Monday, September 29, 2014

The pure penicillin acid in 1930's crude penicillium juice vs impure penicillin salts in 2010 penicillin pills

In crude penicillium juice, as exuded (pooped) straight from the mold, penicillin exists as the 100% free pure acid, swimming about in a lot of murky water.

An old rural uneducated woman living alone (the sort we used to burn as witches) can make this stuff.

By no coincidence, most of us would describe this penicillin (inaccurately) as highly impure.

But when we take a penicillin pill , it consists of lots of buffers and fillers and a little of that free penicillin acid now chemically bound to a metal in the form of a salt.

It takes a village of highly educated men (and about a billion dollars in equipment) to raise this child.

Again by no coincidence, most of us would (inaccurately) call this pill 100% pure penicillin.

The terms of pure and impure are really nothing but scientific rhetoric , as devoid of any fixed precise meaning as every term is in scientific rhetoric...

Citrus tree , Citrus juice , vitamin C , sCurvy : Penicillium mold , Penicillium juice , Penicillin , Pneumonia

When I was a schoolkid, a teacher taught me a little trick to correctly associate the juice from citrus trees with vitamin c and scurvy. (Think of their common link : "C".)

I have found it useful to do much the same with the juice from penicillium molds, penicillin and pneumonia. (Think of their common link : "P".)

Today we realize that a food consists mostly of water (needed for digestion itself as well as for the rest of our bodily activities) and non-toxic materials we can not digest ( bone and fibre) also needed for digestion.

Each food also tends to be valued for the large amount of a single essential food type it produces .

( Think fat for butter, milk for the mineral calcium , meat for protein, potato for starch carbohydrates, oranges for vitamin c) but each of course also produces some of most of the other food types.

We need great varieties of unpurified foods because we need trace (or bigger) amounts of not just vitamins and minerals but also of different types ( in chemical terms , different shapes) of the basic sugars, fats and proteins to survive and grow healthy.

Variety even trumps sheer volume.

Finally a food tends to produce small amounts of substances that while perhaps not originally designed by the plant or animal to be a poison, are toxic to humans.

We manage these poison issues by avoiding plants or animals filled with them, by avoiding plant parts filled with them, only picking plants at certain times of their growing cycle, or by treating the food before cooking - or by expecting cooking to de-nature the poison.

Finally we manage them by eating them quite deliberately but hopefully in small amounts : coffee or alcohol for example.

If we accept this new science, we can see why it is better to eat "impure" (so called - inaccurately) oranges than it is to take daily semi-synthetic vitamin c pills described (inaccurately) as pure.

Ditto, we could take our penicillin not in pure pills ( inaccurately so called) but as penicillium juice and done with care - the same sort of care we need to take while eating potatoes - it will not harm us and is certainly better than fighting a severe infection without any antibiotic.

This is one of the basic thesis of my book : wartime penicillin thought of a sort of vitamin ...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Henry Dawson gave penicillin a job - a real job : lifesaving. That's all he did. But it changed our whole world for the better , forever

Like a lot of the rest of us, penicillin was severely underemployed during the twelve mean years of the Great Depression, between 1929 and 1940.

But on October 16th 1940 (almost seventy five years ago) Henry Dawson finally gave penicillin a job. A real job : lifesaving.

That's all he did.

To most male scientists then and now (much to their discredit) because he wasn't "the first" to "discover" penicillin, he did nothing .

But , in fact, when Dr Dawson gave penicillin a real job, he changed our whole world for the better , forever.

Moms know that - even if male scientists (and male academics generally) - still don't.

Even though real life is more than just teenage pissing contests about who can piss first or furthest....

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How big is the metropolitan New York City area ?

For people like newspaper reporters, sales reps and professionals delivering a lecture or paper, the furthest extent of metro NYC is pretty easy to measure.

If you can get into work early, check in and then take a car or train to the location, do some useful business and then return late to the office, and then still later home to sleep in one's own bed, it's still metro.

Rising early and home late may be hellish and the checkins at the office bookending your work day may be mere tokens but it avoids that expensive hotel room and best of two days (or more) away from family and office.

The time of day for your key business is paramount - an evening lecture or presentation makes the circle of distances evoke by words 'metro NYC 'very much much smaller.

Measuring the extent of metro NYC is important in the tale of the Gotham Eight because metro residents shared a lot in common with Dr Dawson and his team.

Metro residents all heard NYC radio, possibly watched - even then - NYC TV , read the big NYC papers , understood all the local NYC area references , took in big NYC movies and musicals and sports events.

You were among your own kind, sharing a common metro culture - even in fairly frequent (because it was relatively inexpensive) all important 'personal' contact.

By contrast, Dawson's infrequent but extended wartime trips ( all prior to his late 1942 success with SBE) to such places as Baltimore, Washington DC, St Louis , Louisville, California , even his native Nova Scotia took him into fairly alien terrain.

