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Abortion, Alienation, Anomie

Peter Medawar, 2 December 1982

Prejudices: A Philosophical Dictionary 
by Robert Nisbet.
Harvard, 318 pp., £12.25, November 1982, 0 674 70065 1
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... 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. Voltaire’s is not, of course, a dictionary in the sense of being a work of reference in which one looks things up, but something more in the style of a ‘reader’ containing upwards of fifty essays of unequal length on subjects united only by having interested their author ...

Florey Story

Peter Medawar, 20 December 1979

Howard Florey: The Making of a Great Scientist 
by Gwyn Macfarlane.
Oxford, 396 pp., £7.95
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... it to Florey. When he handed it back to me, he said: ‘I don’t see what you’re getting at, Medawar. The paper doesn’t make sense to me.’ Later on, having learned better, I wrote a clear and simple paper for a journal Florey was particularly fond of and regularly read, and I was overjoyed when Florey passed me in one of the narrow lanes that wind ...

Scientific Fraud

Peter Medawar, 17 November 1983

Betrayers of the Truth: Fraud and Deceit in the Halls of Science 
by William Broad and Nicholas Wade.
Century, 256 pp., £8.95, July 1983, 0 7126 0243 7
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... 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 ...

The Meaning of Silence

Peter Medawar, 2 February 1984

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony 
by Lewis Thomas.
Viking, 168 pp., $12.95, November 1983, 0 670 70390 7
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... 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 ...

The Pissing Evile

Peter Medawar, 1 December 1983

The Discovery of Insulin 
by Michael Bliss.
Paul Harris, 304 pp., £15, September 1983, 0 86228 056 7
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... 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. The entire episode brought to an end, with an appropriately reverberant thunderclap, the long epoch of therapeutic nihilism described by Lewis Thomas in his most recent book ...

Todd Almighty

Peter Medawar, 16 February 1984

A Time to Remember: The Autobiography of a Chemist 
by Alexander Todd.
Cambridge, 257 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 521 25593 7
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... 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 ...

Osler’s Razor

Peter Medawar, 17 February 1983

The Youngest Science 
by Lewis Thomas.
Viking, 256 pp., $14.75, February 1983, 9780670795338
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... 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. In American letters I can compare Thomas only with Oliver Wendell Holmes (the father of the one whom Americans think of first ...

Medawartime

June Goodfield, 6 November 1986

Memoir of a Thinking Radish: An Autobiography 
by Peter Medawar.
Oxford, 209 pp., £12.50, April 1986, 0 19 217737 0
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... 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, Nottingham, and one of my tasks as president of the student Zoological Society was to give votes of thanks to visiting speakers ...

Medawar’s Knack

N.W. Pirie, 27 September 1990

A Very Decided Preference: Life with Peter Medawar 
by Jean Medawar.
Oxford, 256 pp., £15, August 1990, 0 19 217779 6
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The Threat and the Glory: Reflections on Science and Scientists 
by Peter Medawar, edited by David Pyke.
Oxford, 291 pp., £15, August 1990, 0 19 217778 8
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... 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 was attaching herself to. Medawar’s ability led at first to frequent moves to better jobs, with consequent house-hunting, and to much travel, on which she accompanied him, to lecture and attend conferences ...

Unmaking mysteries

Mark Ridley, 1 September 1983

Pluto’s Republic 
by Peter Medawar.
Oxford, 351 pp., £12.50, October 1982, 1 921777 26 5
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... 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 a Nobel Prize. In addition to his technical work, he also writes and lectures on science to a broader audience, and with more grace and wit than any one else who has tried his skill in that field ...

Science and the Stars

M.F. Perutz, 6 June 1985

The Limits of Science 
by Peter Medawar.
Oxford, 108 pp., £7.50, February 1985, 0 19 217744 3
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... 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 arguments are couched in largely epistemological terms which do not arouse my passions, but they stimulated me to think about those limits that affect laymen’s attitudes to science, about the practical limits scientists face in their everyday research, and laymen in their daily lives, and about the limits that affect industrial and public policy ...

True Science

M.F. Perutz, 19 March 1981

Advice to a Young Scientist 
by P.B. Medawar.
Harper and Row, 109 pp., £4.95, February 1980, 0 06 337006 9
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... happy phrases and entertaining examples. ‘How can I tell if I am cut out to be a scientist?’ Medawar asks. He dismisses curiosity (it killed the cat) and suggests that scientists need something for which ‘exploratory impulsion’ is not too grand a name. But what about delight and wonder at the works of nature? Without these you might as well join ...

Tinkering

John Maynard Smith, 17 September 1981

The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Norton, 343 pp., £6.95, April 1981, 0 393 01380 4
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... The list of writers I have just given, together with a later generation – for example, Medawar, Dawkins and Gould himself – suggests that a successful writer of popular science must have two qualities. First, all except H.G. Wells were practising scientists, and the exception in a sense proves the rule, because Wells would dearly have liked to ...
Criticism in the University 
edited by Gerald Graff and Reginald Gibbons.
Northwestern, 234 pp., £29.95, September 1985, 0 8101 0670 1
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... of academic life in general, but one can guess at more particular reasons. Not long ago Sir Peter Medawar remarked that when the momentous DNA discoveries were being made there were plenty of people in the English faculties of universities quite as clever as Crick and Watson – but Crick and Watson had something to be clever about. For the last ...

Neurotic Health

Michael Shepherd, 17 December 1981

Becoming Psychiatrists 
by Donald Light.
Norton, 429 pp., £10.95, June 1981, 0 393 01168 2
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... help, counsel and advise his patients. Now the American consumer appears to have rumbled what Sir Peter Medawar has termed the most stupendous confidence-trick of the 20th century. To be sure, the numbers of mentally sick and worried well have not diminished. They are still in search of help, but they are turning more and more to drugs, to ...

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