Raw Data in Organic Chemistry Papers/Open Science

Mat Todd | Intermolecular | August 7, 2011

Open science is a way of conducting science where anyone can participate and all ideas and data are freely available. It’s a sensational idea for speeding up research. We’re starting to see big projects in several fields around the world, showing the value of opening up the scientific process. We’re doing it, and are on the verge of starting up something in open source drug discovery. The process brings up an important question.

I’m an organic chemist. If I want people to get involved and share data in my field I have to think about how to best share those data. I’m on the board of more than one chemistry journal that is thinking about this right now, in terms of whether to allow/encourage authors to deposit data with their papers. Rather than my formulating recommendations for how we should share chemical data, I wanted to throw the issue open, since there are some excellent chemistry bloggers out there in my field who may already have well-founded opinions in this area. Yes, I’m taking about you.

The standard practice in many good organic chemistry journals is not to share raw data, but typically to ask for PDF versions of important spectra, usually for novel compounds. These naturally serve as a useful tool for the peer-review process, in that a reviewer can easily see whether a compound has been made, and say something of its purity. Such reproductions are not ironclad guarantees that a compound has actually been synthesised, nor that it was the reported process that actually gave rise to that sample. Nonetheless, it’s useful to the reviewer.