In wartime conditions of restricted travel and censorship, and given his rapidly declining health, Dawson's post November 1942 success with penicillin for SBE was not known beyond metro NYC's medical and research community.

But a community he had been very active in , for almost twenty years.

And fortunately for all of us , the small wartime fish bowl he was stuck in (metro NYC) was a community with more people than most 1940 nations, living in close proximity with good intersecting communications and was home to much of the regional, national and global media.

So while it is true that word of his SBE successes spread only locally inside the fish bowl via local medical gossip (noting that in wartime gossip becomes much more important and much more believed) , only London could really equal metro NYC as a fortunate and powerful fish bowl to be stuck in....

When (and why) Toronto's famed Hospital for Sick Children DIDN'T report a miracle

Miracles and Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children are mostly associated with Nobel winner Fred Banting, eleven year old Elsie Needham and insulin back in the 1920s.

Unfortunately ,they are NOT associated with July 1942, penicillin and a dying nine year old boy (possibly still alive today) known only as R. V.

Much against the will of the anglo-american medical establishment, both insulin and sulfa had their very public miracles (as in "worldwide newspaper headlines") involving saving the lives of dying children.

Banting himself pushed insulin baby miracle cures into the popular media - it seems ordinary hospital doctors in Britain did the same in the case of sulfa.

The medical research establishment didn't really fear the effect of such news headlines upon the patients and their families.

Instead, they feared its affect upon their colleagues who were not as 'measured' , 'level headed','rational' and 'scientific' as themselves.

In their minds anyway.

Because , in fact , when it comes to trying new treatments for dying patients, GPs can be faulted for being too slow off the mark, not too fast.

First the average GP trys all the conventional treatments, in a descending order of unconventionality.

Then when the patient is visibly 'decomposed' as they say in medical articles - hours from the grave  - they try sulfa or insulin or penicillin and when the patient - despite all this delay - survives and quickly goes home fully healed, it truly does seem a miracle.

Now imagine a penicillin that - by and large - doesn't work , despite the bold initial claims made for it.

The GP seeing a nearly dead patient before them , despite all the current conventional and even unconventional treatments tried upon them.

Desperate they even try this here 'pen-i-cill-in' - and it fails.

The patient dies - as seemingly they were about to anyway.

Morally,who has been harmed by all this ?

The patient and their family knows that the doctors did everything - even went the extra four miles - to try and save someone with a limited likelihood of survival.

So they failed - but at least they tried and tried hard.

No, what the medical research community chiefs fear is not failure but success.

Because then there would be big headlines celebrating drug X when drug X is still in low supply , because the drug companies are patiently waiting for the researchers' results from long term, large scale, double blind studies, before deciding whether to invest large sums in scaling up production.

Forgotten in all this long term 'research leisureliness' is that there are many real people dying needlessly and families hurting needlessly.

Because nothing speeds up mass production like the spur of real competition - and competition can come out of the woodwork whenever front page headlines scream "medical miracle -new drug - short supply".

Not every investor reads medical journals but all can translate that bit of headlinese into plain old business English : dollars, lots and lots of potential dollars, to the firm that supplies Doctor Mom first.

WWII's penicillin almost never became a miracle drug.

The first few years of penicillin miracle cures in North America deliberately went unreported in the medical media --- let alone the popular media.

In Britain, one series was published in a medical journal but the popular press was successfully avoided by its lead author, Howard Florey.

Somehow, all the British daily newspapers' science cum medical journalists normally assigned to read medical journals for potential stories were charmed into staying mum on this big headline story.

Even in wartime, Fleet Street is highly competitive - it must have been a hell of a scientific "D" notice to silence the lot of them.

The reason was that the anglo american medical research leadership was hoping to turn penicillin-the-universal-lifesaver into penicillin-the-Allies-secret-weapon-of-war.

 And - to their eternal shame - anglo american science slash medical specialist reporters matched them into forgetting their sacred professional vows.

That these medical researchers - all men - were smart there can be no doubt.

Perhaps the smartest thing they ever did was to successfully evade the front line trenches in WWI , despite being fit enough.

Now that they were all fat and all over forty, they had become positively warrior fierce.

They would help win the war by denying lifesaving penicillin to dying Allied , Neutral, Occupied and Enemy civilians - despite that oath thingy they all swore when they first became doctors .

That same ancient oath was incorporated into the requirement to give equal treatment too all the sick and wounded, under the Geneva Convention on warfare.

They would even deny giving penicillin to Allied POWs in enemy hands - and to Allied wounded judged too damaged to ever likely see combat again.

Just for a few years ,you understand - just a few years of keeping news of penicillin miracles out of the Allied popular media read by neutral officials friendly to Nazi Germany.

