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Experiment Eleven: Dark Secrets Behind the Discovery of a Wonder Drug Hardcover – May 8, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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From Booklist

In a basement laboratory at Rutgers University’s Department of Soil Microbiology, a 23-year-old graduate student made an important medical discovery in 1943. He then crusaded much of his life to get credit for that finding. Albert Schatz was a PhD student scouring soil samples in search of new antibiotics when he hit pay dirt with the discovery of a potent antibiotic derived from a species of fungal-like bacteria, actinomycetes. Streptomycin became an effective treatment for multiple infectious diseases, including tuberculosis. His boss and mentor, Selman Waksman, was a professor at Rutgers. Waksman grabbed all the glory—royalty money and notoriety—for the discovery. The ongoing rift between the two scientists culminated in a lawsuit and settlement in which Schatz was finally acknowledged as codiscoverer of the drug. In 1952, Waksman alone was awarded the Nobel Prize, and Schatz faded into academic oblivion. Pringle exposes the roles of personality, power, and the pharmaceutical industry in the process of medical research. Even in science, the truth can be tricky. --Tony Miksanek

Review

“A classic in the history of science. With forensic skill and narrative virtuosity, Pringle has at last told the true story of streptomycin; gripping in all the best ways.” ―Matt Ridley, author of Genome and The Rational Optimist

“Peter Pringle has done it again. The story of Experiment Eleven is amazing, but no more so than his brilliant reporting, narrative verve and cool command of scientific ideas.” ―Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

“Peter Pringle's excellent book Experiment Eleven details how a simple discovery dominated and remodelled the lives of both these two scientists. It tells of a bitter legal fight over credit and a misallocated Nobel prize. And, like the best of dramas, it reaches outwards, to illuminate scientific behaviour at the time, and forwards, to change our perceptions of scientific ethics today.” ―Peter A. Lawrence, Current Biology, Vol 22 No 7

“Riveting history of the discovery of one of the most important drugs of the last century…. [Pringle] skillfully relates an important tale of a life-saving scientific discovery tarnished by egotism and injustice.” ―Publishers Weekly

“Pringle tells a complex tale of scientific intrigue…. A gripping account of academic politics and the birth of the pharmaceutical industry. ” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Pringle exposes the roles of personality, power, and the pharmaceutical industry in the process of medical research. Even in science, the truth can be tricky.” ―Tony Miksanek, Booklist

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780802717740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717740
  • ASIN: 0802717748
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,589,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In the first half of his long career as a journalist, Pringle was one of a celebrated team of investigative reporters on Harold Evans' Sunday Times in London. (That brought "Those Are Real Bullets," a reconstruction of the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland, which Pringle co-authored with a colleague on that team.) Then he turned foreign correspondent, working in both Washington and, for some years, in Moscow. Settled finally in New York, he turned his skills to investigations into biology. "Food Inc" was an early look at the rise and power of agribiz. "The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov" drew on his experience in Russia to unravel the fate of a Soviet-era biologist who challenged Lysenko. By "Day of the Dandelion" Pringle knew enough to venture into fiction, creating a botanical detective: The Man from Kew. Now comes "Experiment Eleven", which --- as someone who has known Pringle for many years --- strikes me as his most ambitious effort yet, also his most technically adept.
It's a story of scientific fraud. Not just any fraud. The fraud behind the awarding of a Nobel Prize in 1952 to Selman Waksman --- and Waksman alone --- for his discovery of streptomycin in 1943. Streptomycin was a hugely important advance. After penicillin, it was the pioneering antibiotic: it cured tuberculosis. So its discoverer well deserved a Nobel. But the real discoverer, Albert Schatz, had been erased from the record by Waksman. Schatz, as a 23-year-old grad student working in the basement of Waksman's soil laboratory at Rutgers, had not merely identified the strain of microbes which are, so to speak, the raw form of streptomycin.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a beautifully rendered true story of a gross injustice to Dr. Albert Schatz, discoverer of the tuberculosis-fighting drug, streptomycin.

I had a remote connection with the players in this real-life drama. From 1935 to 1938 I lived next door, on Lafayette Ave., Passaic, NJ, to the then teenaged Al, before he went off to Rutgers University. He was eight years my senior. He later married Vivian Rosenfeld, whose father was my high school physics teacher. Her younger sister Eleanor, a talented pianist, was my friend.

As a Rutgers senior I inducted Dr. Selman Waksman into the honor society, Cap and Skull. That was before I knew the story Peter Pringle tells. I regret that when I was editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper, The Targum, I hadn't yet learned of the University's and Dr. Waksman's stealing credit from Al for the streptomycin discovery. I'd have enjoyed exposing them, as I'd busted the school's support of fraternity racial segregation and unlawful ROTC loyalty oaths.

Rutgers administrators were also duplicitous toward the school's most famous graduate, Paul Robeson. I was the last student to interview him--that was in January, 1947--for the singer/actor who'd been an All-American athlete and 1919 valedictorian was never invited back to give a concert. He was unwelcome because of his political views. As the Cold War thawed, Rutgers administrators reclaimed the celebrity, Robeson, whose heart they had already broken.

An emotional connection was my having last seen and talked outdoors with my estranged mother in 1937, when I was nine, just a few feet from the Schatzes' corner house. In 1942, one year before Al discovered streptomycin, she committed suicide in the belief her TB was incurable.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Especially in modern times, a great scientific discovery is only rarely attributable to a single individual. Particularly in experiment, important work often involves legions of dedicated researchers and the ones responsible for the critical insights are not always easily defined. And too often, scientists are accorded the honour of discovery only through seniority. Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize for elucidating the structure of DNA when he did little more than manage the laboratory where the original X-ray diffraction data were taken. Rosalind Franklin, who actually produced the critical data, received nothing. Even in pure theory, the waters can be muddy. The discovery of the mechanism by which gauge mesons acquire mass in a gauge theory with a spontaneously broken symmetry is most frequently attributed, especially in the popular press, to Peter Higgs when most of the credit should be allocated to Guralnik, Hagen and Kibble. And at least half a dozen others could be cited who resolved part of the mystery.

This book tells a very different type of story. Selman Waksman has been almost universally regarded as the sole discoverer of Streptomycin, which was derived from fungi present in New Jersey farmyard soil. However, it was his student, Albert Schatz, who first isolated the substance and demonstrated its antibacterial properties. At first, Waksman "graciously" acknowledged his student's contributions, allowing him the place of senior author on the first published papers and sharing a patent with him.
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