Paper claiming a way to “print any drug instantly” gets unprinted

ddtA recent paper proposing a way to “print any drug instantly” has been withdrawn by the author, following bewildered reactions from the blogosphere.

The paper made the rounds at various chemistry-focused blogs last month. Derek Lowe of In The Pipeline picked up on it too, calling the article

one of the oddest papers to appear in Drug Discovery Today, which is saying something.

Apparently, the author — or someone claiming to be the author, using the initials YC — wasn’t crazy about the criticism. He left this comment on In The Pipeline and elsewhere:

I am the author of this paper. I think it time to stop this discussion so I decide to withdraw this accepted paper to avoid be insult any more. I wish our team can really construct a prototype of this technique even only a little progress. I had got tenure for more than five year and I really do not need this paper to get tenure. Please end of this discussion since I had email to the editor to ask withdraw this paper. BTW, this paper had been reviewed by three reviewers and revised for third version and revised by two editor. So I had revised it more than six version and check all the references. So please do not insult drug discovery today’ judgment. Just blame on me. I wish I can publish again five years latter with a solid evidence and experiment. Thank you all. You guy are really hurt me very badly.

Indeed, here’s the notice — a deeply uninformative one, we note — at Drug Discovery Today:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause. The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at

The same YC — or at least, we assume that’s the case — also left what he claimed were the peer reviewers’ comments on another chemistry blog. As Lowe put it:

Many of them don’t sound like the comments I might have expected.

20 thoughts on “Paper claiming a way to “print any drug instantly” gets unprinted”

  1. This is the best reason for retraction that I have ever seen.

    “You people are harassing me, and I don’t need this paper for tenure anymore, so to hell with it.”

  2. The entire reply chain on has got to be someone posing as the author. There is no way I can believe that the commenter, who claims to be tenured and approaching retirement, cannot respond effectively to the many criticisms brought up.

    But even more suspicious is that he then remarks: “I had take several dispression drug. i wish I had a drugprinter right here just beside me. PRINT more depression drug for me….:( but maybe only few molecular!”

    I’m really hoping, for the author’s sake, that this was a troll.

    1. Something sounds really fishy here. I have not read the paper, or the criticisms on blogs, so I cannot comment deeply. But I do have two things to say. Firstly, the ability to use a 3D printer to produce a drug sounds like a brilliant idea, if that is what is (was) being promoted in this paper. I see this as a massive way to undermine the billions in profits by BIG PHARMA and thus attacks on his paper might be pure business trolling to undermine his efforts. Think about it, apart from cheaper generics, the pharmaceutical industry makes billions in profits every year, even selling drugs that actually do nothing (placebos). So, someone who could 3D print a drug is as revolutionary as Einstein, in my view. But, they are taking big pharma’s horns, head on. This is where I disagree with a retraction. A revolutionary idea such as this one, no matter how bizarre or odd should remain in the literature, even if there are flaws. Because it represents a natural stage 0 in scientific discovery. A prototype of sorts. Then, others can come along and perfect the idea. It sounds really strange that a revolutionary scientist would retract his own revolutionary paper. Who cares about what people say on the blogosphere?! The other concern I have relates to the grammar of the “apparent author YC”. Are the comments posted as “the author” truly the author, or a possible impostor who is not a native English speaker? Dr. Chen, who is at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is no third rate research center, seems to be quite fluent in English, as far as I can tell from a fairly high level publishing CV, so something is not gelling here… Finally, why can we not see the full article with a red stamped RETRACTED, as is customary of Elsevier retracted papers? Something odd, something very, very odd indeed.

      1. ” Firstly, the ability to use a 3D printer to produce a drug sounds like a brilliant idea, if that is what is (was) being promoted in this paper”

        Not so. You have to extrude diverse atoms from a print head so that the spacing between atoms extruded is close enough to make a complex molecule, say a matrix of extruders, delivering individual atoms 3 nm. Your precision of where the print head is has to be +/- 1/100 of bond distance, say 0.02 nm and you need to build the head out of something thinner and stronger than normal matter, but that will not react with any of the elements, in atomic form.

        1. Neuroskeptic, I appreciate your criticsm, but I am not defending this paper in particular. I am concerned about the concept of retracting papers that might represent radically innovative ideas simply because the critics don’t like it. As I said, I did not read the paper, I am commenting exclusively on the circumstances surrounding the irritated way in which Chen retracted his own efforts. Firstly, let’s look at the publishing context. This is not some rubbish journal that is listed on Beall’s predatory list. This is an established, apparently respected, peer-reviewed specialist journal published by the world’s No. 1 publisher, Elsevier Ltd. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Based on this factual basis, one would assume that peer review was solid, that professionals carefully assessed and approved the publication of this paper by an established MIT scientist, based on careful scrutiny and analysis. If criticism of this novel idea was so harsh on blogs, then why didn’t the Elsevier editorial + peer teams detect such profound errors? Surely this then reflects more about Elsevier’s sloppiness than about Chen’s bruised feelings? Don’t slog the scientist for being innovative, slog the Elsevier system which is defunct and sloppy, or ineffective. Science and a scientific paper are not borne perfect. Publishing was originally meant to be a way to express ideas, even if imperfect, so that they could be perfected and improved by others who would read them, gain ideas and retest them or build new ones. It is astonishing how far science publishing has strayed from what I believe to be the initial purpose of publishing. What retractions are starting to become is a witch-hunting crack-down of critics and the competition of competing ideologies. I agree with YC to sme extent: to hell with the paper. Why have such stress about a paper? Undoubtedly Chen publishe dit because he believed in its content. He claims to have derived no benefit from it, which suggests that his purpose was purely academic. And, frankly speaking, who gives a shyt about Elsevier, anyway? Go ahead and publish it in a predatory Beall journal or self-publish it. Scientists now have options. This ridiculous and sad dependence on Elsevier is beyond me. If I were Chen, I would switch off his radar, assess the criticisms made, adjust his cnclusions, self-publish and get on wth his personal purpose on this planet.

