He preferred buzzers

Michael D. Gordin

  • Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science by Daniel Todes
    Oxford, 855 pp, £25.00, December 2014, ISBN 978 0 19 992519 3

It looked for a long time as if Ivan Petrovich Pavlov wouldn't amount to much as a scientist. On Pavlov's 40th birthday in 1889, as Daniel Todes notes in his magisterial biography, ‘an unsympathetic outsider might have described him as an ageing part-time lecturer and lab assistant whose only official position was Commissioned Physician at the Clinical Military Hospital, a scientist with grand notions who had just been passed over for two extremely rare professorships in his field.’ His own titanic self-confidence notwithstanding, who was going to back a scientist whose most creative years were probably behind him? Certainly not the bean counters who underwrote the risks of expensive laboratory research in imperial St Petersburg.

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