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Chemistry paper pwned by live-blog experiments

Here’s a brilliant example of scientists at a chemistry blog providing instant high-quality peer review of an odd paper – complete with live-blogged experimenting.

Spotting a surprising claim in a paper published by the respected Journal of the American Chemical Society (X. Wang et al, J. Am. Chem. Soc., DOI: 10.1021/ja904224y), an organic chemist flagged it with a terse “WTF is going on here?” in the comments thread of an unrelated post at widely-visited chemistry blog, Totally Synthetic.

WTF indeed. The paper claimed that sodium hydride, a strong reducing agent, was acting as an oxidant – converting an alcohol to a ketone.

Less than 24 hours after that alert had appeared online, blog-savvy chemists had repeated the paper’s experiment, and shown that the authors had their reaction right but their mechanism mistaken: some other oxidant (probably trace amounts of oxygen in air) was doing the work. Totally Synthetic’s author, medicinal chemist Paul Docherty, live-blogged his own experiment to kick off the fun.

“This is perhaps the first time that such a ‘web2.0’ approach to chemistry has occurred, and I’m indebted to my readers for their effort!” Docherty tells Chemistry World.


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    Uncle Al said:

    Ph2CH(OH) plus H- to Ph2CH(0-) and H2, no problem. The anion kicks out H- to give Ph2C=O on paper. That atmospheric oxygen is the true hydride acceptor is irrelevant to Official Truth – a high density gas storage tank for the H*Y*D*R*O*G*E*N car.

    Massive Department of Energy funding must investigate crowned and crypted cation hydrides with the benzophenone system in a plethora of solvent systems and then neat. Then di-t-butyl ketone, diadamantyl ketone, and finally fenchone (all natural!). Thermodynamic impossibility cannot be allowed to constrain political desirability. More studies are needed.

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