Truly innovative science is often— perhaps usually—accompanied by skepticism, dismissal, and/or disdane from the ranks of established expertise. That proposition receives surprisingly strong support from a study of the top-ranking papers from Britain’s premier medical journals. Data from the Institute for Scientific Information’s Science Citation Index (SCI) show that no less than four of the six papers most cited from The Lance: and the British Medical Journal during the years 1955-1988 record ideas that were initially rejected or disbelieved.

In 1967, when Marina Seabright observed some strange stripes in a chromosome preparation she had made at Salisbury General Hospital, senior cytogeneticists dismissed the bands as artifacts. Seabright herself failed to reproduce the images too— even after adding instant coffee, in the hope that an accidental splash had provided the key ingredient. Four years later, however, she realized that the real secret was trypsin (which must have come from a contaminated...

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