- A Response to William Kingston, “Streptomycin, Schatz versus Waksman, and the Balance of Credit for Discovery”
To the Editor
Professor William Kingston (Research Associate in Business Studies, Trinity College, and Dublin) recently contributed an article to this journal relating to the controversy over the discovery of streptomycin and the respective roles played by Selman Waksman and his research student, Albert Schatz.1 Kingston's article purports to be a scholarly argument against the view, largely advanced by myself, that Schatz was denied the credit for his role as codiscoverer in the discovery of this important anti-TB antibiotic.
Kingston begins his article by referring to an article, published in Nature, by Peter Lawrence.2 Lawrence used the streptomycin controversy as an example of how misallocation of credit in science is endemic; Lawrence based his references to streptomycin on my published work. Kingston next launches into a quite remarkable personalized attack on my work. He snidely questions the assertion by the editor of Nature that I am "an independent medical scientist," despite the fact that I have published widely on germ theory and the history of antibiotics. His doubts about this assertion are based on a quote he provides from Miracle Cure,3 my popular account of the history of antibiotics. (Kingston incorrectly states that this was published a year before Lawrence's article; in fact it was published some twelve years before.) Here he points out that [End Page 218] I claim that the relevant chapter "is the first detailed account of the history of streptomycin to be published and in it I have once again attempted to redress an historical imbalance, this time in favour of Albert Schatz, one of its co-discoverers." Kingston takes this statement, together with a quote from a newspaper article, that "Wainwright had an ax to grind" and that "Lawrence apparently felt no need to search the literature for confirmation or denial of Wainwright's case." Personally, I see nothing wrong with "correcting an historical imbalance," provided such attempts are, as in my case, evidenced-based. Kingston on the other hand, regards this quote as providing prima facie evidence that my work is biased against Waksman and that I have an "ax to grind" for Schatz.
Kingston then gives his own account of the discovery of streptomycin and the relative roles played by Waksman and Schatz. Throughout much of what follows, Kingston implies that I am part of some conspiracy to denigrate Waksman in favor of Schatz. He also links me with the latter's claims that he is the sole discoverer of streptomycin and with various other misguided claims that Schatz won a Nobel Prize for streptomycin. Throughout, Kingston is content to refer to my book Miracle Cure and to a magazine article, the contents of which I had no editorial control over. Where I have control over my views, I consistently state that Schatz should be regarded as codiscoverer of streptomycin, a status Waksman was loathe to credit him with.
To misrepresent my views, Kingston makes only passing reference to my main paper on the streptomycin discovery, namely, "Streptomycin Discovery and Resultant Controversy," published in the respected, international, peer-reviewed journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.4 This article was based on (1) interviews I had with Schatz and various others of Waxman's research students, (2) on archival data kept at Rutgers, and (3) on material provided to me by Schatz, which has since been deposited in the archives of Temple University. Kingston cites this paper in his article, but he fails to make extensive reference to it. Had he done so (did he read it?), he would have found my responses to all the points he raises regarding the respective roles of Waksman and Schatz in the discovery [End Page 219] of streptomycin. The said article is extensively cross-referenced and provides evidence in support of my view that Schatz (1) should be regarded as the codiscover of streptomycin, and (2) suffered an injustice at the hands of Waksman, Rutgers University, and the U.S. scientific community. Fortunately, Rutgers made amends by awarding Schatz their medal (their top award) at a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary...