Borman, Stu. "19th-Century Chemist Kekule Charged With Scientific Misconduct," Chemical

 

Borman, Stu. "19th-Century Chemist Kekule Charged With Scientific Misconduct," Chemical
and Engineering News, 23 August 1993, pp. 20-21.

Here is a brief account of a continuing controversy concerning another of those myths in science:
chemist Friedrich Kekule's famous dream which gave him the hint needed for solving the
structure of benzene. A pair of chemists, John H. Wotiz of SIU, Carbondale, and Susanna
Rudofsky of UC, are accusing Kekule of misconduct. They have been thrashing Kekule for over
a decade, initially in an article in 1982 in the Journal of Chemical Education.

The accusation does not go unchallenged. Alan J. Rocke of Case Western, a specialist on Kekule,
finds that the accusations (now published in book form) "just don't hold water." Rocke's recent
challenge of the misconduct charge is in press in the History of Bulletin for the History of
Chemistry and in his latest book, "The Quiet Revolution (U of Chicago Press, 1993).

"Rocke agrees with Wotiz and Rudofsky on one point - that the benzene could not have entered
Kekule's mind fully formed in a dream. The inspiration the dream provided was only one aspect
of a creative process that also included experimental and theoretical work, he says. But although
it's impossible in principle to prove or disprove the occurrence of a dream, there is compelling
historical evidence to indicate that Kekule indeed had such an experience, says Rocke." (p. 21)

There's a recent book edited by Wotiz ("The Kekule Riddle" [Cache River Press, Vienna, Ill.,
1993]) in which the argument is continued. There's also a recent paper at ACS's meeting in
Chicago, 1993. In the book, 19 authors describe the shortcomings of Kekule: including
"exploiting other researchers' work without proper acknowledgement..."

"‘The dream itself was very clever misconduct,' says Wotiz. ‘Why did he claim it? The answer is
simple. By claiming that he conceived [benzene's structure] in a dream, Kekule had no need to
cite prior work because dreams come without footnotes and reference citations. By this
immaculate conception he wiped out the need to give credit to chemists who preceded him.'"

"The book says that other researchers, such as Austrian physics professor Joseph Loschmidt and
German chemistry professor Albert Ladenburg, developed cyclic structures for benzene before
Kekule did and that Kekule later failed to cite their work. It also contends that Kekule was a
German supernationalist who invented the dream so he wouldn't have to cite previous work in
the field by researchers from Austria, France, and Scotland. It says the ‘smoking gun' showing
Kekule's antiforeign bias is a personal letter in which he refers to the French people as
hundevolk, defined in the book as ‘sons of bitches.'

Wotiz and Rudofsky say the totality of evidence in the book justifies the charge of scientific
misconduct. ‘Each of the described incidents, though perhaps isolated, reinforce the other ones in
bringing into question Kekule's integrity,' they say."

Rocke, of course, disagrees. He admits there are earlier suggests concerning the structure of
benzene and insists that Kekule cited those references in his early papers.

Rocke also insists that Kekule had an internationalist outlook and was not xenophobia: the letter
denigrating the French was written, for example, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and
should be taken in context.

In a recent review of Wotiz's book, a review in Nature is cited as saying that the accusations of
misconduct "...are hardly supported by the facts." (p. 21)

In a reply to the Nature review, Rudofsky and Wotiz suggest the reviewer was not being
objective but, rather, trying to preserve the noble image of Kekule..." (p. 21)