In the story, explorers sent to a certain planet were susceptible to a native disease, to which Earthlings have no cure. There is a legend that an early explorer who caught the disease got stranded away from base for a while and had to subsist on a native rat-like animal; when he finally got back to base, he no longer had the disease. (The veracity of this legend is controversial.) Earth scientists work feverishly to replicate this cure. The story describes the various experiments that are performed and all the different approaches they try, none of which are successful. Finally, a non-scientist explorer thinks to try replicating the original legend directly. He eats a rat raw, as the original explorer would have had to, and the cure works. Only then do scientists discover in hindsight that the cure was in some compound or micro-organism that gets killed or denatured by the preparation processes the scientists put their samples through before experimenting.

I read this 40-50 years ago, so my accuracy is somewhat approximate.

1 Answer 1


This is an approximate match for the story "Behind the Sandrat Hoax", by Christopher Anvil (Galaxy, October 1968.) This story doesn't mention a native disease—the problem is rather dying of thirst, which is prevented by eating a "sandrat"—but the other elements are present, although slightly different than you mention them: an early settler who ate the sandrats and survived, giving rise to a legend,

The legend is that if a man will catch a sandrat, cut out its digestive tract and eat it raw, he will be able to live in the desert without water. This is supposed to have been the secret of "Desert Bill," an early settler renowned for his ability to survive the desert.
someone who tries the trick later on and finds that it works,

Mathews: Write this down, will you? The rat story's right. You can eat grass and all. You can eat dry scratchweed. You can—

Attendant: Sure you can.

Mathews: You've got to get one alive. You can't cook it.

and later experiments which don't replicate the effect because a micro-organism inside the sandrat dies, leading to the incorrect belief that the sandrat effect doesn't exist:
Our experiments show that, in this particular animal's digestive system, there's a culture of microorganisms that breaks down cellulose... Evidently, the New Venus authorities fed their laboratory sandrats on starchy food and water. This microorganism, for some reason, doesn't like starch, and dies for lack of cellulose. Hence, their experiments demonstrated that the actual facts were imaginary.
  • Outstanding! This is precisely the story I remember. Thank you! (Hey, for having read it 54 years ago, I was close enough!) Feb 16, 2022 at 16:56

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