How Should Reactions Be Named?
Chemists know that elements aren’t the only trappings of the science that get names. This week, I wrote about named reactions, the special reactions at the crossroads of science and culture in organic chemistry. Now, while both elements and reactions get named, the naming process couldn’t be more different. Element names have to get by a full-blown committee, as recently happened for element 112, copernicium.
The reaction-naming process is far from systematic. There do seem to be some unwritten rules, though. Named reactions have to be useful to many chemists, not just the ones who invented the reaction. Then there’s the named reactions version of the rule from the movie “Fight Club”. You remember the line, “You don’t talk about Fight Club,” right? Well, you don’t talk about your own named reaction, either, at least according to Bob Bergman at UC Berkeley, who has a namesake reaction of his own. “In my own publications I don’t call the Bergman reaction the Bergman reaction. It has to be up to the community to make it happen.”
When I spoke with Bergman, he wondered aloud whether the element naming model could be used for the process of naming reactions in organic or inorganic chemistry. People could submit names and a committee could decide whether credit for the discovery or development was clear-cut enough to designate a name. “These decisions are never agreed to by everyone,” and a committee might help up the sense of fairness. But on the other hand, then there’s another committee out there for chemists to have to serve on.
How do you think reactions should get their names? Weigh in at the poll I’ve created here. Feel free to contribute more creative options than the two I’ve proposed. I might mention some of the more intriguing propositions here on the blog.