Volume 92 Issue 7 | p. 7 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 17, 2014 | Web Date: February 13, 2014

Controversial Organometallics Paper Cleared Of Falsification Charge

Publication ethics: Journal publishes correction and editors’ comments
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Organic SCENE
Keywords: publishing ethics, corrections, catalysis, data integrity

The ACS journal Organometallics has found no evidence of malfeasance in an article that last summer sparked misconduct allegations from chemists (2014, DOI: 10.1021/om4011615). ACS is the publisher of C&EN.

“There was no evidence in any of the materials [we] received that indicated falsified analyses,” Organometallics Editor-in-Chief John A. Gladysz and Associate Editor Lanny S. Liebeskind write in a comment that accompanies the journal’s correction (2014, DOI: 10.1021/om401186q).

The original work, by Reto Dorta and coworkers at the University of Zurich, described palladium and platinum compounds with possible applications in catalysis (2013, DOI: 10.1021/om4000067). Some chemists interpreted text in the paper’s supporting information as an instruction to fabricate data. The compound labeled “14” was missing data. In the space where those data would have been, Dorta had written to his then-graduate student Emma Drinkel: “Emma, please insert NMR data here! where are they? and for this compound, just make up an elemental analysis ...”

The correction provides additional experimental details and revises compound numbers. Compound 14 was one of several that were mislabeled in the original supporting information. The compound was actually an unstable intermediate that was characterized by proton NMR. The NMR data appear in the revised supporting information. Both versions of the supporting information remain online, with a note directing readers to the new version.

Gladysz declined to comment on the case. However, he claims he has been asked to resign as editor-in-chief of Organometallics as a result of the incident.

“Dr. Gladysz continues as editor of Organometallics,” says Susan King, senior vice president of ACS’s Journals Publishing Group. “Editor appointments are confidential between editors and ACS governance.”

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Ex chemist (Wed Mar 05 20:43:02 EST 2014)
This article goes too far in clearing Dorta of falsification.

1. There was a request for falsification (calls into question rest of his work).

2. Several of the elemental analyses claimed in the journal had to be pulled from the new paper. IOW, he could not provide evidence for that work.

3. In other cases, he redid the analyses and it appears (it's ambiguous) that this is in lieu of original evidence. In any case, it's very questionable why some work had to be redone, why all of it was not redone. (NMRs accepted instead.) While using a lower resolution analysis may be worthwhile at original submission (as a tradeoff of time versus benefit), this is not the case once the work was questioned for falsification.

4. Several mistakes in the details of the chemistry (stereochemistry, etc.) were identified. This is not strictly a case of NO changes to the science.

5. The yield was revised (down) and two analyses where solvent was claimed, now had solvent removed. Note that both original mistakes were "in the direction" of favoring the researchers (making the work look better). Also, both of these errors are ones where the community has had ongoing discussion, prior to this paper, of a trend for padding/exaggerating.

6. The correction is so massive that it is very hard to read back and forth to the original paper along with the correction. A retraction and new paper was more warranted (for reader interest).

7. The handling of the whole affair has favored the interests of the researchers and the journal more than the readers. Note also that C&E has a conflict of interest in covering this case as it was an ACS journal.

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