Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fukuyama Mea Culpa in Organic Letters Corrections

Remember all the recent dust-ups over potentially doctored NMR spectra? How about when Organic Letters EIC Amos Smith went on the offensive, hiring a full-time data analyst to sniff out fishy details?

Well, we have a major opening salvo in the war on sketchy Supporting Information (thanks to an anonymous JLC commenter for the tip-off). Seems that Prof. Tohru Fukuyama (U. Tokyo) has issued six simultaneous Org. Lett. corrections in yesterday's ASAP section. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

This is a big deal, not least because Prof. Fukuyama's reputation looms large in the synthetic community, but more because the corrections impact challenging targets from his group (manzamine A, huperzine A, lysergic acid, histrionicotoxin) and span multiple years (2008-2013).

Shockingly, the corrections all admit deletion of solvent peaks or impurities from final, published spectra. This correction announces 20 such "edits." In some instances, when the group re-examines the spectra, they're so unreliable that they cannot correct the record: "Samples included some unknown impurities, thus the exact purity could not be determined."

I'm not sure whether to applaud or condemn the Fukuyama group - if they chose to come forward voluntarily to correct the record, I applaud the effort. However, if they were instead strong-armed by the OL Data Analyst, then a culture of data manipulation has been uncovered at the highest levels of our field (reminder: this is just one journal, hold on for the slate of corrections in other venues).

Wish I could say that this meant "Case Closed," but I think we're only seeing the tip of the corrections iceberg in Organic Letters.


  1. I cannot help be remark that, in the 6 articles, there is one name coming back 5 times. It never comes out as first author though.
    I really hope Pr. Fukuyama was not forced to do so, and, as a French, I REALLY hope Pr. Cossy will issue a full on correction, with the undoctored spectra, instead of that "this manuscript in currently under review" crap...I also note that she still is on the editorial board at Org Lett.

    1. Yokoshima is the associate professor in Fukuyama's group. Actually chemistry professors in Japan have laboratories in a completely different way. Associate professors and assistant professors are not independent but just working as members under a full professor (They are even still doing experiments like other students and Post-docs). In such case, it is very hard to say who is the actual indicator.

    2. Or you can say "super-post-docs"

  2. The "Mega correction" noted a while back at Retraction Watch. Manipulation of data without describing this in the experimental section ("we removed peaks x, y, z,"; "we spliced lanes x, y, z"; "we used fig X form paper y to describe this completely different experiment", etc.) seems to result in mega corrections, rather than plain 'ol retractions. There may be a bit of a trend, though someone needs to look at the individual cases. It is an interesting development, since journals and editors are perhaps putting their heads above the parapet here, in terms of taking one line of action, when others are open.

    1. Can you provide a link?

  3. Another swag of corrections concerning recent total syntheses by Fukuyama et al has this time been published in JACS - so other journals are clearly looking closely at their recently provided supplementary material. How "the changes do not influence any of the conclusions of the article" remains baffling - for a start the yields are likely >20% inflated - check out the original NMR in 'un-tampered' SI - are these corrections really sufficient? If people are prepared to doctor spectra, then they cannot be far away from doctoring results, which means doctored science. Maybe a one-year ban on publishing in ACS journals would be appropriate? The buck stops with the PI and Fukuyama should take full responsibility.

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