On August 17, 2009, Carmen Drahl began a story in Chemical & Engineering

News (C&EN) with the following passage:

On July 21, the Journal of the American Chemical Society published new

papers online. That was nothing out of the ordinary. But within 24 hours,

something extraordinary happened. Chemists from around the world

converged online, at an organic chemistry blog, to discuss one of those

manuscripts, repeat its experiments, and examine its conclusions. The story

is a particularly vivid example of how the Web is changing communication

in science and should encourage more chemists to tune in to online dis-

cussions. (p. 47)

The incident Dahl describes is the online reaction to a peer reviewed article

in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), “Reductive and

Transition-Metal-Free: Oxidation of Secondary Alcohols by Sodium Hydride,”

by Wang, Zhang, and Wang (2009). The chemical reaction reported in the article

was extraordinary-even unbelievable-to many chemists, prompting a

worldwide informal peer review that demonstrated how powerful online

communications have become in the scientific community. Leveraging the speed

and connectivity of blogging, scientists-most notably Paul Docherty, who

liveblogged the experiment in his Totally Synthetic blog-challenged X. Wang et

al.’s findings in a flurry of discussion and reporting over a period of just a few

days. This controversy demonstrates that even publications in the

most prestigious journals are vulnerable to the near-instant access and scrutiny

afforded by the Internet. This chapter will explore the connection between

Web 2.0 technologies and the demise of X. Wang et al.’s article, tracing the

manuscript progression from initial online publication on the JACS website to

its eventual withdrawal from the journal. The Docherty case shows that digital

technologies increasingly blur the line between manuscript and published work,

resulting in a disruption of the established peer review and reception process

that has traditionally been central to scientific discourse.