Controversy over the Nobel Prize in Medicine

Controversy over the Nobel Prize in Medicine

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Dr. Raymond Damadian failed to be included in this year’s Nobel honors for work in Medicine, and feels sore about it.  Although he was the inventor of the first machine that discovers cancers through magnetic resonance imaging, the award went to two other and somewhat subsequent scientists, Paul Lauterbur and Peter Mansfield.  Notoriously, the Nobel committees never reveal their deliberations (until everyone is long dead) and never change their minds.  So, although by having taken out advertisements of protest in The New York Times and The Washington Post may make him feel somewhat better, and draw attention to his bad luck, Damadian seems fated to remain with the rest of us who are not Nobel Laureates.  He will join Charles Best of Banting and Best fame who discovered the significance of insulin treatment for diabetes – Frederick Banting and his boss J.J.R. McCleod (who was on vacation at the time) got the award and Best the junior scientist was left out.

But perhaps Dr. Damadian does have reason to feel having been slighted for the wrong reasons.  He is not just an inventor, but also a very prominent Christian.  And not just a Christian of any bland kind, but a Creation Scientist – one of those people who believes that the Bible, especially including Genesis, is absolutely literally true – six days of creation, Adam and Eve the first humans, universal flood, and all of the rest.  It is as least as likely a hypothesis that Damadian was ignored by the Nobel committee because they did not want to award a Prize to an American fundamentalist Christian as that they did not think his work merited the fullest accolade.  In the eyes of rational Europeans – and Swedes are nothing if not rational Europeans – it is bad enough that such people exist, let alone give them added status and a pedestal from which to preach their silly ideas.  Especially a scientific pedestal from which to preach their silly anti-science ideas.

Is this unfair?  One certainly feels a certain sympathy for the Nobel committee.  Creation science is wrong and (if taught to young people as the truth) dangerous.  It does represent everything against which good science stands.  However, even the best scientists believe some very strange things, and if we start judging one area of their work in terms of other beliefs that they have, we could well do more harm than good.  Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of them all, had some very strange views about the proper interpretation of such Biblical books as Daniel and Revelation, and in respects believed things about the universe – its past and its future – that make today’s Creation Scientists seem comparatively mild.  More recently, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of natural selection along with Charles Darwin, became an enthusiast for spiritualism, believing that there are hidden forces controlling every aspect of life.  People knew this and were embarrassed by it, but it did not stop them from celebrating and praising Wallace’s great scientific work.  He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, and given Britain’s greatest award for achievement, the Order of Merit.

All of my life I have fought for evolution and against Creationism – in writings, on the podium, and in court in 1981 as a witness in Arkansasagainst a law demanding that Creation Science be taught alongside evolution in the state supported schools.  But as one who loves science above all and thinks it the greatest triumph of the human spirit – as one who has no religious beliefs whatsoever – I cringe at the thought that Raymond Damadian was refused his just honor because of his religious beliefs.  Having silly ideas in one field is no good reason to deny merit for great ideas in another field.  Apart from the fact that this time the Creation Scientists will think that there is good reason to think that they are the objects of unfair treatment at the hands of the scientific community.