As I understand it after winning two (un-shared) Nobel prizes Linus Pauling began work which eventually had him recommending large amounts of vitamin C to all and sundry.

When another scientist was unable to repeat the results a scandal began. Linus Pauling and/or his people made savage professional attacks on the poor researcher who just wanted to know how to get the same results in an experiment. Once the smoke settled it became clear that Pauling's conclusions were wrong after all and he should be ashamed of himself for treating another scientist so shabbily. Much was made about how far the mighty have fallen, a lesson to us all etc.

What I never hear about was Pauling's original claim in this regard and how he reached it. By what error or series of errors did he make such mistakes? I can imagine based on the severity of his defense he might have been long passed the rational portion of his life. But what was the primary claim, and for that matter, why do we seem to still act as if it were all true, that vitamin C is the answer; scurvy notwithstanding.

  • $\begingroup$ All the topics you list go to describe the great work Pauling did and was rewarded for and as such they are attached here to link him to them. My question, clearly stated, is about his work on vitamin C and what it actually was. Again, this is often lost in the story of the treatment of another scientist who first doubted the results. $\endgroup$
    – Elliot
    Feb 20, 2021 at 19:59

1 Answer 1


Among other things (I was present at one of Pauling's lectures), Pauling used examples of Vitamin C levels in various mammals as evidence that humans should use more.
FWIW, it was the opinion of most of his peers and colleagues that he had simply lost the power of rational investigation, using slim evidence of vitamin C's ability to strengthen cell walls and/or antioxidant capability as proof of the need for massive doses. Obviously he never investigated the excretion levels of vitamin C in overdosed test subjects.

If you were asking about what diseases Pauling claimed it helped fight, no surprise that cancer was on the list.

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    $\begingroup$ The following paper, in which Pauling suggests a daily dose of 5g of vitamin C for humans, seems relevant: Linus Pauling, "Are Recommended Daily Allowances for Vitamin C Adequate?". Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, Vol. 71, No. 11, pp. 4442-4446, November 1974 (online) "There is evidence that viruses are involved in some human cancers. Vitamin C might provide some protection against these cancers, through its antiviral activity. Moreover, an increased intake of the vitamin increases the strength of the intercellular cement [...]." $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    May 23, 2018 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks very much. That is just the answer I needed. And from a guy who was there, no less. Sad that human limitations often afflict people before they know it. $\endgroup$
    – Elliot
    May 23, 2018 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ As I recall Louse Leakey had similar difficulties when digging up "Man made" stone tools in North America. The other scientists shook their heads and asked him to reconsider his claims. I've seen many examples of older men, personal friends and famous men, losing it as it were in this way and similar. $\endgroup$
    – Elliot
    Sep 20, 2020 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly, both Pauling and his wife died of cancer. $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    Feb 20, 2021 at 3:04

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