Nobel laureate Philip Anderson was shocked when he picked up the New York Times last month. There on the front page was an article announcing a bold new theory in his field. The story said that Caltech chemist William Goddard had come up with a simple explanation for high- temperature superconductivity—probably the hottest mystery in materials science today. Not only that, the article reported, but calculations based on Goddard’s theory showed that the idea of room-temperature superconducting materials was no more than an impossible dream.

To Anderson, that Times article made for a fascinating story, but one that simply didn’t compute. Indeed, after polling many of the top superconductivity researchers in the United States, The Scientist was unable to find a single scientist off Caltech’s campus who thinks the theory is right.

The September 26 article by Times science writer Malcolm Browne appeared on the first day of the American...

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