Son of “A responsibility you didn’t know you had”

This is not a new post, but those of you who will be teaching organic chemistry this academic year should read and think about it, as the course will be under way shortly.

The following occured 48 years ago but its implications grew progressively more disturbing the more I saw as I practiced medicine (neurology).  Just before leaving grad school and entering med school I made some money as a TA in a 6 or 8 week summer course in organic chemistry cramming a year’s worth into that tiny space (and into fairly tiny brains given what was taking the course). Some of them had previously flunked organic, others needed to pass it to get into medical school.  Probably this sort of course is still being given and some of you may be making some money the way I did this summer. If so, listen up, you have an important function to perform. 
One loathsome twerp had actually been accepted and was to matriculate in the fall (like me) but only if he passed the course. You know the type, every point taken off was fought over, etc. etc. I was also pretty sure he was also cheating in the lab. The denouement came with the benzoin condensation. We were shooting for a 70% yield, and sure enough starting with 5 grams of benzaldehyde he got 7.5 grams of benzoin.
I wanted him thrown out of the course. He was not. God only knows what damage he caused as an M. D. (assuming he made it through med school).
As an older and wiser Doc once said to me — medicine is a license to steal — the only protection the public has is a doctor who is a little too busy, so that all he does is what he should do, not what he can do.
A few examples of what I’ve seen  #1  A drug addicted urologist who passed his urine tests (for a while) after he was caught, by catheterizing his patients, obtaining their urine, then catheterizing himself and instilling their (presumably) drugfree urine into his bladder.  #2 — The Plaintiff’s friend — a neurologist who didn’t have an examining table in his office and who examined people in their attorney’s office.  #3 The crooked neurologist, who, to make money, diagnosed hapless neurotics as having multiple sclerosis, plunked them in the hospital and gave them unnecessary treatment with high dose corticosteroids.  One of them developed bilateral aseptic necrosis of the hips as a result.  Multiple (billable) expensive tests (EEGs, Evoked responses, EMGs, NCVs) were performed on them — it’s called acute remunerative neurology.
Fortunately he has now lost his license to practice medicine — for incompetence. Most of us thought it was fraud rather than incompetence, but he was very smart (crooked docs usually are), and we could never catch him out. 
Where do you come in?  If you find such an individual throw them out of the course.  Would you want them taking care of your mother in a few years?  And if someone says “If I don’t pass organic, I won’t get into medical school”  – think to yourself — “If you can’t pass organic, you don’t BELONG in medical school” and act accordingly (e.g. flunk them).  It may not be easy, and I have no idea what the academic/legal environment is these days, but you’ll be doing society a favor. 
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Maria  On August 29, 2010 at 12:26 am


    I recently compiled a list of the 25 best Chemistry blogs for college students, and I
    just wanted to let you know that you made the list! It is published online at

    Thanks so much, and if you think your audience would find useful
    information in the list or on the site, please feel free to share the
    link. The blog is just starting up, so we always appreciate a link back
    as we’re trying to increase readership.

    Thanks again, and have a great day!


  • luysii  On August 29, 2010 at 8:19 am

    Thanks Maria — I think it would be particularly useful for chem majors planning to go into medicine, pharmacology, drug development or molecular biology. Not much here for those interested in solid state chemistry, inorganic or industrial chemistry (because I don’t know much about them). Chemistry is far better understood than medicine, which is why I’ve gone back to it in retirement, after 38 years in the medical trenches.

  • James  On August 30, 2010 at 7:42 am

    The scary thing is that fraudulent people like this usually find a way to believe that what they are doing is not fraudulent, but instead virtuous. I remember reading a story of a small town doctor who removed gall bladders at a spectacular rate, receiving lots of extra billing in the process. He had managed to convince himself that the gall bladder was the source of all evil in the body. I wouldn’t be surprised if the crooked neurologist who diagnosed neurotics as having multiple sclerosis was in the same camp.

  • Brendan  On August 10, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Is obtaining >100% yield really proof of intentional fraud? Inexperienced experimenters frequently measure >100% yield due to incomplete drying of the product or sometimes due to mistakes during the reaction.

    Unless there’s more to the story than you’re saying here, I don’t think there were grounds to throw the kid out of the class.

  • luysii  On August 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    No, I asked to see his product, and we weighed it together. It was early training for the poker face that all MDs must learn how to put on.

  • Another O-chemist  On August 20, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Also, Brendan, the yield was not over 100%; I see that quite a bit, because students don’t get their product dry.

    Instead, the student got precisely 70%, which was the target yield. That’s so unlikely as to be almost certainly fraudulent. That our host insisted on weighing the product himself was just icing on the cake.

    A 100% yield of benzoin from 5 grams of benzaldehyde would be on the order of 11 grams, not 7.5.

  • PotStirrer  On September 27, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Well, jeez, it’s over two years ago since that last comment, but perhaps there will be some new traffic because of luysii’s post over on ChemBark yesterday. I am compelled to point out that a 100% yield of benzoin from 5 grams benzaldehyde would be 5 grams. The reaction is a dimerization and you end up with half the number of molecules you started with but the same mass. The student in the story made the same mistake Another O-chemist did and thought he was somehow going to magically double his mass, and then added an extra 5% to the expected 70% yield hoping for bonus points.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: