List of discredited substances

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This page is a list of substances or materials generally considered discredited.

A substance can be discredited in one of three ways:

  1. It was widely believed to exist at one time but no longer is. Such substances are often part of an obsolete scientific theory.
  2. It was once believed to have drastically different properties from those accepted now. It was widely claimed and believed to possess significant properties that are no longer attributed to it.
  3. It is currently believed to exist as part of a theory that has not met the theoretical and experimental requirements of mainstream science. In particular, such a theory must be predictive.

Alphabetical list of substances whose existence is discredited[edit]

Substance Theorized by From when Alleged definition Discredited by
Aether (classical element) ancient A substance with rapid, circular motion that makes up celestial bodies atomic theory
Alicorn ancient The horn of the unicorn, has mystical healing properties failure to find any since medieval times
Alkahest Paracelsus 1493–1541 A universal solvent, which can dissolve every other substance, including gold (Note that aqua regia can dissolve gold, but not everything.)
Andrewsite Thomas Andrews 1871-1990 Green mineral named for Thomas Andrews [1] Confirmation in 1990 that substance is composed of other minerals[1]
Caloric Antoine Lavoisier 1783 Weightless fluid, the substance of heat atomic theory, in which heat is interpreted as energy of motion of atoms.
Coronium Charles Augustus Young and William Harkness 1869 Chemical element in the solar corona In the 1930s, Walter Grotrian and Bengt Edlén discovered that the spectral line in question was due to highly ionized iron.
Élan vital Henri Bergson 1907 Substance or force bearing the property of life molecular biology
Elixir of life mythology ancient Substance believed by alchemists to confer immortality Never having been found
Erototoxins Judith Reisman after 1955 Addictive chemicals produced in the brain by pornography There are addictive opioids (i.e. endorphins) in the brain related to pleasure in general, but not specific to pornography... "The only problem with Dr. Riesman’s elegant “erototoxins” theory was that facts stood in the way of her opinion and testimony."[2]
Luminiferous aether 18th century Medium for the propagation of light Michelson-Morley experiment
Miasma ancient Foul smell believed to carry diseases modern biology, in particular the discovery of actual infectious agents
Nebulium William Huggins 1864 An element in the Cat's Eye Nebula In 1927, Ira Sprague Bowen showed that the observed spectral lines are emitted by doubly ionized oxygen.
N-rays Prosper-René Blondlot 1903 A form of radiation emitted by most substances a simple null experiment, where Blondlot thought he could see N-rays even when an essential optical element had been removed from the experiment
Odic force Carl Reichenbach 1845 Force bearing the property of life Lack of experimental evidence and any predictive theory. Never accepted by science.
Orgone energy Wilhelm Reich 1930s Energy bearing the property of life Lack of experimental evidence and any predictive theory. Never accepted by science.
Panacea alchemists ancient Substance curing all illness biology and medicine
Philosopher's stone alchemists ancient Legendary substance that could transmute lead into precious metals While lead can be transmuted via nuclear fusion into higher elements like gold, this occurs in the cores of collapsing stars, and cannot possibly be done chemically
Phlogiston Johann Joachim Becher 1667 Weightless substance present in combustible materials and released when they are burned modern chemistry, specifically the discovery that combustion is combination of various substances with oxidizers, most commonly oxygen.
Polywater late 1960s An apparently polymerised form of water more careful experiments with rigorously cleaned glassware
Ptomaines alkaloids found in decaying matter thought to cause food poisoning Discovery of bacteria / Germ theory of disease
Red mercury hoax 1979 Controversial substance supposedly of use to terrorists Its actual nature, if any, is unclear. The notion may have been invented for use by Soviet and Russian sting operations targeting nuclear materials trafficking. It is also possible that the phrase may have originated as a codeword in Soviet nuclear weapons development, much as the word "copper" was once used to obfuscate "plutonium" during the Manhattan Project.

Alphabetical list of substances whose properties are discredited[edit]

This is not to be construed as implying that these items–as they are understood today–are discredited. What is listed are fire, water, metal, etc. as universal principles or fundamentals.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Andrewsite: Andrewsite mineral information and data". Retrieved 2017-03-01.
  2. ^ Nair, Mohan; Friedman, Rob; Maram, Wesley. "I20 Pornography and Sexual Violence: Is There a Connection?", Seattle 2010, Forensic Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, 2002-2011 Proceedings of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, p. 28.