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Robert Bárány
  1. J M S Pearce
  1. Department of Neurology, Hull Royal Infirmary, Hull, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr J M S Pearce
 304 Beverley Road, Anlaby, East Yorks HU10 7BG, UK; jmspearce{at}

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Magnus Gustaf Retzius (1842–1919) initiated the anatomical studies of the semicircular apparatus. The physiologist Jean Pierre Flourens (1794–1867) in 1825 had observed that when a pigeon’s horizontal semicircular canal was destroyed, it went on turning horizontally in a circle. Purkinje (1787–1869) proved that changing the head position induced vertigo in man. However, no experiments on rotating the head in animals were performed, and as Bárány noted:

 Science stood still in this respect for nearly 40 years.

In 1861, Ménière (1799–1862) had observed vertigo and tinnitus in inner ear disease. However, Goltz in 1870 deduced that if the destruction of the semicircular canal apparatus caused vertigo and imbalance, then the normal function of this apparatus must be to maintain equilibrium.

In the wake of these historical landmarks, Bárány discovered the …

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  • Competing interests: None.