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Wrong but seminal

Publishing the wrong interpretation of experimental data can result in an immediate horde of chemists feeding on the error like vultures. On rare occasions, this phenomenon can open up an entire new field of science — and the structure of ferrocene is a case in point.

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Figure 1: Peter Pauson and Thomas J. Kealy published the first paper in the ferrocene timeline.
Figure 2: Proposed structures of dicyclopentadienyl iron.
Figure 3: R. B. Woodward and Geoffrey Wilkinson were the Harvard-based protagonists of the ferrocene story in the early 1950s.
Figure 4: A representation of the first publications of the key chemists studying the preparation, structure and properties of ferrocene and the connections between them.
Figure 5: Buckminsterfullerene and data from the 1985 Nature paper29 from Kroto and co-workers.
Figure 6: Robert K. Merton, an eminent sociologist of science who introduced concepts such as 'obliteration by incorporation' and the 'Matthew effect', both of which are relevant in the story of ferrocene.
Figure 7: Peter Pauson at the dinner table of E. O. Fischer, 1955.
Figure 8: R. B. Woodward plants the seeds of a potential scientific collaboration (that never came to fruition).

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Acknowledgements

We thank a number of journal editors for sharing their criteria for publication, including A. Padwa and S. Rychnovsky (The Journal of Organic Chemistry). J.I.S. thanks W. Myers (University of Richmond) and R. Wheeler (Duquesne University) for being catalysts for this project and the Harvard University Archives for their hospitality. We also thank O. T. Benfey, J. Dunitz, A. Eschenmoser, J. Gal, G. S. Girolami, R. Hoffmann, H. Kroto, P. Laszlo and W. Myers for helpful discussions. We dedicate this paper to the memory of Robert K. Merton (1910–2003). Today, many of his concepts, three of which are discussed in this manuscript and others, such as 'role model', 'self-fulfilling prophecy' and 'unintended consequences', are so much a part of today's lexicon that his inventorship of them is relatively unknown according to his own concept, 'obliteration by incorporation'.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey I. Seeman or Stuart Cantrill.

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Seeman, J., Cantrill, S. Wrong but seminal. Nature Chem 8, 193–200 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nchem.2455

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