“Scientific work, unless accurately done, had better not be done at all”
“Preconceived opinion is the pretended assumption by man of godly attributes which he does not possess”
As synchronicity has it…
Days ago, the BBC mentioned the controversy that prevented scientists from recognizing pre-Cambrian complex lifeforms for some 93 years.
Now it’s The Scientist dedicating an article to Oscar Liebrich and Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum and five lost decades in Science, on the basis of Theodore Sourkes’s book titled The Life and Work of J.L.W. Thudichum (click here for an alternative review).
Liebrich was the first to propose “that brain tissue was composed of a single giant molecule called ‘protagon’” (an idea destined quickly to become the “Protagon Consensus”). Thudichum was instead the brilliant scientist, “disenchanted with Liebrich’s theory“, able to “carefully [detail] the chemical constitution of the brain” decades ahead of his time, and of course victim of the consensus: dismissed by his colleagues as a “liar“.
The same concepts are reported by Daniel D. Christensen, M.D. in the Am J Psychiatry 160:459, March 2003: (here another version of the same article):
[Thudichum’s] attempts to understand the chemistry of the brain were often hotly debated and mocked. At times, even his personal character was attacked, as well as his honesty and motives. In the scientific press, he was called a “liar” and accused of “patent falsification.”
Thudichum’s main book on the topic dates 1884, some twenty years after the establishment of the Protagon Consensus and more or less the same span of time before its final demise. But Liebrich had started from a very strong position, being “a pupil of Hoppe-Seyler, one of the founders of biochemistry“. Dr. A Gamgee, Professor of Physiology in Manchester, didn’t waste much time to think about “protagon” before jumping in it with both his feet.
And so as late as 1909, somebody like W. Cramer could still be arguing for protagon, with M Steel and William J Geis spending twenty pages on the topic .
Another of Cramer’s Protagon Consensus articles shows characteristics that will not be unfamiliar to the AGW skeptic: interminable arguments deeply buried underneath layers of apparently scholarly reasoning (something we now know as utterly baseless); a pro-protagon explanation always at hand; and the wholesale dismissal of non-consensus ideas.
In an ironic twist, there is no space any longer for Liebrich in the history of biochemistry. And Thudichum is nowadays perhaps excessively celebrated, with a Medal Lecture in his honour. Still, his words are as true as ever: “Preconceived opinion is the pretended assumption by man of godly attributes which he does not possess“.