Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Since I've been seeing this term in various forums lately [sorry, no links!], it was good to see Ross McKenzie's post: Polywater: lest we forget. McKenzie mentions a 1981 book -- Polywater by Felix Franks -- on this fiasco, and excerpts a section from the Science review of the book wherein David Eisenbert, the reviewer, lists some of the factors that fed the polywater frenzy, factors that have an enduring relevance (e.g., I remember some of these from another iconic fiasco from a decade later: Cold Fusion):

[Franks] is interested in the factors, partly nonscientific, that created the gold rush atmosphere and distorted the normal scientific process. Among the factors blamed by Franks are:

  • the willingness of some scientists to submit for publication incomplete or even shoddy work in order to achieve priority;

  • a breakdown in normal standards of reviewing, particularly in journals such as Nature and Science that publish short notes on matters perceived to be of wide current interest;

  • a concern among administrators in defense-sponsored research agencies that in the post-Sputnik era it would be unfortunate to allow the Soviets the lead in another field;

  • a fascination on the part of the public, created in part by exaggerated and inaccurate reports in the popular press, with a new form of water;

  • a tendency of investigators to leak results to the press before publication;