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Coupled-cluster (CC) methods have been extensively used as the high-level approach in quantum electronic structure theory to predict various properties of molecules when experimental results are unavailable. It is often assumed that CC methods, if they include at least up to connected-triple-excitation quasiperturbative corrections to a full treatment of single and double excitations (in particular, CCSD(T)), and a very large basis set, are more accurate than Kohn-Sham (KS) density functional theory (DFT). In the present work, we tested and compared the performance of standard CC and KS methods on bond energy calculations of 20 3d transition metal-containing diatomic molecules against the most reliable experimental data available, as collected in a database called 3dMLBE20. It is found that, although the CCSD(T) and higher levels CC methods have mean unsigned deviations from experiment that are smaller than most exchange-correlation functionals for metal-ligand bond energies of transition metals, the improvement is less than one standard deviation of the mean unsigned deviation. Furthermore, on average, almost half of the 42 exchange-correlation functionals that we tested are closer to experiment than CCSD(T) with the same extended basis set for the same molecule. The results show that, when both relativistic and core-valence correlation effects are considered, even the very high-level (expensive) CC method with single, double, triple, and perturbative quadruple cluster operators, namely, CCSDT(2)Q, averaged over 20 bond energies, gives a mean unsigned deviation (MUD(20) = 4.7 kcal/mol when one correlates only valence, 3p, and 3s electrons of transition metals and only valence electrons of ligands, or 4.6 kcal/mol when one correlates all core electrons except for 1s shells of transition metals, S, and Cl); and that is similar to some good xc functionals (e.g., B97-1 (MUD(20) = 4.5 kcal/mol) and PW6B95 (MUD(20) = 4.9 kcal/mol)) when the same basis set is used. We found that, for both coupled cluster calculations and KS calculations, the T1 diagnostics correlate the errors better than either the M diagnostics or the B1 DFT-based diagnostics. The potential use of practical standard CC methods as a benchmark theory is further confounded by the finding that CC and DFT methods usually have different signs of the error. We conclude that the available experimental data do not provide a justification for using conventional single-reference CC theory calculations to validate or test xc functionals for systems involving 3d transition metals.
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© 2015 American Chemical Society.