Thursday, August 23, 2012

WWWTP? Time's Aspirin Structure Causes Headache

While reading through the 2012 "Time 100" issue, I happened across a flow chart with a certain chemical structure. The chart, dubbed "Influence: A Brief History" (also a couched ad for Citibank) details epochal moments in human innovation, from Frankenstein to Dolly the cloned sheep.

Next time, how about using SciFinder? Or an encyclopedia?
Or Google Images? Or Wikipedia? Or...asking me?
Under the heading '19th Century' came the usual suspects: Edison, Marx, Bell...and the 1899 patent for aspirin. You'd think that a major news magazine would fact-check the structure of arguably the most popular drug in history, right? You'd be wrong.

What's missing? Well, for one, that's not even the right molecule! There's an extra methyl, and we're missing an acid proton. Furthermore, even if that structure were correct, you're missing all the charges: O should have a "+," and the COO a "minus."

Maybe that's why the "penicillin" graphic (1928) wisely depicts just a blue injection bottle.

Dear Time Magazine: We have to have a heart-to-heart. This isn't the first time you've published scientific snafus, and I know it won't be the last. I'd like to help. Hell, I'd even volunteer! If any Time editors have questions about chemical structures or terminology, please let me know, before you hit "publish" on yet another chemical mishap.


  1. I wonder whether the compound shown could actually exist or if the methyl would instantly transfer to the other carboxyl. The meta & para isomers would be interesting too. This reminds me of the compound that reacted faster in the solid form than as a liquid because the crystal structure held the reactive groups close together.

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