Nature Chemistry | The Sceptical Chymist

On the ball

For those of you not afflicted by World Cup fever, turn away now.

For the rest of us addicts, it’s finally here…

Despite England’s tepid performances we are through to the second round and now that Rooney’s back, we’re obviously going all the way to the final. Of course we are. Seriously. Come on now, stop laughing.

I’ve noticed that one or two chem blogs out there have also turned their attention to Germany 2006, including Paul at The Endless Frontier who is spurring on Team USA (who won’t be going to the final, or even the second round – sorry Paul). Also check out the special feature at

Just how distracting/addictive/consuming is the World Cup?

A recent story reports that the World Cup may cost the British economy a staggering £4 billion in lost productivity – although not as many people may stay away from work as they did four years ago, the broadcast of the games live on the web by the BBC is likely to have a significant impact (I was going to put the link in here, but then I would feel partially responsible for that £4 billion – and of course, I have no idea what the link is and have no intention of going there…). Another study, however, claims that the influence of the World Cup may be just the opposite and that it may lead to increased motivation and foster greater team spirit.

This all reminded me of a review article published by K C Nicolaou back in 1996 concerning the total synthesis of brevetoxin B. In the final stages of the synthesis, there was an unexpected delay, which is best described in Nicolaou’s own words:

Projections were made that by the end of August 1994 we would reach our destination and submit the papers for publication early in September. I was convinced that these five men would carry out their mission as planned, for by then I was well aware of their talents and commitment. As it happened, one more August would come and go before we would arrive at “Ithaca”. In my calculations, I had neglected a small detail, a detail that became an important factor, and one that “Poseidon” would exploit at our expense and inflict one more delay before the final success…

During the summer of 1994, when the final campaign towards brevetoxin B was taking place, the World Cup in Soccer was hosted in the U. S., and all the members of the brevetoxin B team were either European or Japanese! Placing such soccer fanatics on the team for this highly demanding operation was rather unfortunate. Well, you can never think of everything in total synthesis! Brevetoxin B could not, however, escape for much longer, and before the end of the fall in that year it was destined to yield to the enthusiasm and pressure of these relentless professionals. Needless to say, this victory was to serve well as a consolation to each one of them for their countries’ not winning the World Cup!

So there you have it, World Cup fever may or may not be bad for business, but it certainly gets in the way of lab work. Now, which games are on today…


Stuart Cantrill (Associate Editor, Nature Nanotechnology)


  1. Report this comment

    Paul said:

    The Nature World Cup site is great. Where would the scientific community be without articles such as “Sex Before the Big Game?” Someone should conduct a study if similar activity would improve my lab technique, resulting in higher yields and purer products. Volunteer research subjects should leave their contact info in this thread.

    As for our chances, there’s still hope. A US win over the Azzurri, while improbable, is not out of the question. But since I’m half-English, I stand ready to throw my support behind Engerland when our run ends. You can’t see it, but I’m doing the robot right now.

  2. Report this comment

    Stuart said:

    Shame you’re not half-Argentinian instead, they just demolished Serbia et al. 6-0…

  3. Report this comment

    Klug said:

    A longstanding complaint: why is it that KCN gets to write about the dedication of his students while the rest of academia chooses not to?

  4. Report this comment

    Vinny said:

    Reply to Klug: Surprising, actually that KCN would complain about lack of productivity. The World Cup being held in the US, the games would mostly be broadcast at 6 or 9 PM, which is a fairly acceptable time to leave for a couple of hours, watch a game, then do some more science – unless you’ve had too much Guinness.

    Imagine this year: the Cup’s in Europe, so that all games happen between 9AM and 5PM (Eastern time) or 6AM and 2 PM (Pacific time). Tell me about lost productivity!

  5. Report this comment

    Stuart said:

    Anjana Ahuja at The Times is not all that impressed with the Royal Society of Chemistry’s World Cup Press Release. Go here and scroll down the page – it’s after the Guantanamo piece.