Instant peer review by web 2.0

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Now this is unusual. First, take a look at the title of this slightly odd paper recently published in JACS: “Oxidation of Secondary Alcohols by Sodium Hydride”

If your gut reaction was something in the lines of “Oxidation by what?“, you are in good company. Not long after publication several readers smelled a rat and hi-jacked a comments thread at totally synthetic to discuss the strange result.

The whole paper is, upon closer inspection, plain weird, especially some of the proposed stoichiometries. I suggest you take a look at it yourselves. It is rather difficult to believe that you can add NaH to an alcohol and get it back afterwards.

Anyway, the whole suspicious affair prompted Paul Docherty to try the proposed reaction himself and liveblog the whole experiment. You can read the result here.

It seems that there actually is an oxidation taking place, albeit due to some trace oxidant, probably oxygen. Apparently the whole thing is the result of rather sloppy lab work and – I suspect – pressure to publish as quickly as possible.

This is probably the first time when scientist used the web to test a fishy result nearly instantly after publication and, most important, open to the wider public. this is how science should work.

(via the great beyond)

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3 Responses to “Instant peer review by web 2.0”

  1. olchemist Says:

    Another test. This time by the open notebook science pioneers: http://usefulchem.blogspot.com/2009/08/our-attempt-to-reproduce-oxidation-by.html

  2. David Eckensberger Says:

    Well, what to say about this?
    First, I totally agree with Lars Fischer’s comment “this is how science should work” – something weired comes up and is tested immediately by the scientific community. Secondly, this article (the one of the chinese guys) points to a very interesting and (more and more) vitally discussed problem in science: peer reviewing!
    This tool, invented to make sure, that such nonsense (as it apears to be) will NOT be published, semms to be more and more counterproductive. As the reviewers are often “good friends” of the author (in the end, they’re all working in the same field, so it’s quite normal that they know each other, maybe from conferences on a more personal level…), there’s a high risk for what one could name as “hawks will not pick out hawks’ eyes”.
    Maybe the scientific community should start publishing their works without this reviewing process but including all analytical data and so on so other researchers can check these results immediately without having the problem of some “accidentally missing” information. In fact this would be more like a “wikipedia-aproach” to science, but maybe the time ist right, when such papers can be published in JACS!

  3. Lars Fischer Says:

    Bora Zivkovic from PLoS ONE is a very vocal proponent of such a wiki-approach to scientific publishing:

    …the paper will stop being a discrete entity in the sense of something that has a publication date, where all of it is published at one moment in one journal. Rather different parts of a study will show up at different times. Somebody somewhere online will come up with the idea. Then another one is going to rephrase that idea and form a hypothesis, and finally someone will come up with an experiment and everyone is going to comment on that. There’s massive peer review at every step, in form of comments that refine the experimental protocol.

    In the end a person is going to say, “Hey, I got that equipment in my lab to do this experiment and I’m gonna do it.” And he then directly screens the raw data from his machine to the web, another person is trying to analyze the data, and others interpret it, with many many people commenting on it and constantly refining the result and correct and criticise, until after some time, that can be a week or years, you have a unit where you say, OK, that’s what we’ve got, that was the idea.

    The complete interview is available here.

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