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Peter Medawar

Peter Medawar is currently working on cancer researchfor the Medical Research Council. He won theNobel prize for Medicine in 1960. His Advice to a Young Scientist will be published next spring.

Todd Almighty

Peter Medawar, 16 February 1984

Lord Todd’s describing himself as ‘a chemist’ is not mock modesty but a true representation of how he sees himself and chooses to be seen by others – no ordinary chemist, mind you, but the supremo of British chemistry for very many years and a figure of world rank as well. He is a Nobel Laureate and a peer and has been President of the Royal Society and the Head of a Cambridge College; he has earned, too, what must surely be the rarest and most prestigious of all doubles – membership of our own Order of Merit and of the Order Pour le Mérite, the German model of our own. I believe the only two others who have won this double are Henry Moore and Sir Ronald Syme.–

The Meaning of Silence

Peter Medawar, 2 February 1984

Lewis Thomas’s latest book is a collection of 24 short essays of which the first has to do with the gravest problem confronting mankind – the Bomb. In this essay his fans see a different Lewis Thomas – angry where he was once urbane, grim rather than gay, for no aspect of the bomb is at all funny and upon this subject Thomas is unrelievedly grave. His night thoughts are akin to those that most of us have when awake at dawn or sleepless in the small hours of the morning, or whenever the faculty of self-deception that so often insulates us from real life is temporarily in abeyance. For me, the gravest of these black morning thoughts is that the future of England and, ecumenically speaking, of the world depends upon the decisions of party politicians such as Mr Heseltine who can have no deep understanding of these awful matters, and of warlords who in respect of strategic understanding and common humanity are not likely to have altered greatly from, for example, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, architect of the strategy of attrition that cost hundreds of thousands of British casualties in the Somme offensive and at Passchendaele.–

The Pissing Evile

Peter Medawar, 1 December 1983

The discovery of insulin may be rated the first great triumph of medical science. The first important contribution of the great pharmaceutical companies to human welfare was surely the preparation, purification, standardisation and marketing of insulin in a form suitable for self-administration by the afflicted patients.

Scientific Fraud

Peter Medawar, 17 November 1983

Some policemen are venal; some judges take bribes and deliver verdicts accordingly; there are secret diabolists among men in holy orders and among vice-chancellors are many who believe that most students enjoying higher education would be better-off as gardeners or in the mines; moreover, some scientists fiddle their results or distort the truth for their own benefit.

Osler’s Razor

Peter Medawar, 17 February 1983

Lewis Thomas is a physician, a scientist, a medical administrator, and a man of letters whose previous books, The Lives of a Cell (1974) and The Medusa and the Snail (1979), and occasional writing for the New England Journal of Medicine have brought him a large following. The Youngest Science will meet his fans’ highest expectations.

Abortion, Alienation, Anomie

Peter Medawar, 2 December 1982

I have reason to believe that the Harvard University Press has it in mind to revive the literary genre of which the exemplar is Voltaire’s Dictionnaire Philosophique – a bright idea, for Voltaire’s Dictionary is still read with delight by those who have come to think the better-known Candide intolerably tiresome.

Florey Story

Peter Medawar, 20 December 1979

Howard Walter Florey was a great man and nomistake. He devoted the more important partof his professional life to a single wholly admirable purpose which he pursued until he achieved it, showing, in spite of many setbacks and rebuffs, the magnanimity that is the minimal entry qualification for being considered ‘great’. In a memorialaddress, Patrick Blackett likened Florey’s achievement to that of Jenner, Pasteur and Lister: but the public were so little aware of him that when Macfarlane first approached publishers with the notion of a biography, they wondered if he would not do better to write on Alexander Fleming instead. This, Macfarlane surmises, was because the public had already cast Fleming as the hero of the great penicillin story: he was a closer approximation than Howard Florey to the public’s stereotype of a great scientist, for, although a great scientist, Florey was the kind of man who would have been a success at anything he had chosen to turn his hand to. Macfarlane thinks the comparison of Florey with Jenner, Pasteur and Lister is specially aptbecause ‘the work of these three men forms a logical sequence with his own that spans, in the course of about 150 years, the gulf between almost totaltherapeutic helplessness and the virtual defeat of most of the important bacterialdiseases.’ Whatever the general public may have thought about him, Florey stood unsurpassably high in the estimation of his colleagues – that which meansmost to a scientist – and in due course they elected him head of their profession in England as President of the Royal Society.

Medawar’s Knack

N.W. Pirie, 27 September 1990

Jean Taylor met Peter Medawar when they were students. When she married him she therefore knew that he was an extremely able biologist, but she cannot have foreseen what an energetic polymath she...

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Medawartime

June Goodfield, 6 November 1986

My first encounter with Peter Medawar revealed something about us both. When he was the new Mason Professor of Zoology in the University of Birmingham I was a student at University College,...

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Science and the Stars

M.F. Perutz, 6 June 1985

Medawar presents an erudite and entertaining account of the limits of science, or mostly the lack of them, as perceived by great thinkers from Francis Bacon to Karl Popper and himself. His...

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Unmaking mysteries

Mark Ridley, 1 September 1983

Sir Peter Medawar is the most distinguished biologist in Britain today. His work on immunology during the 1950s is the inspiration of all modern transplantation surgery, and was judged worthy of...

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True Science

M.F. Perutz, 19 March 1981

This is a guide book to the scientific scene, full of urbane wisdom, happy phrases and entertaining examples. ‘How can I tell if I am cut out to be a scientist?’ Medawar asks. He...

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