B.R.S.M. To strive, to seek, to find and not to give a yield


A Little Self Deprecation in Tetrahedron

This caught my eye while reading Tetrahedron this morning. At first I thought it was a mistake, but then I realised that it was also in the PDF as well, presumably okayed by the authors. I think it's pretty funny to see this title in the TOC with 'Orginal Research Article' next to it:

Strangely, the rest of the paper seems quite confident. I guess time will tell.

Filed under: Ask the audience, Current Literature, Fun | 30,932 views | 3 comments 3 Comments

And Now For Something Completely Different 3: Some Tips On Style

Heres a little something I wrote on the flight back from the conference I attended before Christmas. It didn't quite turn out right, which is why you haven't seen it yet, but I'm a bit busy and uninspired right now so I've dredged it out for your enjoyment.

Answer: All of them, obviously

As anyone who has ever read a paper will know, scientific English is a bit different from the stuff we speak around the coffee table (and what you’ll read here). Basically, the aim of academic writing is to sound as intelligent as you can while still being quite vague. Language should be as grandiloquent as possible, to the point of obfuscation, and common words must never be used when more bookish ones are available. There are several classic papers which I needed a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary to decode. And I’m fine with that; that’s how it should be.[1]

Unfortunately, in recent years, the primary literature has become increasingly accessible and easy to read. It all began with the advent of Chemdraw, robbing the world of the beauty of stencilled/hand drawn structures, and the unabated simplification of the language still proceeds apace. This must stop. It is not acceptable to write that reactions ‘give’ or ‘yield’ particular compounds. Words like ‘furnish’, ‘afford’ or even ‘educe’ are far superior, and one should try to use a different one in each instance. Here are a few further ways to decrease the readability of your work and frustrate and confuse native and non-native English speakers alike. Just remember, you’re really doing them a favour.[2]

Filed under: ANFSCD, Fun, Literature | 47,004 views | 26 comments Continue reading

On Retrosynthesis, Logic and Swords

Dear internet, I'm a little busy this weekend, so please accept this rambling semi-rant and I promise I'll put up some real content soon.


Has anyone else noticed the variety of arrows used in retrosyntheses in the literature? A lot of people seem to be using closed arrows these days (for a recent example from someone who should know better, see the abstract of Baran's cortistatin full paper from last month), rather than the more traditional open ended ones (Þ).  I can't easily give an example of the incorrect kind above, because as far as I can tell there isn't a character for it in any font. That's because, as far as I know, it doesn't mean anything. The open arrow, on the other hand, predates the concept of retrosynthesis by a long way, as it's the logical operator for the  implication relation. So A Þ B means that the presence of A implies B. Which kind of makes sense. Eager to find a supportive quote from E. J. Corey, who coined the term retrosynthesis, I dug out my copy of The Logic of Chemical Synthesis, and was pleased to find the following:

"It is customary to use a double arrow (Þ) for the retrosynthetic direction in drawing transforms..."[1]

Excellent. However, during my search this sentence in the preceding paragraph caught my eye:

"Woodward’s account of the state of “organic” synthesis in a volume dedicated to Robert Robinson on the occasion of his 70th birthday indicates the spirit of the times. Long multistep syntheses of 20 or more steps could be undertaken with confidence despite the Damocles sword of synthesis - only one step need fail for the entire project to meet sudden death."

I've never heard anyone talk about the "Damocles sword of synthesis" before, but I think it nicely describes the feeling of impending doom which I've felt a few times during my time as a synthetic chemist. If you didn't get the benefit of a classical education, let me explain the origin of this phrase (with a little help from the wikipedia article).

Filed under: Current Literature | 23,451 views | 3 comments Continue reading