Friday, August 7, 2009

Sharp Elbows plentiful in Penicillin Fame Saga

Imagine our surprise when we consulted The Times over the(in) famous exchange in the Times' Letters section over who deserved the credit for penicillin, to discover that the whole affair had actually been started by a letter from TRC (probably Glaxo ) seeking to grab more than its fair share of the growing acclaim !

And while Fleming, finally, got to work doing something useful with penicillin in the latter part of the war, Florey devoted much energy in that same period to giving a similar-sounding historically oriented lecture, over and over, to various professional meetings.

Its sole intent seemed to have been to undercut Fleming's claim to be the first to discover and use penicillin, but to do so by means of an oblique attack so Florey couldn't be publicly seen as 'reaching' for fame - something too undignified for a FRS...

That whole period from August '42 till the naming of the Nobel winners turned out to have witnessed quite an organized effort by the Oxford group to grab the bulk of the credit - albeit doing so by avoiding public and the general media.

Its almost worth a book on its own - a prime example of how scientific and public acclaim is organized and manipulated.

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