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PRIZE FIGHT by Morton A. Meyers

PRIZE FIGHT

The Race and the Rivalry to Be the First in Science

By Morton A. Meyers

Pub Date: June 5th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-230-33890-6
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Meyers (Radiology and Medicine/School of Medicine, SUNY Stony Brook; Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs, 2007, etc.) examines distortions in the process of assigning credit for major scientific discoveries.

The author thinks reform is necessary to encourage creativity despite the financial pressures of competitive team science. He debunks the “dogma that science is self-correcting,” giving evidence of failures in the process of peer review, and he cites instances of university department heads taking sole credit for discoveries made by student researchers and instances of outright fraud (e.g., the notorious 1986 Baltimore Affair). Priority disputes, writes Meyers, are not new to science (see the Leibniz-Newton calculus controversy), and Dmitri Mendeleev's groundbreaking discovery of the periodic table was denied a Nobel Prize. Robert Gallo and Luc A. Montagnier argued over who should receive credit for the discovery of the AIDS virus. It took a meeting and signed agreement between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to ensure the right of both the American and the French scientist to claim credit. They finally reached a settlement in 1991, with Gallo conceding priority, and Montagnier was awarded the Nobel in 2010. Another example of a scientific dispute arose in 2005, when the first of a series of full-page advertisements appeared in the New York Times with the headline “This Shameful Wrong Must Be Righted!” The ads—which attacked the Nobel Prize committee for awarding to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield the prize for work that “led to the applications of magnetic resonance in medical imaging”—were purchased by another claimant who had been passed over, Raymond Damadian. Meyers, an expert in the field, knew both Lauterbur and Damadian, and he gives a fascinating account of the scientific issues involved as well as the political aspects of the dispute.

A thought-provoking examination of the political side of high-stakes science.