Fresh as I am from reading Quicksilver which is chock-a-block full of the doings of the Royal Society in its early days and scientific research (and rivalry) in the 1600s; I find this bit from the Wikipedia entry on Academic Publishing particularly amusing:

... when the Duke of Buckingham was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Society on June 5, 1661, he presented the Society with a vial of powdered "unicorn horn". It was a well-accepted 'fact' that a circle of unicorn's horn would act as an invisible cage for any spider. Robert Hooke, the chief experimenter of the Royal Society, emptied the Duke's vial into a circle on a table and dropped a spider in the centre of the circle. The spider promptly walked out of circle and off the table. In its day, this was cutting-edge research.