Friday, October 25, 2013

A very interesting alternative career in chemistry: Doug Taber, literature searcher

Doug Taber is a well-known chemistry professor at the University of Delaware -- he writes the Organic Chemistry Highlights series (with Tristan Lambert.) You can get it e-mailed to you, which I do; I suspect that it is some of the earliest academic chemblogging online. Anyway, this was an interesting e-mail that I got in my inbox this week titled "Organic Search Service" (emphasis mine):
Need a recipe for an organic transformation? Aldehyde to oxime to nitrile not working?  Need to add three carbons to an acid to make the 1,4-keto aldehyde? Since the mid-1970’s, I have been building a database of organic transformations, from reducing a ketone in the presence of an aldehyde (and vice versa) to methods for isoxazole synthesis.  Now that I have retired from teaching, I can offer an inexpensive search service. Just email me the search, we will discuss back and forth until it is clear exactly what is wanted, and I will send you brief descriptions with references.  The cost?  $100 search, or $2000/25 searches in a year, $10,000/150 searches in a year, payable ahead of time.  I will only charge for the search if the customer is satisfied. This is more economical than SciFinder, and more efficient, since the results are intelligently filtered.

What about those two searches?

Aldehyde to nitrile, other than oxime dehydration:
Dimethylhydrazine + propylene oxide: Synthesis 1979: 301
Ammonia + iodine: JOC 68: 1158; TL 42: 1103; 49: 2213
Ammonia + other oxidant: Syn Comm 1979: 529; Synlett 2003: 143; 2003: 262
Oxidation of hydrazone: JACS 122: 4526; JOC 61: 1159; TL 29: 811; 34: 141; 39: 2009; 47: 8969
With NaN3/SiCl4: TL 36: 2639
From lactol, via azide: ACIE 33: 751
By free radical fragmentation/cyanation: JOC 65: 3961

Acid chloride to 1,4-keto aldehyde:  a-silyloxy allyltrimethyl silane/TiCl4, JOC 53: 2551 (1978)

If you would like to know more, send me an email (CJ's note: taberdf -at- udel/dot/edu), or give me a call.
He then gives his cell phone number, which I was a little bit surprised at.

I can't say that I'm completely shocked at the existence of such a service, but I think that it is interesting that he is monetizing his personal list of references - not a terrible idea, really. Also, I think that he says that it's more economical than SciFinder (true!) and more intelligently filtered (definitely true.) I wonder what other literature searchers/consultants charge, and how it compares.

I am interested to see if his price point is reasonable and who will use it -- industrial researchers? I might use it for work, but it'll be one-off sorts of things. I wonder if his prices will be negotiable? Hmmmm. 


  1. Good for him. I wish I had thought of that.
    But certainly much much cheaper than SciFinder. If I was still in industry I may well have used this service.

  2. I'm not sure any of us could duplicate what he is doing. For one, we're all using SciFinder for our searches; he's not conducting online searches using commercial software and relaying the results (which seems like it would have to be illegal). Instead, he's been combing the literature for decades and cataloging reactions on 3x5 index cards. He's built up an impressive filing cabinet of cards (I've seen it); and there is some equally elaborate system of hole punches in the cards that allows him to "search" for transformations (I still can't comprehend how that works, but I've heard it is really impressive).

    1. Maybe he could digitize that collection, or put it into a book like the LaRock's Comprehensive Organic Transformations? This seems like it could reach a wider audience, but he could still make $ by consulting.

  3. scifinder should send some hired goons over to trash his place

    1. I'll do it for the months rent....