The case of the disappearing (space) dinos

The spacedino story continues to develop. Yesterday the ACS issued a statement to Nature’s newsblog,

“We are following established procedure to investigate the claim of self-plagiarism. If it is determined that this is case of self-plagiarism, appropriate action will be taken as provided for in our ethical guidelines.”

So at least ACS are appearing to take action. Although judging from comments on a variety of blogs and twitter  many of use were pretty skeptical that any real action would be taken.

Then ACS pulled the pdf of the paper! You can still see the title and citation details. But the pdf has been replaced by the message.

This article was removed by the publisher due to possible copyright concerns. The Journal’s Editor is following established procedure to determine whether a violation of ACS Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research has occurred.

Its interesting that in one statement the ACS says it is “investigating the claim of self-plagiarism” whilst the other just refers to “copyright concerns”.

So what happens next? Paul at Chembark has pointed out that this is rather an odd step to take. He argues that an addition or correction aught to be published, as is the norm when a paper turns out to have errors.  But this case is somewhat different. After all the copyright for the paper belongs to the Isreal Journal of Chemistry or as it now transpires Tetrahedron letters (where, it turns out most the article was originally published). So ACS had little choice but to pull the PDF (and I hope the IJC do the same).  Its not like the ACS swept the whole thing under the carpet. They haven’t removed all evidence of the paper, you can still see the title etc. and the statement that remains is a pretty clear. Since Breslow is the only author of the paper, he is clearly being blamed for the infringement and the accusation is right there for everyone to see.

I don’t think this should be the end of the matter. Paul’s excellent reaction to the self-plagiarism allegations suggested two actions from ACS: A retraction of the paper (done) and an updated press release. We are still waiting for that public facing reaction and I hardly think the statement to Nature or the comment that replaces the paper are adequate.


The JACS spacedino paper is no more. Its been replaced by :

This invited Perspective was withdrawn at the request of the
author due to similarity to his previously published reviews,
specifically those in Tetrahedron Letters and the Israel Journal of
Chemistry. The author stands by the scientific findings and
conclusions as published in those reviews.



  1. Rudy Baum chimes in: Breslow Paper In JACS Questioned

    The Journal of the American Chemical Society and ACS are investigating allegations of self-plagiarism leveled against Columbia University chemistry professor Ronald Breslow. ACS, which publishes C&EN, says that appropriate action will be taken by the journal if the society’s ethical guidelines have been violated. At this time, the paper has been removed from theJACS website.

    The paper in question is a JACS Perspective entitled “Evidence for the Likely Origin of Homochirality in Amino Acids, Sugars, and Nucleosides on Prebiotic Earth.” It has had a tumultuous online existence since it was posted on March 25 (DOI: 10.1021/ja3012897). It describes in detail Breslow’s ideas and experiments supporting those ideas on a mechanism whereby a modest excess of ʟ chirality in amino acids in meteorites reaching prebiotic Earth could have translated into the homochirality that characterizes life on Earth today.

    The paper concludes with speculation that life-forms elsewhere in the universe could be based on ᴅ-amino acids and that those life-forms could be advanced forms of dinosaurs. A media alert on the paper from the ACS press office on April 11 focused on this speculation. Some news outlets printed or posted stories based on the press release while a number of blogscriticized the release as being scientifically naive.

    More seriously, as various individuals commented on the blog postings about the press release, one person noted similarities between Breslow’s JACS Perspective and a paper Breslow had published on the same subject in Tetrahedron Letters in 2010 (DOI: 10.1016/j.tetlet.2010.08.094). Subsequently, Stuart Cantrill, chief editor of Nature Chemistry, pointed out in his personal Twitter feed that the JACS Perspective was identical in largepart to a review Breslow had published in 2011 in the Israel Journal of Chemistry (DOI: 10.1002/ijch.201100019). A number of chemistry-oriented blogs such as In the Pipeline andChemBark subsequently weighed in on the controversy.

    The society’s “Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research” state that “it is unacceptable for an author to include significant verbatim or near-verbatim portions of his/her work … without acknowledging the source.”

    “We take allegations of plagiarism, including those of self-plagiarism, very seriously,” says Brian Crawford, president of the ACS Publications Division. In this instance, Crawford explains, it was determined that Breslow’s JACS Perspective should be removed from the ACS Publications website pending resolution of editorial and copyright concerns. The following notice currently replaces the article’s full text content: “This article was removed by the publisher due to possible copyright concerns. The Journal’s Editor is following established procedure to determine whether a violation of ACS’s ‘Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research’ has occurred.” University of Utah chemistry professor Peter J. Stang is the editor of JACS.

    Breslow did not respond to C&EN’s request for comment on the matter.

    Breslow is a titan in the chemistry enterprise and a major figure at ACS. He served as the society’s president in 1996 and was the recipient of the society’s highest award, the Priestley Medal, in 1999. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the National Medal of Science (1991).

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    Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society
  2. Uh-oh, Mitch, did you put giant quotes around that Baum letter? If not, I think we have another plagiarism case… 😉

  3. Pingback: Link Collection: Space Dinosaur Paper | ChemBark

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