The January 26, 2009 C&EN has an interesting letter to the editor. Carl Djerassi sent a letter critical of the manner in which Professor Trost cites authors in his references. According to Djerassi, Trost didn’t cite the discoverer of a natural product for which the Trost group had just reported a total synthesis. He took Trost to task in diluting the accomplishment of the workers who had isolated, characterized, and tested the compounds for biological activity by not citing the original work.

Trost’s treatment of Pettit is particularly egregious given the well-known fact in the chemical community that the spectacularly laborious decade-long efforts of one of the heroes of marine natural products chemistry—the person who personally collected the bryozoan, isolated the bryostatins, established their constitution, and pursued their anticancer activity against all odds—were terminated through a draconian closure of his laboratory by the new administrators of Arizona State University. [C&EN, Jan. 26, 2009]

Trost and Djerassi are two of the rock stars of organic chemistry. When such people “go nuclear” in their open personal criticism, it is so compelling that you can’t help but take notice. Far from being unseemly, I think this kind of thing is healthy for the field. Neglecting key early workers while trotting your own references up to the front of the line is a kind of misdemeanor racketeering of scholarship. If true, Djerassi has a good point.

But, I can sympathize with Trost to some extent. Eventually, past progress becomes part of the background. Do we have to cite Henry Gilman everytime we use BuLi to remove a proton? There must be some juicy backstory that has Djerassi riled.