30 May 2016

Review: Prize Fight: The Race and the Rivalry to be the First in Science by Morton A. Meyers

I'm falling behind on my audio drama reviews again, as always, but I valiantly struggle to keep up. See what I thought of Series Three of the Survivors revival, over at USF.

Trade paperback, 262 pages
Published 2013 (originally 2012)
Acquired December 2013
Read May 2016
Prize Fight: The Race and the Rivalry to be the First in Science
by Morton A. Meyers

This is a book of two parts; I'll start with the second one, which comprises the last two-thirds or so of the book. This covers two instances of fights over credit in the sciences, specifically the medical sciences. These are over streptomycin (an antibiotic, and the first effective treatment for tuberculosis) and MRI. In the former case, a graduate student felt he was not given sufficient credit for the work he did; in the latter, one of two researchers working in the same area felt that the other didn't cite him for what was essentially his breakthrough. In both cases, Meyers provides in-depth research (including archival sources and personal interviews), and creates interesting and compelling narratives. This is where the book really came to life-- though the title is a bit of a misnomer, as it's not about being "first," but about getting credit at all.

The first part of the book reads like an attempt to find some kind of general applicability in these two specific anecdotes; Meyers wants you to see how science's rationality and objectivity is affected by personality and bias. It's a little too simplistic to really work, and comes across mostly as a series of anecdotes than a compelling synthesis. I take issue with some of his engagement with non-scientific disciplines; most museum theorists would disagree with his assertion that art museums don't create a narrative of progress, and I was underwhelmed by his reading of Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmith. Plus he says Darwin and Wallace independently coined the phrase "survival of the fittest," when in fact it was Herbert Spencer's coinage! I'd rather have seen a third "prize fight" story than this awkward attempt to generalize the concepts of the book.

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