With reference to the mention of my original work on proline catalysis in the ACS national award vignette for Benjamin List, it is stated that “the reactions’ mechanics were ill defined, and they therefore had been widely viewed as exotic exceptions to the prevailing dogma that only enzymes and metal complexes can act as highly enantioselective, synthetically useful catalysts” (C&EN, March 17, page 49).
In other words, it seems the Hajos discovery slowed scientific progress. The fact is that despite early patent filing, it took five years before our paper was published in a prominent ACS journal in 1974. Eleven years later, Claude Agami and associates in Paris were the first to name this proline-catalyzed Robinson annulation the Hajos-Parrish reaction (Chem. Commun. 1985, DOI: 10.1039/c39850000441).
It is possible that a great number of researchers originally overlooked our discovery. This is most likely not because of ill-defined mechanisms but because it resulted from industrial rather than academic research. However, the real giants of synthetic organic chemistry did recognize its value and used it. One outstanding example is the posthumous paper of Robert Burns Woodward in the total synthesis of erythromycin (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1981, DOI: 10.1021/ja00401a049).
I wish to emphasize that at age 88 I am not seeking recognition, just unbiased reporting.
Zoltan G. HajosUpon pondering this letter some (and reading the List summary by J.F. Tremblay that Dr. Hajos was responding to), I might suggest another reason that the Hajos paper didn't get enough attention. It seems to me that academic publishing of a new reaction discovery follows a pattern where there are multiple small publications (Org. Letts, what have you) and then a big JACS communication ultimately followed by traveling seminars and review papers and the like. It seems to me that's not the path that successful industrial reactions (and their discoverers) take, where patenting and commercialization are the end-goals.
Monroe Township, N.J.
There's probably a lot of backstory that I'm not understanding here.
UPDATE: What I am saying, I suppose, is this: A modern academic chemistry discovery comes with a human PR machine (the PI) who is incentivized by tenure, grant proposals, etc. to make a lot of noise about their discovery. Seems to me that's less the case for industrialists. Would be interesting to know if professors back in the day were as determined to get the world to know about their work as PIs seem to be today. (Not that it is a bad thing!)