Did a McLuhan moment lead to retraction in Chemistry — A European Journal?

The authors of a chemistry paper are retracting it after a Columbia University chemistry researcher pointed out a fatal misinterpretation of his own work in it.

Here’s the notice in Chemistry — A European Journal:

The following article from Chemistry – A European Journal, Unraveling Solvent-Mediated Reaction Pathways Leading to Regiospecific Mechanochemical Cleavage of Disulfide Bonds in Peptides by Padmesh Anjukandi and Dominik Marx, published online on July 17, 2012 in Wiley Online Library (http://www.onlinelibrary. wiley.com/), has been retracted by agreement between the authors, the journal Editor-in-Chief, Neville Compton, and Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. The retraction has been agreed due to the fact that although all the data reported in the figures of the main manuscript and in the supporting information are correct they do not support the essential conclusion of the authors that solvent-mediation explains the regiospecificity of mechanochemical cleavage of disulfide bonds in this peptide. This can be traced back to a misinterpretation of experimental data in Ref. [7] in the main manuscript, for which the authors accept full responsibility. Thus, the puzzle to explain the experimentally observed regiospecificities remains an open one. The authors are grateful to Dr. Jorge Allegre-Cebollada for pointing out their misinterpretation of the aforementioned experimental data and thank him for subsequent fruitful discussions.

Allegre-Cebollada — a post-doc at Columbia — is the first author of reference 7, a paper in Nature Chemistry. We’ve tried to contact him, as well as the authors of the paper and the editor’s journal, and will update with anything we learn. Whatever the circumstances under which this happened, the authors seem to have been doing all they could — and swiftly — to clean up the scientific record.

In the meantime, the notice reminded us of one of the best scenes in Annie Hall, when Woody Allen conjures up Marshall McLuhan to administer an intellectual beat-down on a particularly pretentious moviegoer. Courtesy of IMDB:

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen): He can give it… do you have to give it so loud? I mean, aren’t you ashamed to pontificate like that? And the funny part of it is, Marshall McLuhan, you don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan!
Man in theater line: Oh, really? Well, it just so happens I teach a class at Columbia called “TV, Media and Culture.” So I think my insights into Mr. McLuhan, well, have a great deal of validity!
Alvy Singer: Oh, do ya? Well, that’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here, so, so, yeah, just let me…
[pulls McLuhan out from behind a nearby poster]
Alvy Singer: come over here for a second… tell him!
Marshall McLuhan: I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!
Alvy Singer: Boy, if life were only like this!

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