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ERRORS, FALLACIES, OR DECEPTION? ALEXANDER KOHN* No scientist has managed to avoid all the pitfalls of his work. Such individual errors, though often disappointing to the individual, do not do great damage because they can be corrected and retracted. More serious are collective errors which may have given rise to entire schools of false thought, especially if the original faulty observation or conclusion is made by a scientist of renown. Description of a nonexistent phenomenon or material from an authoritative laboratory may lead to bona fide experimentation leading to confirmation of the same nonexistent phenomenon. "It is the style of a period that conditions, or even compels, us to accept and adopt its various fashions and fads" [1, p. 331]. A classical example is provided by the discovery of N-rays by a distinguished French physicist, Rene Blondlot, at Nancy (1901-1904) [2]. Trying to polarize X-rays, Blondlot became convinced that he was observing a new type of radiation, which he called N-radiation. The effects of N-rays were observed as a change in luminosity of a spark or flame or the intensity of reflected light from a white surface. Within 2 years of the discovery, the existence of the nonexistent N-rays was repeatedly demonstrated by many outstanding scientists of that time, such as Charpentier , Bequerel, Broca, Zimmern, and others, all highly trained and honorable scientists with level heads and good common sense. At the break of the century scientific enthusiasm, spurred by the discovery of X-rays and radium, led to an urge to make new discoveries. This, coupled with preconceived ideas and with a certain autosuggestion, led to the fantastic discovery of N-rays. Tens of papers were published in respectable journals . Then, 4 years after the discovery, an American (Wood) who visited Blondlot's laboratory surreptitiously removed an essential lens from the demonstration apparatus, without affecting the expected results [3]. The whole of Blondlot's framework was thrown out. One may mention briefly here the famous fallacy of Michurin and»Professor of virology, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel, and head of the Department of Virology, Israel Institute for Biological Research, Ness-Ziona, Israel.© 1978 by The University of Chicago. 0031-5982/78/2103-0062$01.00 420 I Alexander Kohn ¦ Errors, Fallacies, or Deception? Lysenko in the early post-World War II period. Following some errors due to accidents of handling and interpretation of their results and the desire to reach morally and ideologically right conclusions, a whole country was led astray and completely dismissed Mendelian inheritance and mutations and the concept of genes. The N-ray story and the rise and fall of Lysenkoism are already well documented [4, 5]. In this essay I should like to describe three cases of errors that have filled the pages of many scientific journals during the last 15 years: the rise and fall of polywater; the lipovirus fallacy; and, "Is there really a scotophobin?" Polywater In 1961 the Russian Fedyakin reported the discovery of a waterlike liquid which became glassy at —40° C, had a density 40 percent greater than water, and looked and felt like Vaseline [6]. Such anomalous water formed when water vapor was allowed to condense on a quartz surface under special conditions: Ordinary pure water was put in an enclosure which was evacuated of air so that the water could boil out at room temperature. In the same enclosure there were very thin quartz capillaries . When the evacuated chamber was left for a few days to a few weeks the anomalous water appeared in some of the capillaries. Physical measurements on this water showed, in addition to the properties mentioned above, that its thermal expansion was greater than that of normal water and that its vapor pressure was lower than that of normal water. Following this discovery, Fedyakin joined the Institute of Physical Chemistry in Moscow under the direction of Boris Deryaguin, a wellknown surface chemist. Together the two scientists and other colleagues repeated the experiments and reported their findings in some 16 publications in the USSR [7]. During this period the Soviet scientists introduced some sophisticated improvements in their experimental design . First the water condensing in...


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