Chemical & Engineering News

A Water Cooler For The World Of Chemistry

The chemist reflects on why he started blogging

Paul Bracher

My chemistry blog, ChemBark, was born of disenchantment. As a student, I was continually stunned by how things “worked” in the world oPaul Bracherf academic chemistry.

I saw absurdly unfair referee reports and peer review decisions. I saw abjectly dysfunctional student-adviser relationships. I saw actions dictated by academic politics rather than logic. I saw egregious violations of safety. I saw scientific misconduct in black and white, and several shades of gray. Weren’t scientists supposed to be above these things?

So, I started talking about them. And rather than talking in a hushed voice, behind closed doors, and only to my friends, I decided to start a blog. The discussion would be public, and anyone who wanted could read and comment themselves.

Perhaps no story garnered as much interest as the horrific case of data fabrication perpetrated by Bengü Sezen, a Columbia University graduate student who made up data in her work on C–H activation. From initial reports in 2005, to news of the retractions in 2006, to a Freedom of Information Act document request in 2010, the blogosphere took the lead in communicating the story to the community with candor, accuracy, and detail.

Over the years, several discussions on blogs have drawn the ire of chemical bigwigs, including editors-in-chief and eminent professors. But when the people in charge of a broken system start griping, it’s probably a sign you’re on the right track.

Paul Bracher is an assistant professor at Saint Louis University and runs the chemistry blog ChemBark (

Carolyn Bertozzi

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