The Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) and Science are retracting three papers by Craig Hill and colleagues which, we’re told, have been the focus of intense scrutiny within the field since they first appeared in the mid-2000. Hill is an internationally renowned expert in catalysis who has won a slew of awards for his work.
JACS has acted first, issuing two notices recently about the papers it published. The first notice, for 2005’s “A Palladium-Oxo Complex. Stabilization of This Proposed Catalytic Intermediate by an Encapsulating Polytungstate Ligand,” states:
The formulation [for the chemical complex in the paper] is incorrect. The experimental data collected, including single crystal X-ray and neutron diffraction … NMR spectroscopy, extended X-ray absorption fine structure, and several other techniques, are correct. The interpretation and conclusion that a terminal palladium-oxo moiety was present in this complex is incorrect. As a result the authors withdraw this publication.
The paper has been cited 57 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
So it goes for the second retraction notice, of 2007’s “Terminal gold-oxo complexes,” cited 38 times. Again, the formulations are said to be incorrect, while the data are correct.
The interpretation and conclusion that terminal gold-oxo moieties were present in these complexes is incorrect. As a result the authors withdraw this publication.
Both notices refer readers to a paper by Hill and colleagues in Inorganic Chemistry, another publication of the American Chemical Society. However, that article does not yet appear to be published. We have asked the editor of the journal, Richard Eisenberg, for a copy but have yet to receive it.
Science tells us that Hill has notified the journal of his desire to retract the paper, which has been cited 98 times, although the details haven’t been finalized.
We attempted to reach Hill but have not heard back from him yet.
Co-author Travis Anderson, a former post-doc in Hill’s lab who now works at Sandia, hadn’t heard about the retractions when we contacted him this week, but said he wasn’t surprised by the news.
I knew [Hill] was fighting with it but I never got the details.
We’re told that the work upon which these papers were based sparked immediate controversy when Hill first presented the data in 2004 at a meeting in Japan.
One source told us:
They were a big deal in the inorganic chemistry community, of which I am a member. I saw Hill give a talk on them and he detailed the scrutiny he encountered to get them published because they broke through a very significant and long-standing paradigm in the field of metal-oxo complexes. I am very curious to learn what went wrong.
The source continued:
Almost cryptically, the retractions state that all of the data in the original papers is correct, it is the interpretation that is wrong. That’s a bit weird considering the entirety of both papers are being retracted. I do not suspect any wrong doing here, this might be a case of science working correctly, but we’ll have to wait for the Inorg Chem article to appear to tell.
We also learned that at least one scientist in particular, from Germany, has been been vocal about the unreliability of the papers, and we wonder why it has taken the journals as long as eight years to resolve the issue.
We’ve contacted JACS for comment.