In the 1950s–60s biochemists searched intensively for a series of high-energy molecules in the cell. Although we now believe that these molecules do not exist, biochemists claimed to have isolated or identified them on at least sixteen occasions. The episode parallels the familiar eighteenth-century case of phlogiston, in illustrating how error is not simply the loss of facts but, instead, must be actively constructed. In addition, the debates surrounding each case demonstrate how revolutionary-scale disagreement is sometimes resolved by differentiating or partitioning empirical domains, rather than by replacement of one theory by another.

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