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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Walker & Company; 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 (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,118,602 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John Barry on June 12, 2012
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By William R. Franklin VINE VOICE on November 11, 2012
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey D. Kenyon on May 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Interesting account of a battle over scientific credit. Unlike the famous clash between Newton and Leibniz over discovery of the calculus, in which Newton attempted to deny the independent work of Leibniz, this event took place between a professor and one of his graduate students.

The opponents were mismatched, and the outcome wasn't pretty, as those who read the book will discover. From the well-documented account presented here, one would certainly wish that Waksman had behaved in a more open and generous manner: certainly there was credit and glory enough to share, especially given that the discovery took place as a key event in Waksman's long and distinguished career; for Schatz, though, it turned out to be the pinnacle of an undistinguished career.

The book is perhaps weak in providing enough context for the work in soil microbiology, but to be fair, that isn't where the story lies. It is at its peak in taking the reader through the twists and turns of the relationship between the two men.

It's a readable account, and thought-provoking: it's not at all clear-cut exactly how credit should be allocated in an academic research lab, except to say that what happened clearly wasn't the proper way. Waksman used the discovery to dramatically advance his own career, while Schatz seems to have lived his life as the victim of the injustice done to him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By mindfulmaggie on September 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Selman Waksman the professor totally screwed his ph.d. assistant, Albert Schatz, out of any recognition or glory or media attention or money for the discovery of streptomycin. Waksman lied quite a bit about the facts of the experiments which led to the discovery and Rutgers University stood behind his version of the story. Eventually Schatz hired an attorney and won some concessions and some money but he was still completely left out of the consideration for a Nobel Prize for the discovery of streptomycin.

I felt really bad for Schatz who seemed like such an upstanding and extremely hard working fellow and he never appeared to recover from the deceit and ill-treatment. The book was fast paced and an easy read and the author did a great job of explaining the science and facts about soil biology for the lay reader.
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