The last writes

Earlier this week I was looking through the references of a paper that will eventually be published in Nature Chemistry and I noticed the name ‘Brown, H. C.’ in one of them. After checking out the paper in question, I discovered that this was the H. C. Brown. Why am I pointing this out? Well, H. C. Brown died in 2004 and this cited paper was published in 2007. Posthumous publications are nothing new, but it did get me thinking about the length of time between a scientist (chemists in particular) going to the great laboratory in the sky and further papers appearing in the literature on which they are listed as authors. I thought I’d check out a few famous names (now dearly departed) to see if they had continued to publish from beyond the grave – and for how long.

1. Derek H. R. Barton (1918-1998)
Radical homologation of D-gluconic acid: highly diastereoselective synthesis of D-gluco-KDO derivatives
Published in Tetrahedron in 2001 (3 years after Barton died – in each case I’m not counting months; just taking the difference between year of death and year of publication)

2. Richard E. Smalley (1943-2005)
Controlled attachment of metal nanoparticles to single walled carbon nanotubes as a key step in their seeded growth and lengthening
Published in Carbon in 2010 (5 years)

3. Saul Winstein (1912-1969)
Difunctional derivatives of syn-dimethanoperhydro-s-hydrindacene
Published in JOC in 1977 (8 years)

4. Herbert C. Brown (1912-2004)
(It turns out that the 2007 paper I mentioned at the start of this post is not H. C. Brown’s most recent contribution to the chemistry literature).
Highly Efficient One Step Synthesis of Primary Amines from B-Chlorodialkylboranes
Published in Lett. Org. Chem. in 2012 (8 years)

5. Robert B. Woodward (1917-1979)
The conversion of β-amino esters by alkylaluminum compounds into β-lactams
Published in Tetrahedron in 1993 (14 years!)

I see no problem with posthumous publication if the deceased scientist made a contribution to the work that would, under normal circumstances, result in authorship. As the number of years tick by, however, then things might be a little harder to justify. Of course, some journals can be quite slow to publish papers too… let’s hope that’s not a factor too often. Who knows, although I imagine we won’t see any more papers co-authored by Winstein or Woodward, there might be some with Barton, Smalley or Brown’s names on them yet to make it past referee 3!

If any readers know of any longer gaps between an author shuffling off this mortal coil and one of their papers appearing in the literature (I’m talking chemists/scientists here), then let me know in the comments.

(Apologies for the title, I couldn’t resist)

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11 Responses to The last writes

  1. Logesh says:

    The great Inorganic Chemist Alfred Werner passed away in 1919 — and a paper with his name appeared in 2001. That’s 82 years since the time of death and his publication!

    Here’s the 2001 IC paper:

  2. Simon says:

    F Albert Cotton died in February 2007 and his most recent paper appeared in that august journal, J. Cluster Science, in September 2012.

  3. John Fossey says:

    A number of paper submission portals require valid email addresses for all authors. Also the submitting author is asked to declare (often) that all authors agree to the submission. I think its going to be increasingly hard to provide evidence of agreement especially as publication forums evolve. I wonder if its possible for research carried out now to be earmarked as approved for publication, in the event one pops ones clogs you can still get some papers out after you are gone.
    How about the citation metrics of posthumous papers Hd-index???

  4. Potnia Theron says:

    On the other hand, when a young person (student, postdoc) dies early, it is an honor to include them and recognize what they had contributed, and the loss of potential. And it is a consolation of great worth to those who loved her or him.

  5. r3sanon says:

    Stanley Korsmeyer has continued to publish since his death in 2005, including a paper as recently as 2012. Jason D. Morrow has also continued to publish up to this year, despite dying in 2008. Peter Hochachka (died 2002) has a paper in 2012.

  6. Bernd says:

    Paul Erdős died in 1996, but his name appeared on dozens of publications afterwards, including one as late as 2007. The reason for this is that mathematicians get crazy about the Erdős number, which counts the number of publications a person is separated from Erdős himself. Having a joint paper with him gives you the lowest possible value of 1.

    See also:

  7. Nick Naranja says:

    It is certainly possible that the author may have passed away with several manuscripts nearly written. 3 years is certainly within the realm of submission to actual publication for some journals. I’ve got two papers ready to go on my hard drive right now. Of course some experiments may take years to complete. In some agricultural journals you may need 3-5 years of data to be able to publish. If you had one author that was collecting and analyzing all the data for several of those years, it would seem wrong not to include them.

  8. Srinix says:

    In a paper written by the Lippard group in 2001, the nobel laurate Alfred Werner is a coauthor. Itis very clearmentioned in the paper that A. Werner died in 1919. Interestingly the work describes the structure of a cobalt compound taken from the Werner collection.
    For details see

    Click to access Paper7.pdf

    • stu says:

      Yup – see first comment on the post.

      • This is an interesting ethical problem as consent can never really be obtained after death. The editors in this case should have insisted on Werner’s name be dropped as it appears in the title. In one case, some time ago an editor of a journal (unfortunately my memory is rusty here) who spoke on publishing ethics did mention this and this is a goof up on the editors/ publishers side. The point is would you allow people to use your name as an author and publish the same if you have not read or approved of the work?

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