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The Least Deserving Nobel Laureate

You can argue all night about who deserved and didn't deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for just about any year. But if you restrict the debate to science prizes, you'll find research that turned out to do more harm than good, experiments and conclusions that were just plain wrong, and scientists who turned out to be bad news all around. Take the case of Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger, who won the 1926 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

In 1907, this Danish scientist found that he could induce abnormal cell growth in rats by feeding them cockroaches that were infected with a species of worm he called Spiroptera neoplastica. Fibiger concluded that the worms caused cancer. To appreciate how significant the discovery seemed at the time, it’s important to understand that many doctors were furiously hunting a single cause of cancer. Some thought the disease was programmed into the body in embryonic cells. Others believed inanimate external factors triggered uncontrolled cell division. (English physician Percivall Pott observed in the 18th century that chimney sweeps were shockingly likely to suffer scrotal cancer.) The infectious theory was also quite popular, and its adherents pushed hard for recognition of Fibiger’s breakthrough. He received 16 Nobel Prize nominations beginning in 1922.

Did he deserve the Nobel? Well, hey, did you ever hear that worms cause cancer? Read his story and those of several other prize winners at Slate. Link

(Image source: Nobelprize)


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