Friday, June 29, 2012

why me and not some academic writing up Henry Dawson's discoveries ?

Good question : one I get asked many times.

One answer is that if an academic is ever going to do a thesis on Henry Dawson, I want it done before I am dead,  so I can read it too.

I mean the man made the significant breakthrough in DNA almost 85 years ago, the significant breakthrough in penicillin almost 75 years ago - so why aren't thesis supervisors beating at his family's door, looking for personal and professional papers ?

I think I know why.

I am a longtime DIYer and I instantly recognized a kindred "go it alone" spirit in Dawson's tiny little makeshift penicillin project, something I was sure that "Big Academia's collegiality won't be able to fathom.

Modern day academics seem uncomfortable proceeding on a offbeat project without some sort of successful grant-offering process to support it and to validate it in their colleagues' eyes.

Dawson had the spirit of Punk and DIY and low postmodernity burned into his DNA and they, largely, do not.

They believe that the God of Academia is on the side of the big battalions like Florey and the OSRD , not hole-in-the-wall science efforts that never sought a grant - "not seeking a grant - why that is practically treason - does that man Dawson actually want us to go back to the bad old days ?"

Actually there has been one thesis cum book * on Dawson's "go it alone" effort - it is by an academic (David Parrish Adams) and in it,  Adams predictably pans Dawson mercilessly and sticks up for Vannevar Bush's OSRD .

I suspect his thesis supervisor said something like "there is at least 50 linear feet on the penicillin efforts of the NAS and OSRD in the National Archives - easily enough for an in-and-out thesis" and as usual, the PhD history candidate quickly got 'captured' by his sources.

When only the rich and powerful can afford fulsome archives, a study based only on archival sources only tells the story from the viewpoint of the rich and powerful.....

* Truth be told, I am largely writing up Dawson's life as a long , spirited, rebuttal to Adams' book "The Greatest Good to the Greatest Number" --- which I nevertheless fully enjoyed, because it gave me some insights into what Dawson's opponents - then and now - were saying about him.

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