I Wouldn’t Do That New Reaction Today If I Were You

One for Friday the 13th.

A subject that comes up from time to time is that of scientists with superstitions. Is it surprising that supposedly rational scientific people would subject themselves to irrational superstitions? Clearly they do: ChemJobber had a post on this very thing (with some great comments) and before that Nature Chemistry covered it.

I’ve known some reactions that really did seem like you should check the phase of the moon before you ran them. I’ve known people with a lucky separatory funnel (one guy took it with him when he left!). I can’t say that I’ve noticed my reactions working less well on Friday 13th and I do try to dissuade myself from having such foibles, though I share ChemJobber’s preference to not assume a reaction has worked until the NMR is in hand. And it does seem that saying a reaction will be easy is asking for trouble.

It looks like not wanting to tempt fate is a natural instinct though. A TierneyLab column in the New York Times covered it quite well: the reaction to a negative outcome is much greater than the alternative. So if you don’t take your umbrella and it doesn’t rain, you forget about it, but it you get soaked, you remember it vividly. So that becomes an instinct to take the umbrella or else it will rain. Or in other words, it is best to be prepared for the worst.

But good luck with that tricky palladium cross-coupling today anyway.

2 comments on “I Wouldn’t Do That New Reaction Today If I Were You

  1. [...] It’s Friday the 13th! Chemical Space says I wouldn’t do that new reaction today if I were you [...]

  2. MaltaChemist says:

    Coincidentally I’m working a Suzuki reaction using a particular palladium catalyst and it’s not going to well so as you can imagine the last paragraph sent shivers down my spine!

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