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How come “publish or perish” didn’t touch Fred Sanger?

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Fred Sanger (1918-2013)

Biotech researcher and history of science buff Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar (“The Curious Wavefunction”) notes a recent obit for Frederick Sanger:

Fred Sanger was a remarkable and unique scientist, and with his passing on 19 November 2013 we have lost one of the founders of molecular biology. He won two Nobel Prizes for chemistry, but we claim him for molecular biology because the methods he developed for sequencing proteins and nucleic acids provide the basis for much of what we do today.

where obit author Sydney Brenner says (paywalled):

A Fred Sanger would not survive today’s world of science. With continuous reporting and appraisals, some committee would note that he published little of import between insulin in 1952 and his first paper on RNA sequencing in 1967 with another long gap until DNA sequencing in 1977. He would be labeled as unproductive, and his modest personal support would be denied. We no longer have a culture that allows individuals to embark on long-term—and what would be considered today extremely risky—projects.

Wavefunction sighs with relief that this is “a (thankfully) fictional twenty-first century Sanger.” Yes, to go along with the thankfully fictional twenty-first century Peter Higgs who says he (“would never make it in science today”) …

No. Don’t say anything. That would be shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre*, right? Drawing attention dangerously to a problem that doesn’t exist. Like those other Nobelists who are abandoning the science journals.

*Note: As an aside, how many people know that the original expression “shouting Fire! In a crowded theater” was employed as a justification for suppressing constitutionally protected freedom of speech in the United States (as in Congress shall make no law respecting … ):

First, it’s important to note U.S. v. Schenck had nothing to do with fires or theaters or false statements. Instead, the Court was deciding whether Charles Schenck, the Secretary of the Socialist Party of America, could be convicted under the Espionage Act for writing and distributing a pamphlet that expressed his opposition to the draft during World War I. As the ACLU’s Gabe Rottman explains, “It did not call for violence. It did not even call for civil disobedience.” … The crowded theater remark that everyone remembers was an analogy Holmes made before issuing the court’s holding. He was explaining that the First Amendment is not absolute. It is what lawyers call dictum, a justice’s ancillary opinion that doesn’t directly involve the facts of the case and has no binding authority. The actual ruling, that the pamphlet posed a “clear and present danger” to a nation at war, landed Schenk in prison and continued to haunt the court for years to come. … Together, the trio of rulings did more damage to First Amendment as any other case in the 20th century.

It was all overturned forty years ago. And every generation is only one generation from the extinction of intellectual freedom, without which there is no progress.

It’s not fiction and we should discuss it.

Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista

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