Someone should start up a new journal entitled the Journal of Failed Reactions. I’m serious. The contemporary primary literature is a collection of success stories. Fine. This is how things are supposed to be.

But—every chemist with experience in the field of organic synthesis knows that the vast majority of the reactions we attempt are, in the end, and in one way or the other, unsuccessful. This is not because we are bad scientists. This is because we are always pushing the envelope of what is possible. We cannot discover new things, unless we try new things out.

The problem with having access to a collection of only the successful reactions is that we cannot know whether someone has already tried (and failed with) the next thing we want to try.

A concrete example: A colleague had a boronic ester of a nitrogen containing heterocycle. She wanted to know if it was possible first to oxidize it to the N-oxide, then perform a Suzuki coupling. We thoroughly searched the literature, but we couldn’t find a single example of a boronic ester/acid containing an N-oxide moiety as a reactant in a catalytic cross-coupling reaction.

What does this mean? That no one has tried it, or that a thousand graduate students have spilled their guts already?

We don’t know. We would have known, if there had been a Journal of Failed Reactions.


7 Responses to Proposal: Journal of Failed Reactions

  1. Anna says:

    YES! I TOTALLY agree! I always thought that would be such a great idea!!! Take a PhD thesis, for example, where you only report the reactions that actually worked, but the main part of your PhD-work is actually made up of failed reactions. So the thesis ends up being very thin, compared to the massive amount of work you put in. Now, every chemist will appreciate and understand how long it takes to figure out the successful reaction conditions, but you are so right, lots of knowledge is being lost here. What a waste of time! Truly, this is such a great idea. Isn’t it possible to start something like that? Perhaps not a journal, but at least a database?

  2. craigdubyah says:

    There do exist journals for reporting negative findings.
    Here’s one.
    Don’t know of any negative result chemistry journals.
    Make one!

  3. CatalysisAlex says:

    Will check out your site more when I am not so tired – good job so far.
    Anyway, I had something similar in mind, albeit more as in
    “Journal of Irreproducible Results”
    You know, you actually did get some compound out of your reaction, can’t reproduce it due to whatever, reagent quality, someone spat in your flask, moon-phase, etc, but you did get something. And maybe someone will find the product interesting and investigate more on what you did!

    When it comes to to failed reactions, I think scientist should be more honest and simply mention them in their publications (very few authors do) – especially process chemists like to know what not works rather than the few things that do work….

  4. Richard says:

    I guess the recently announced
    “The All Results Journal. CHEM” could serve the purpose.

    Indexed by a reasonable number of abstractors, though not CAS. Hope it is successful.
    Automated collection and subsequent open availability of all the info on how we do reactions via ELN’s is probably the future though.

  5. Richard says:

    Worth mentioning the ‘failed reactions’ database:

    Unfortunately commercial

  6. Lewis says:

    Hi, as have already been mentioned by Richard, The All Results Journals:Chem is the journal you are looking for. And yes Richard, it is indexed by CAS and other important indexes (as they claim in:

    Not yet included in Science Citation Index, I suppose that will take some time for new journals to index. Checking through it website and blog these guys seems to take the initiative very seriously (the journals are being published by a non-profit organization) and they do not charge a penny for publishing the articles (the first example of total open access journals I could find). The problem is, would anyone have the balls to write up their negative results? I mean, we are not used to write negative results articles mainly because editor normally reject them. But now that this barrier have been break down, do we write them? I really hope so, it can be a big time and money saver for all chemist 😉

  7. I would be interested to talk to you further about this. I am a Ph.D candidate in the School of Chemistry and an intern in the tech transfer office and have been looking at developing an online tool for documenting failed chemical reactions. The idea came after talking to a post-doc here who is an organic synthetic chemist. Hit me up at [email protected].

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