it. If you are not so confident of your facts as to be comfortable enough to do the same, perhaps you should hold off on grinding someone through the rumor mill? Just a thought.

I have immense respect for journalists and all the effort it takes to do a solid job of reporting. It pains me greatly to see the dissemination of crappy information, especially in a comments thread here.