There's nothing wrong with a forward-looking, what-might-the-future-hold journal article. Something that looks beyond the current state-of-the-art and discusses which advances might soon revolutionise a field of science.

Nothing wrong with that at all.

Unless, of course, said article is about as grounded in reality as David Icke on homeopathic crack.

Twitterers of a chemical bent will probably already have seen the offending article, but for the benefit of the rest of you, it's here. It's open access—science of such vision shall be constrained by no paywall.

I'm tempted to go through this line-by-line, but I'm moving house this weekend, so I'll spare you. The gist is that the author has been granted a rare glimpse into the future of drug manufacture, and it involves his DrugPrinter (a prototype from his lab is predicted within five years, and the fully realised technology within 20). The DrugPrinter would manoeuvre each atom (yes, each ATOM) into position by a means as yet unknown (see fig. 5 for some options), thus rendering all current synthetic efforts obselete.

You really need to read the whole paper to get a full measure of the crazy, but as a teaser, here's a putative benzene synthesis:


(I'd credit Elsevier for the image, but I imagine that once they get into the office next week they'll be sprawling sideways to avoid any of the ‘credit’ for this abomination.)

There are, of course, genuine efforts to use 3D-printing technology in synthesis. They differ from today's paper in that they retain contact with reality, with concepts of chemical reactivity, and with the capabilities of current technology.

A joke, then? A hoax?

Who knows, but once the DrugPrinter is online, I'd like some of whatever the author's taking.

See also: Chemjobber; Derek Lowe; Quintus Dackel; Seb Spain.

Update Apr 23rd, 2014: It seems that the author has responded, mainly in the comments of Quintus's blog. The somewhat surreal exchange includes what are apparently some of the referee comments and the author's responses to them.

A few things that stand out:

According to the author, the review process involved no fewer than three referees and two editors, and a number of rounds of revision. It's a little difficult to get a handle on the views of the referees, as the comments appear to be incomplete, but they appear to have raised at least some of the same issues as various bloggers and commenters. The real problem seems to be the reviewers' (or editors', or both) acceptance of the author's responses, which mostly (at least from what has been posted) fail to address the glaring problems. It's baffling that five pairs of eyes have looked at this and, although they obviously had some reservations, none of them have seen the wood beyond the trees, namely the article's total lack of suitability for publication in a scholarly journal.

If the commenter is indeed the author, then he seems genuine in his concocting and submitting the article, and somewhat distraught at the criticism it's received. While the scientific aspects of the criticism are entirely justifed, perhaps it has strayed too much into the personal at times (and I include myself in that). The author says he has asked the editor of Drug Discovery Today to withdraw the article, and the editor has agreed, so maybe it's now best to let this lie.

More of a concern than this bizarre article, I would say, is the failure of the peer review system that allowed it to be published in the first place. It would be nice to hear something from Drug Discovery Today, although I expect little more than a vague notice saying ‘retracted at the author's request’.

Update Apr 28th, 2014: The article has now been withdrawn.

All that remains is the following note from the publisher:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause. The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at