Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Not much time to blog this morning; I apologize. Thankfully, there's plenty going on elsewhere:

- Paul has decided to take on the Sames-Sezen case; he asserts that it "is the single worst (known) example of misconduct in the history of chemistry; we must learn from it." I'm not convinced of the former, but I heartily agree with the latter.
- Ken and Adam at Chemistry Blog have written up posts on their graduate research; they're a lot more personal than the typical "I published -- ask me anything" post. 
- Can I tell you how much I resent the hell out of this picture?
- Incidentally, Bethany Halford got to the bottom of the incorrect statement that that 42,000 chemist jobs were lost between 2008 and 2009. Again, this statement is NOT true. 
- Sharon is letting folks know that "methylene glycol" and "formaldehyde" are indeed the same. 
- psi*psi asserts that materials chemistry needs synthetic folks -- if so, that's great. In the same thread, polymer chemistry is suggested as a bastion of "making stuff" by AGAM. 

More later, I hope. 


  1. This picture has been the image of chemists since Silent Spring and was shown to be right on by Love Canal. Everytime the county inspector came through my now shuttered laboratories, I was reminded that we chemists are viewed by the outside world exactly as pictured.

  2. Going back to the picture thing, it reminds me how scientists and office personnel are so different. It wasn't long ago that we found out that certain office personnel in our company weren't happy to be in quarters with us. Like they thought they were going to mutate or something like that. Awwwwwwwwww, paaaaahleeeeeeeeaseeeeeee. We get bad rep as it is. Kind of like the X-men and the general public, how they were portayed.

  3. If you can think of an example of misconduct in chemistry that comes even close to Sames/Sezen, I'd be interested to hear of it.

    I can't, which is why I am fairly confident with my statement that S/S is the worst ever that is 1) known and 2) in chemistry.

  4. I didn't know that the mad scientist in the "Robot Chicken" intro is a chemist. LOL!

  5. @Paul: Careful dude! Bengu might unleash the Turkish mafia on you! :D

    How would you compare this to La Clair's hexacyclinol fiasco in ACIE?

  6. LaClair hexacyclinol: No innocent grad students were hurt in the process of faking it, no government funds were used to sponsor the hoax. Plus, piercing the pompous bubble called ACIE might have been a good thing, and the quick and devastating research response to it from Porco group was very impressive. Compare that to several years of grumbling and whispers that Sames chemistry was not quite reproducible, and imagine the unfortunate people who graduated from Dali group and did a good research there.

  7. Ok, if I go to BLS site and look at their data here's what I see :
    Employment, all employees (seasonally adjusted)

    Sept. 2000 978.2
    Sept. 2008 840.8
    Sept. 2009 791.3
    Sept. 2010 778.0

    So may be I'm not looking at the same table as the author of the original piece or the numbers were adjusted but if anything they're worse - 49.5 kjobs lost. I concede the point however - not all these people are chemists, but if you look at the big picture, from Sept 2000 to Sept 2010 US chemical industry shed almost exactly 200,000 jobs, slightly more than 20%. So wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that if the industry as whole lost 20% of jobs then "chemists" proper suffered about the same fate?

  8. @Paul: You gotta love the recent Reactome retraction in Science. It's hard enough for traditional organic chemists to get published there, so the Reactome authors resorted to drawing "Texas-nitrogens" (super-hypervalent amides). In nanotechnology/materials chemistry, the Schön Scandal back in 2002 is probably the most egregious cluster-#### of scientific fraud, peer-review failure, and misappropriation of research funds. At least Schön was thoroughly punished for his misdeeds and a whopping 21 of his papers were withdrawn. It's a royal shame that this epic fail happened during the death throws of Bell Labs.

    @milkshake: In comparison to the Sames-Sezen affair (interpret connotation as you see fit), "oxidizing reductants" from China and NMR-induced ee from Germany seem like minor infractions. The only synthetic chemistry that I find "quite reproducible" is in Org Syn Prep. I remember one time my colleagues and I were trying to make a catalyst reported by a big-name group. We (two grad students AND a postdoc from a respectable group) could detect the desired compound but experienced unreported difficulty in isolating and purifying it. After varying reagent sources, reaction conditions, and even gloveboxes, we finally said "F-this" and pursued another strategy. I guess that catalyst chemistry only works well in the (insert big-shot professor name) group at (insert big-name school) university.

  9. Paul, I think I object to the broadness of the statement. "the history of chemistry"? That's pretty broad.

    If you really mean "the modern history of academic chemical science in the US", yeah, sure, why not? But I don't doubt there's a chemistry graduate student who's offed a professor or two -- surely that would be a rival, no?

  10. Hi, A8:02a:

    If you hadn't already figured it out, I am a believer in making very, very small claims when it comes to employment statistics. Extrapolation is fun, but dangerous.

    Specifically, why do you think that chemists would be affected by layoffs or consolidation proportionally? I could imagine disproportionate impact, either high or low.

  11. I'm not even sure what "making things" means in the context of chemistry. It seems like all of use, excluding the theorists and spectroscopists, makes things. However, without knowing exactly what "making things" means, I am sure polymer chemists do it.

    I'd vote for the Emil Abderhalden pregnancy/dementia tests for BIGGEST MODERN SCANDAL.

  12. What about calling it formalin? The gem-diol is actually a masked aldehyde.

  13. A8:02

    It is a very interesting question, and it can be answered, but before trying to answer it we have to agree on what exactly a "chemist" is. Is it a Ph,D/MS (70+ K/y)-type researcher only? Or can we lump technicians into the same category? What about chemical plant workers?

  14. A2:00p:

    Don't know what you think (or I, either), but here is BLS' definition of a chemist:

    "Conduct qualitative and quantitative chemical analyses or chemical experiments in laboratories for quality or process control or to develop new products or knowledge. Exclude "Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers" (19-2042) and "Biochemists and Biophysicists" (19-1021)."

    I hate to admit it, but that just about says it all.

  15. By "misconduct" I mean scientific misconduct. Offing/killing a professor is criminal, but not scientific misconduct.

  16. Well, if we agree with BLS definition then we have to consider absolute numbers - according to their latest data, there are 79,910 chemists in the US, which is, surprisingly a growth (but barely) over the last 10 years. So if we assume that all of those people are Ph.D's and the average length of stay in the workforce let's say 35 years, we can graduate about 2300 Ph.D's a year, which is about what we have. Unfortunately it doesn't take into account immigration, nor I believe that all of those 80,000 chemists are doctorate holders. You have to account for academic jobs of course, but frankly I don't know how to find out how many new faculty members are tenured each year. In any case, I'll wait for C&EN to dispel my fears and tell me how it's all rainbows and butterflies ahead.