About 20 years ago, I was working on the development of functional group-tolerant late-metal catalysts for olefin polymerization. This was a large effort at DuPont, and the technology was eventually licensed.1 As part of my work, I screened a large number of ligands with Ni(II) and Pd(II) salts for activity as olefin polymerization catalysts. One of the ligands I tested was an unusual, sterically hindered N-Aryl -diiminate ligand that had not been previously reported. In addition to observing olefin polymerization activity, we obtained some interesting x-ray crystal structures of Ni(II) and Pd(II) complexes of the ligand. After filing a patent application, I decided to write the work up as a communication.
I sent the paper off to an ACS publication, and several weeks went by before I heard from the editor. Although two reviewers were required for a communication, only one reviewer had responded. The review was quite negative; I can’t remember exactly what the reviewer said, but in essence he or she thought the work was of little significance. The associate editor informed me that he would have to reject the paper unless I could provide compelling reasons why it needed to be published. I was dejected, but I wrote a very polite letter rebutting the reviewer’s comments and expressing disappointment that the other reviewer hadn’t even bothered to respond. In the end, the paper was published.2
Several years later I received an email from the journal saying that my communication was one of its most highly cited papers in the previous ten years. When I last checked on SciFinder, it had been cited 325 times in the academic literature. I’ve co-authored papers with Nobel Prize winners, and I’ve never had a paper with anything close to that many citations. The ligand I had first described is now widely used in organometallic chemistry and catalysis, so much so that review articles have been written about it and related N-Aryl -diiminate ligands.3
Nevertheless, I still have regrets about the episode. I never carried out any follow up work to the original paper; other people did. Had the initial rejection not dampened my enthusiasm, I might have gone on to make complexes of the ligand with other metals and explored their chemistry as well. The lesson I took from this is that if you think your paper is good, then it probably is and it ought to be published. If you think a particular line of inquiry is interesting, trust your judgment and move forward. We all know the cliché about the famous novelist whose work is rejected at first. We may think the peer-review process is more objective; perhaps it is, but it’s certainly not perfect. Publishing requires a lot of self-confidence, and besides, as Richard Feynman titled one of his books, “What do you care what other people think?”4
1. Tullo, A. H. Single-Site Success. C&E News 2001, 79 (43), 35.
2. Feldman, J.; McLain, S. J.; Parthasarathy, A.; Marshall, W. J.; Calabrese, J. C.; Arthur, S. D. Electrophilic Metal Precursors and a -Diimine Ligand for Nickel(II)- and Palladium(II)-Catalyzed Ethylene Polymerization. Organometallics 1997, 16, 1514.
3. Zhu, D.; Budzelaar, P. H. M. N-Aryl -diiminate Complexes of the Platinum Metals. Dalton Trans. 2013, 42, 11343.
4. Feynman, Richard P. “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” Further Adventures of a Curious Character. New York: Norton, 1988.
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