Nobel controversy update

Back in October, I wrote about the bittersweet nature of this year’s Nobel in Physiology or Medicine.

On the one hand, it was given for early discoveries in the field of innate immunity – my field! On the other hand, it was given to a scientist that many* feel is undeserving of the honor, while at the same time sullying the legacy of my scientific great-grandfather.

Ed Yong rightly called me out for the phrase “many scientists.” This term, and another often-used trope, “some scientists,” are vague and lazy, since they obscure the details and can mean almost anything. “Many scientists dispute global warming,” or “Many scientists dispute evolution,” are examples of statements that, while technically true, are misleading and absurd if you know that details.

To further criticize myself, my “many scientists” statement referred mostly to other scientists in Charlie Janeway’s and Ruslan Medzhitov’s lineage, who aren’t necessarily the most unbiased sources. I was gratified, however, to receive several comments on that post from scientists I don’t know and that are unrelated to Janeway and Medzhitov who also agreed. In addition, last month, an open letter to Nature, written on behalf of 26 senior scientists (intentionally restricted to people not affiliated with in the lineage of Janeway/Medzhitov*) that say much the same thing.

Immunologists are delighted that the field of innate immunity has been recognized by this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. However, we believe that the Nobel Committee should also have acknowledged the seminal contributions of immunologists Charles A. Janeway Jr (1943-2003) and Ruslan Medzhitov[…]

The innate-adaptive connection is now a fundamental principle in immunology. We believe that the work of Janeway and Medzhitov was a Nobel-standard breakthrough for immunology.

Yes, this whole exercise is probably meaningless to anyone outside the innate immunity community. But I’m on the inside, and it seems important to me.

*See Mike Pollard’s comment and my response below.


  1. #1 MobiusKlein
    November 29, 2011

    I think you have a busted close tag in there somewhere –
    proof it, and repost please!

  2. #2 Kevin
    November 29, 2011

    @ Mobius – Gah, that was a bad one. The one time I fail to preview before I post…

  3. #3 Mike Pollard
    December 1, 2011

    Hi Kevin,

    Just as an FYI. I seriously doubt that list was “intentionally restricted to people not affiliated with Janeway/Medzhitov” because there are 5 Yale folks in there including one who has been an author on “Immunobiology”; be interesting to know how many others have co-authored with Janeway or Medzhitov but I simply do not have the time to search. The listing is supplementary information for the letter which appears in the Nov 10, 2011 issue of Nature under Correspondence.


  4. #4 Kevin
    December 1, 2011

    @ Mike – You’re right, that was poorly written. I mean to distinguish from the people I was referring to in my first post (all of which had trained with either Charlie or Ruslan), but “not affiliated” implies they had no ties at all. I’ve edited the post to (hopefully) make that more clear).

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