          1. Chen retracted himself. No one forced him to do so. If he had published it in a predatory journal (which he actually has done) he might not have gotten as much attention, but people would still have ridiculed it.

          2. Sorry, I may have written this unclear: he did not publish this paper in a predatory journal. I even have to retract my statement that he has published in predatory journals before, since I forgot that Beall had removed Hindawi from his list.

            However, Chang is on the Editorial Board of Journal of Software Engineering and Applications, a SCIRP journal, on the board of Drug Designing: Open Access, an OMICS journal, that of Schcolarly Journal in Biological Sciences, a Scholarly Journals publication, and on that of Journal of Macromolecular Networks and Structural Biology, which is a Science Q Publishing Group journal. He’s also the Editor-in-Chief of a BioInfo Publications journal, the World Research Journal of Computer-Aided Drug Design.

            All are on Beall’s list, for what it’s worth

          3. why was HIndawi removed from Beall’s list? Something needs to be explained – or was the explanation given?

          4. JATdS: “So, someone who could 3D print a drug is as revolutionary as Einstein”

            Yes, if they *could* 3D print a drug. The paper contained absolutely no results, no experiments, just some wishful thinking with zero consideration for chemical reactivity. It wasn’t innovative, and it wasn’t something that others could have built on and perfected.

            It’s probably hard to believe that the paper was as poor as described on the various blogs if you haven’t read it. If you want to see it, email me ([username] [at] gmail [dot] com) and I’ll send you the pdf.

            You’re right that the real story is the failure of DDT’s peer review. That embarrassment is probably the reason that they’ve taken it down completely rather than just labelling it ‘retracted’. That said, they might have a get-out in their retraction policy because the final version was yet to be published (it was an Accepted Manuscript, i.e., the author’s version before technical editing).

          5. “What retractions are starting to become is a witch-hunting crack-down of critics and the competition of competing ideologies.”
            JATdS, you are correct. It’s a new weapon that can be used to silence opponents. What people forget, though, is that it will be used against them by their own opponents as well.

          6. I’m not really sure how associated with MIT the author actually is. If you can find some measure of affiliation on MIT’s website (I can’t find any indications of him being a researcher there, much less a PI, as some of his biographies claim), that would be helpful, but I can’t find one.

            Regardless, JATdS, I think you may be misinterpreting the actual scope/place of papers like this–it’s not in a mainstream, evidence-based journal.

      2. Why would this 3D printer undermine “BIG PHARMA”?

        As we say in pharmaceutics, an active compound is not the same as a drug product. In fact, the two are so different that the pharmaceutical industry has wasted billions blindly going after high throughput methods to test for active compounds, only to find that most cannot be formulated into a useful product or have major side-effects.

        For small molecules the costs are also mostly not in the actual synthesis.

        1. My critics fail to see my point. This is a so-called peer reviewed journal. If it is such a bad paper, then how could it have been accepted in an IF = 6.551 journal*? Allow me to state that approx. 95% of all plant science journals have an IF less than 5, so, if the IF were a true meausre of academic quality, then this would, in plant science publishing terms, be extremely high level (for exmaple, a premier excellent high quality journal, Journal of Experimental Botany, only has an IF = 5.42**). I understand that we can’t compare horses with sheep, but you gte my drift, I hope. No matter what the actual or perceived problems of this paper are, this highlights the total farse that underlies “peer” review in several/many of Elseviers lauded journals, and possibly fortifies the notion that peer review is inconsistent, sloppy, fallible, and grossly negatively correlated with the impact factor, as supported by this case. I claim that too many critics of scientists are trying to pin down Chen when in fact who should be pinned down should be Elsevier. What I am saying is crucify, if you must, the bad peer review and the editorial board for not detecting the errors. BUt give Chen the opportunity of retaining his novelty. No need to retract a novel idea simply because it’s not perfect. That is the function of others who come after him, to correct his mistakes and build on the literature. Thinking otherwise about Chen’s paper, or any other scientist’s paper for that matter, would be trying to slay the essence of scientific thinking. Maybe that’s what is taking place in science at the moment with this wave of retractions?


          1. This paper is withdrawn by author not because of fabricating data or defect. So it is not call “retraction” at all.

      3. To answer your last question, the article was “withdrawn” not “retracted”, meaning it was the author’s decision and not the publisher’s. Hence Elsevier cannot anymore show the contents of the article even if marked as inadequate.

  3. I should add that the analysis of deaths was made only using the whites group of the study. The diabetes included both groups. It doesn’t make much difference except the non-whites is more balanced as regards non MI, stroke or CVD deaths.

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