Structure fumble sinks second of author’s JACS papers

jacsat_v136i001.inddProof that organic chemistry is hard for everyone, not just pre-meds: A paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society was retracted after the structures of compounds being studied were “misassigned.”

Another study by author Doo Ok Jang, also in JACS, was retracted in 2013 for the same reason; you can read our coverage here. Jang and Sang Yoon Kim published that one in 2008; the paper we’re talking about today was published in 2010 by Jang and Sung Jun Kim.

Here’s the notice for “Indium-Mediated Catalytic Enantioselective Allylation of N-Benzoylhydrazones Using a Protonated Chiral Amine:”

The structures of the major compounds in this study, [1aH]+ and [1bH]+, were misassigned, and hence the reaction mechanism reported in the Communication is incorrect. Accordingly, the main conclusions of the work no longer stand, and the authors retract this publication.

The paper has been cited 21 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We reached out to ACS, the publisher, and were told it is against journal policy to comment on retractions. We’ve also emailed the corresponding author, and will report back with any new information.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

4 thoughts on “Structure fumble sinks second of author’s JACS papers”

  1. As for an increasing number of papers, we are noticing one thing: scientists are human; so, too, are editors and peers. It should not be a reason to feel ashamed to admit human weakness. But then, it should not be a reason to play arrogant either or to admit, by the editor / publisher / journal that traditional peer review is imperfect and porous. I am not an organic chemist, but I would expect that the alignment of major compounds would have been a basic issue that should have been identified early on in the experiment, way before even the paper was drafted. Could this indicate, perhaps, that the authors were cognizant of the error, but tried to get it pushed through anyway (and successfully so)? The retraction notice is completely unhelpful and does not indicate if the error was reported by a reader, or by the authors themselves. From what I can tell, JACS is no push-over journal (just like some other high-profile journals like PNAS, JBC, Nature, Cell, etc, where we have witnessed other high-profile retractions), so it begs the question, how would such a basic issue have been missed by the peer reviewers during peer review? I think, more and more, not only the authors should be held accountable. There should be accountability on all sides. After all, it is the editor / publisher / journal that conducts peer review, so the editor board and peer reviewers also have to be held accountable, publically. Should we, the scientists, not start to demand the forceful release of “peer reports” for retracted papers, even those that have been retracted in the past?

    On a separate issue, I strongly believe in a movement that will force COPE to include an accountability clause for its “paying clients / members” that makes them more accountable for the porosity of their members’ journals’ peer reviews, and not simply offer them blind protection (in exchange for an annual fee). The COPE members’ page ( is irritating because it is impossible to automatically search for members except by scrolling through dozens/hundreds of pages (purposeful irritant?), so it is difficult to identify if JACS is specifically a COPE member, even if the publisher, ACS, is ( JACS is listed under ACS on the COPE list, but it does not specifically state that JACS is a COPE member:
    The JACS Publishing ethics page does NOT specifically indicate that JACS is a COPE member (even if ACS is), nor does it state that it abides by COPE’s “ethics” guidelines:
    Nor does the Information for Authors page state anything, either:

    Is the entire scientific community sleeping about these fine-scale details, or am I the only one detecting these inconsistencies about COPE members?

    1. Great point on accountability. If a journal (or its peer reviewer) is in no way affected by (and remain therefore completely disinterested in) what it publishes, why the heck would or should we continue to care about the journal at all?

      I know this involves a lot of people kicking the habit for the accustomed peer review, but as the technology evolves, our way for publishing research need to do the same thing as well.

    2. Has anyone ever though that it might be possible to improve the quality of peer review by — dare I say it — paying peer reviewers?

  2. The supporting information to that paper reports elemental analyses for complex cinchona alkaloid salts as follows:
    “Anal. calcd for C34H32N2O2: C, 81.57; H, 6.44; N, 5.60. Found: C, 81.57; H, 6.46; N, 5.62.”
    “Anal. calcd for C34H33F6N2O2P: C, 63.16; H, 5.14; N, 4.33. Found: C, 63.18; H, 5.17; N, 4.34.”

    Furthermore, those salts were reported as “yellow oil” or “yellowish colored syrup”, respectively – clearly, they were not pure.
    Any organic chemist looking the above values will think a thing or two… (hint: the difference between calculated and “measured” values is very small, and the deviation is always in the same direction).

    Also, the experimental part is not overly professional. The quantities of solid materials are given with less accuracy than is usual.

    In my opinion, it could well be the reason for the retraction is not simply a “misassignment” – which would not make the results of that paper any less remarkable than they are. The authors could simply have reported the correct structure of the catalyst and corrected the paper.

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