Thomas Goetz's new book is The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.
From his Q & A with Tessa Miller at The Daily Beast:
You write something in the beginning of the book: ‘If there’s one caution to this tale, it’s this: Avoid the temptation to read the story, and the science within it, as the inevitable march of progress, a predetermined direction for human history. Especially where scientific investigations are concerned, it’s a fallacy to treat history as an unstoppable trajectory away from ignorance and toward insight.’ Can you explain that more?--Marshal Zeringue
Well, it’s obvious in some regard: that history isn’t predetermined. But I thought it was worth underscoring because when it comes to science, we assume all previous discoveries were preordained. But those discoveries don’t just happen—they are the very real product of men and women and struggle and failure and all sorts of human foibles. The stories of discovery are so rote, though, that we forget that they took incredibly hard work.
Part of this story, in particular, is the way that credit and acknowledgement and fame were so essential to the story—you have people like the French scientist [Jean Antoine] Villemin who kind of discovered the TB bacteria, but nobody believed him, so he doesn’t get credit. And then you have Koch, who was so diligent that nobody could reasonably doubt him.
Really, the story is an example of how it is harder and harder to convince people to care about discovery. It starts with...[read on]