Langmuir's talk on Pathological Science (December 18, 1953)


A recent book, Voodoo Science by Robert Parks (Oxford, 2000) led us to the realization that the most seminal exposition on the topic, a talk on Pathological Science by Irving Langmuir is not available on the web and we set out to rectify this omission.

Irving Langmuir (1881-1957) was born in Brooklyn, NY. After studies in Physical Chemistry he spent most of his career in the research laboratories of General Electric. He won the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1932. He gave his famous talk at the GE research labs four years before his death. The text displayed in this site was obtained from a transcription of the talk made by R.N.Hall and distributed by General Electric Laboratories as report No. 68-C-035 in April 1968. The printed report was scanned at 300dpi with an HP flatbed scanner and the resulting images were processed  by the  Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software CuneiForm99. The results were edited in order  to correct the few OCR errors, restore formatting information (such as underlines) that is lost during OCR, and conversion to a format appropriate for web display. No changes other than formatting have been made intentionally. A few comments that were added are marked in green. The notation (p.N) means that this is the place of the text where the Nth page of the original report ends.

Theo Pavlidis (t DOT pavlidis AT ieee DOT org) and Ken Steiglitz (ken AT cs DOT princeton DOT edu)

June 2002


I. Langmuir
(Colloquium at The Knolls Research Laboratory, December 18, 1953)
Transcribed and edited by R. N. Hall

PREFACE (by R.N. Hall)

On December 18, 1953, Dr. Irving Langmuir gave a colloquium at the Research Laboratory that will long be remembered by those in his audience. The talk was concerned with what Langmuir called "the science of things that aren't so," and in it he gave a colorful account of several examples of a particular kind of pitfall into which scientists may sometimes stumble.

Langmuir never published his investigations into the subject of Pathological Science. A tape recording was made of his speech, but this has been lost or erased. Recently, however, a microgroove disk transcription that was made from this tape was found among the Langmuir papers in the Library of Congress, This disk recording is of poor quality, but most of what he said can be understood with a little practice, and it constitutes the text of this report.

A small amount of editing was felt to be desirable. Some abortive or repetitious sentences were eliminated. Figures from corresponding publications were used to represent his blackboard sketches, and some references were added for the benefit of anyone wishing to undertake a further investigation of this subject. The disk recording has been transcribed back onto tape, and a copy is on file in the Whitney Library.

Gratitude is hereby expressed to the staff of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress for their cooperation in lending us the disk recording so we could obtain the best possible copy of the Langmuir speech, and for providing access to other related Langmuir papers.


by Irving Langmuir

This is recorded by Irving Langmuir on March 8, 1954. It is transcribed from a tape recording, section number three, of the lecture on "Pathological Science" that I gave on December 18, 1953.

Davis-Barnes Effect
Mitogenetic Rays
Characteristic Symptoms of Pathological Science (Readers unfamiliar with physics may wish to start here.)
Allison Effect
Extrasensory Perception
Flying Saucers
Question Period
Epilogue (by R.N. Hall)
References Site Map