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more rigorously

Manipulated impurities

The journal Organic Letters, published by the American Chemical Society, recently hired a data analyst to work with its editorial staff in checking the articles submitted for publication more rigorously. He discovered problems that had passed unnoticed. Chief among them was the removal of data that indicated the presence of impurities in the compounds analyzed. Work in organic synthesis requires analysis of the purity of the compounds prepared, because many conclusions depend on this. “In general, this is done through nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy or chromatographic methods,” explained Ronaldo Pilli, professor at the University of Campinas Institute of Chemistry and an expert in organic synthesis.

The editors of Organic Letters found that spectra had been manipulated, which distorted the information. “Even if the experimental results or conclusions of the study are not affected, any data manipulation casts doubt on the integrity and validity of the work,” wrote Amos Smith III, editor of the journal. In some cases, the corresponding author—who submitted the article on behalf of all the co-authors—said the manipulation was done by students without his knowledge. “This is not an acceptable excuse,” Smith said, noting that the corresponding author is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the research. “The good news is that violations are found in only a small fraction of the data submitted to the journal.”