“Black Swan Events” in Organic Synthesis


  • I am deeply grateful to several individuals for stimulating discussions as well as multiple conceptual contributions to this Essay: Profs. T.-V. RajanBabu, Douglass F. Taber, F. Dean Toste, and Steven L. Buchwald and Drs. Mark A. Scialdone (DuPont) and Mark J. Burk (Genomatica). I also thank Drs. Valdus Jurkauskas and Luca Salvi for technical assistance with the manuscript and Dr. Susan Libby Nugent (the Gallup Organization) for assistance in vetting and wrangling the gold database that underlies Figure 1.


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When a research area “goes viral”, the event typically occurs in conjunction with a major change in “conventional wisdom”. In retrospect, the literature often contains earlier hints that the original judgment was not correct. These antecedents are referred to as “Black Swan” events. The picture shows research on homogeneous gold catalysis “going viral”.