Friday, January 18, 2013

Like Admiral Byng, but in reverse, AlexanderFleming was given a Nobel prize "pour encourager les autres"

Alexander Fleming pursued, preserved and publicized a foolish observation that turned out to be.... not so foolish after all.

His personal Nobel Prize was really to encourage other future scientists to also publicize their oddball observations because they too might be all important.

New scientific breakthroughs are often delayed because the scientifically powerful are older and no longer open to an new ideas any newer than the new breakthroughs of their youth.

A person bold enough to bring forth oddball ideas is likely to face a lot of bricks and catcalls from these powerful personages who control grants and tenure and publication in big journals. (Big shout out to Dr Milton Wainwright !)

So the thought that a possible future Nobel Prize might lay in the offing if one faces the bricks and the catcalls , does tend to give all of us a little dutch courage.

Fleming was badly wrong about penicillin on two key counts.

It did not need to be synthetic to be useful and it was not limited to only local antiseptic use, but he argued these points from a reasoned position and did not attempt to weasel away from these positions when he was proven badly wrong by the mid-1940s.

And when I say wrong, I mean being highly visible wrong (as Fleming had become the most famous single person on earth).

Wrong ,wrong, wrong before the eyes of every single scientist in the world.

Fleming accepted he had been wrong and didn't fudge it

That took more than a little courage --- it is a pity than none of the rest of the penicillin pioneers who also advocated synthetic penicillin research to well past its due date were not as open in admitting their similar error......

No comments:

Post a Comment