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Detailing Experimental Procedures

May 27, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 21

In the editorial “In Search of Good Recipes,” Maureen Rouhi comments that researchers need to carefully prepare detailed and specific experimental procedures (C&EN, March 18, page 3). Some data I have compiled as editor-in-chief of Organic Syntheses reinforce this important point.

All experimental procedures in articles submitted to Organic Syntheses are checked for reproducibility prior to publication. As I wrote in an editorial (Org. Synth.1), during the period 1982–2005 about 12% of the articles submitted eventually had to be rejected because the results could not be reproduced.

This percentage is surprising when one considers the special measures taken to ensure reproducibility in Organic Syntheses articles as compared with other publications. First, the journal has always required that submissions include more-detailed experimental procedures than other journals. Only members of the journal’s Board of Editors conduct the checks of results reported and do so in their own laboratories. From the early days of Organic Syntheses, board members have been drawn from the most distinguished members of the community and have included such luminaries as Roger Adams, Henry Gilman, Louis Fieser, and Arthur C. Cope. And yet, until recently, one in eight procedures submitted proved not to be reproducible, even after considerable consultation between Organic Syntheses editors and submitting authors.

In 2005–07, revised instructions were issued to guide authors in preparing even more detailed experimental procedures than had been required. At the same time, we began to require a “procedure checklist” confirming that all of the details called for in the new instructions are provided. Now, more than 95% of submissions have been checked with satisfactory reproducibility.

It is no simple matter to prepare an experimental procedure that includes all of the critical details necessary for reproducibility. Our experience at Organic Syntheses suggests that difficulties in reproducing work should not be surprising when journals accept less detailed experimental procedures for manuscripts submitted.

Rick L. Danheiser
Cambridge, Mass.



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