Thursday, December 17, 2015

Los Angeles Times on the Harran/AAAS contretemps

Kim Christensen of the Los Angeles Times (one of the original reporters on the Sangji/UCLA beat) covers the Harran/AAAS contretemps. The new news in the article includes comments from Professor Harran's attorney, Thomas O'Brien: 
...Harran’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, declined to directly address the fellowship controversy. 
“Professor Harran has always taken full responsibility as supervisor of the laboratory in which this tragic accident occurred,” O’Brien said. “He remains committed to pushing for increased safety in academic laboratories as he continues his groundbreaking research.”
...UCLA officials said in a statement that Harran has “a well-deserved reputation as one of the most creative and influential synthetic organic chemists of his generation” and should receive the fellowship. 
“The December 2008 laboratory accident was a terrible tragedy and Prof. Harran and the Regents remain dedicated to improving lab safety and abiding by all the terms of their agreements with the District Attorney,” it said. “It is our belief, however, that the understandably strong feelings that surround this tragic accident should not negate Prof. Harran’s important work and this substantial honor.”
I think the adjectives and adverbs are doing yeoman's work in these statements.


  1. I find this laughable: "Professor Harran has ALWAYS taken full responsibility as supervisor..."

    If by "always" you mean it took a criminal indictment and several years of litigation to get him to take full responsibility, then yes, "always."

    There is no doubt that he one of the most creative and influential synthetic chemists of our time. That's not up for debate. It's the "should receive the fellowship..." part that is debatable.

    1. After some small amount of grief by my organic chemist colleagues: "There is no doubt that he is "a" creative and influential synthetic chemist of our generation."

    2. There's probably quite a few chemists I would put ahead of him in a ranking. He and his lab have done some neat stuff (diazonamide A), but I don't know who would have a (roughly) comparable chemical/publication record. I don't know his methodology work, and without lots of big-name NP syntheses, I would be likely to (over)rate people with methodology higher than synthetic work, because it's compact and easier to see places to use. Influence is tougher, but that seems to get made more by methodology than total synthesis, as well.

      Trying to prosecute the prosecutor doesn't exactly seem like an "always taking responsibility" tactic, either.

  2. Fucking lawyers. They are just as bad as faculty members like Harran.

    1. I'm a faculty member and my sibling is a lawyer. I've joked to my parents that we're like Walter White and Saul Goodman.