Frenchman René Blondlot worked as a physicist in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. He is most known for a claimed discovery of a radiation type that he dubbed N-Rays.
Dozens of other scientists seemingly confirmed the N-rays existence but it was eventually determined that they don’t exist. Several subject matter experts had come to same erroneous conclusion. Anti-science individuals and conspiracy theorists are fond of this tale, thinking it gives them ammunition in their insistence that the field is corrupt or at least incompetent. But as is always the case, it is the scientific process that uncovers and corrects the error. We only know that N-Rays are nonexistent because of scientists.
Bondlot had deduced that purported N-rays were exhibiting seemingly impossible properties, yet were still being emitted by all substances except green wood and a few treated metals. He claimed to have generated the rays using a hot wire inside an iron tube. The N-rays were thought to be invisible except when viewed as they hit the treated thread.
While French scientists whom Blondlot knew and worked with had had the same results, German and English scientists were unable to replicate his findings. Troubled by this inconsistency, editors at Nature magazine decided to look deeper into the claims. This highlights the importance of peer review and submitting one’s findings to subject matter experts.
The magazine sent American physicist Robert Wood to look delve into the mystery. Without telling Blondlot, Wood removed the prism from the N-ray detection device. Without the prism, the machine failed to produce the rays. But when a Blondlot assistant conducted the same experiment, he claimed to see the N-rays. Wood had implemented the type of control that Blondlot and his associates should have. Additionally, they should have assigned a neutral party to oversee the experiment. These measures would have enabled a proper double blind study to be conducted. Simply put, Blondlot’s sketchy science had been supplanted by Wood’s better science.
The field learns from its mistakes, as evidenced by the fact that Blondlot and the N-Ray concept are little remembered today. Scientists, being human, will make mistakes and miscalculations, but when proper science is repeatedly done, the truth will come out.