Saturday, April 12, 2014


(Reference: JLC1, JLC2, Derek1, Derek2)

Since February 2014, Prof. Tohru Fukuyama's group has issued corrections to 11 published papers in three journals: Angewandte Chemie, Journal of the American Chemical Society, and Organic Letters. Fukuyama's former colleague, Dr. Satoshi Yokoshima (now at Nagoya U), appears as a co-author on 10 of the 11 papers.

Chemical and Engineering News intrepid reporter Beth Halford recently interviewed the two men regarding their ongoing "Correction Crisis." Readers reacted skeptically:
[Sigh]...No, I don't.

Let's look at a few more recent correction scandals. After the Cossy group published some strange spectra, Prof. Cossy wrote a letter to the entire Organic Letters community, saying:
"I reach out here with the hope that all readers might learn from this experience as I certainly have. From now on, I will never let a student or postdoc from my group upload a manuscript and/or Supporting Information file to a journal submission site by themselves"
Succinct, supportive, reflective. Prof. Cossy even allowed the responsible lab member to speak through her, saying "I know my behavior is highly unethical. I am deeply sorry for what I have done."

When the Dorta group published a strange statement in the body of their Supporting Information, Dorta spoke to Organometallics Editor John Gladysz, claiming "...the statement [in the SI] was inappropriate." To my knowledge, Prof. Dorta has never blamed his student coauthor, Emma.

Now, let's take a look at the C&EN article. How do Fukuyama and Yokoshima address their spate of corrections?
“Almost all of our recent research accomplishments are the results of close collaboration between myself, Professor Yokoshima, and our students,” Fukuyama explains.
Team spirit! OK, I'm fine with that. Next? (emphasis mine):
“My impression is that some of my students who deleted minor peaks did not take seriously the idea that the spectroscopic data are important proof of the compounds’ purity,” Fukuyama says. “I myself have never manipulated the spectroscopic data or even dreamed that my students would do such a stupid thing.”
Wow. Did they just throw every one of their 19 coauthors (I counted!) under the bus?
Another (emphasis mine):
“It was our fault not to scrutinize every spectrum in the supporting information before sending them out for publication,” Fukuyama adds, “but my staff members and I simply believed that all of my students are honest.” As soon as they learned of the manipulations, he says, “we told our students never to do such a stupid thing. I can assure you that we will never send out manuscripts containing manipulated spectra again.”
To paraphrase the Bard - the Professor doth protest too much, methinks.

Note the "Yes, but..." structure of his argument. See how it lobs the blame squarely back on the coauthors? And the choice of language, calling one's apprentices "stupid" and essentially dishonest? Not cool.

In most scientific organizations, culture comes from the top. Even coauthor Yokoshima admits that...
“We have told our students that the NMR spectra should not contain peaks of residual solvents or impurities for publication...our comments and the limited machine time seemed to have forced them to use the ‘Delete Peak’ function.”
If your group focuses on "clean up your spectra" more than "purify your compounds better," that's a communications issue. If a professor with a large group sees nothing but perfect spectra all day, two thoughts should crop up:

1. "I must have the smartest, most efficient students in the world," or...
2. "Something's fishy here."

Even the busiest profs in the biz - traveling for international conferences, serving on NIH panels, consulting - must still see their students' work at least three times prior to publication. Group meetings, one-on-one office meetings, project round-tables, manuscript submission, reviews, galley proofs? All perfect opportunities to catch ethical errors privately before revealing them to the wider world.

Sadly, the professors don't seem to answer the real question: What went wrong here? Public shaming won't fix your lab's culture. By closing ranks and shutting out 19 potential collaborators, Fukuyama and Yokoshima invite even more scrutiny into their lab's motivations.

Update (4/12/14) - Changed the last paragraph to avoid any judgment on the interview style. I believe Ms. Halford conducted it just fine.


  1. Quintus agrees with your assessment:

  2. Am I the only one who is wondering why on earth an NMR software would have a delete peak button.
    Don't lead me into temptation ;-)

    1. I don't think any NMR software has that function. The spectra are being manipulated in things like photoshop.

    2. Actually, I am told that there is such a function in the JEOL-Alice software. The "Delete Peak" function is in the same menu as "Integrate" and other common features.

  3. Removing a peak in Delta is pretty straightforward, however, this only removes the ppm value assigned to the peak - the actual peak itself will be clearly visible in the spectra. To completely remove (i.e. hide) the peak in its entirety requires photoshop or MS paint.

    I find it hard to believe that 19 of his coauthors independently decided to go down the route of fakery. Sounds a lot more like a cultural issue in the Fukuyama lab.

  4. Echoing anonymous's comment, I don't think all 19 would have conspired to remove the peaks. What is more likely is that one or two of them who were really responsible for the spectra did this and the others just did not pay enough attention or did not care enough (especially if they were minor co-authors). Still a problem, but not the same as a conspiracy of 19.

  5. The key phrase in this interview is “We have told our students that the NMR spectra should not contain peaks of residual solvents or impurities for publication.......”
    That says it all. That is the professors professed to not wanting to see such disgustingly dirty NMRs and demanded perfection!

  6. Has anyone in the blogosphere discussed the use of baseline correction? I've baseline corrected some of my personal spectra with astonishing results. For example, I recently took a spectra of amide rotomers at 80C. At 80C one of the rotomers becomes pretty broad, but doesn't disappear, and if you baseline correct this spectra it completely removes the broad peaks. I think reporting this would be manipulation of spectra too.

    Is baseline correction acceptable or not? I'm genuinely asking, I've only got one first author paper, which had an emphasis on shitty spectra. It seems most people I know are willing to use baseline correct in their routine analysis, so I can only assume most people are sending them out for publication.

    Sorry if someone has had this discussion before on the blogosphere, I've been under a 5th year graduate student log for a few weeks.

  7. There's another correction in OL (9/5/14) from the Fukuyama group. It seems more intentional than the previous ones, but I'm not sure.