So it could give a big medical advantage to the Allies when casualties got really heavy after D-Day.

Canadians went along too of course - there can't be many American or British asses we won't lick , if asked politely enough.

So back to the Hospital for Sick Children and poor little R.V.

He appeared deadly ill upon arrival at the hospital from blood poisoning brought on by a (botched ?) effort to remove a mildly diseased tooth.

Sixteen days of sulfa drugs had still left the boy in dire state - never conscious , high fever, high bacterial colony blood count , etc.

His health then took a turn from very very bad to 'death is near'.

The American doctor charged with controlling the limited supplies of penicillin being made (for clinical testing), Chester Keefer in Boston, was contacted.

Perhaps a personal contact between this very well known research doctor and someone big in research in Toronto, who knows for sure ?

Keefer gets Squibb Drugs in New Jersey to send up some of the badly filtered penicillin that Squibb was famous for turning out.

After some more filtering in the Toronto hospital, the penicillin is injected into R.V. and quickly claws him back from the grave and soon sends him on his way home.

This miracle was not reported in the medical or popular media despite July 1942 being perhaps the lowest point of the war for British Commonwealth morale (the fall of the Tobruk fortress) - such a severe morale crisis that even Churchill himself thought he might be forced to resign).

A Commonwealth lad saved by British medicine might seem to be the very morale tonic needed to pick up everyone's spirits - but it was not to be.

It was finally reported in December 1943 by Dr Nelles Silverthorne in the Canadian Medical Journal, CMJ.

Or should I say Silverthorne was allowed (or encouraged) to publish a crucial four months after Dr Dante Colitti took revenge on New York's medical elite and spilled all about penicillin, babies and miracle cures to Citizen Hearst's vast media empire ---- and ultimately to the whole world.

Dante's miracle baby ultimately died but not before his apparent early success with Baby Patty Malone touched so many mothers' hearts that the mass production of penicillin-for-all was assured from that point on.

But Canada, Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children ?

They all just blew it ....

Monday, September 22, 2014

Merck's conflict of interest : planning to use molds as poisons of war makes it hard to see molds as lifesavers...

George W Merck (with big cigar) with Chemical Warfare officer at a drug trade conference (!)

George W Merck spent most of WWII dividing his time between heading the biological weapons effort of the US government (which including researching molds as deadly poisons) and trying to create a synthetic version of the lifesaving penicillium mold.

Mentally that must have made it hard for Merck, head of Merck Drugs, to give a fair hearing to the possibility that the penicillium mold - all by itself, 'as is' - might be able to save lives...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I'm a thinkin' : maybe its the Gotham EIGHT ?

I've always regarded the number of Gotham's 'unfits' who rescued natural lifesaving penicillin and set it free to do good as being just seven in number but now I am thinking that I was wrong.

First, the two unfit clinicians, Dr Henry Dawson and his assistant Dr Thomas Hunter.

Then three other unfits who greatly assisted them (Dawson's wife Marjorie Granger Dawson, his friend and ex-patient Floyd Odlum , and his ex-patient Dr Dante Colitti).

Finally, the two unfit patients, Charles Aronson and Ms H. H. , whose continued survival under Dawson's pioneering treatment, despite repeated setbacks, allowed the program time to finally succeed in spades.

But I now realize that these seven unfits didn't need to have gotten involved in the first place.

Not if the eighth Gotham 'unfit' , the penicillium notatum. had been accepted on its own considerable merits instead of being dismissed on sight as too small, too simple, too weak and too too disgusting.

But the God of the Modern Era (from the 1870s to the 1960s) was always on the side of the biggest battalions and the Moderns saw most of the world as being on the unworthy-of-life side of the fit/unfit question.

But they were dead wrong.

Because in fact the greatest medical blessing this world has ever seen was brought to us by a handful of unfit doctors serving unfit patients with unfit medicine.

Their unexpected victory in 1945 did not spell the immediate end of the Modern Era and the immediate rise of our present post-Modern Era.

 But it certainly spelt the beginning of that end...

Impurity IS Danger : Mary Douglas explains the revulsion towards natural penicillin

In the relatively new academic fields of Horror Theory and Monster Theory , Mary Douglas's 1966 classic "Purity and Danger"  is frequently evoked.

In the ancient academic field of penicillin studies, Douglas's Big Idea has never been braced ----  until now.

Her stunningly original thesis was that "dirt" is merely 'order out of place' : that we believe that gardening soil 'belongs' strictly in the garden field and everything is in order while it remains there.

It can never properly belong among the bed sheets.

Pure (that is , in the right place only) gardening soil is not intrinsically dirty, impure or dangerous - just as bed sheets, on beds, are equally pure and 'in order' .

But have either item leave the mental box we have inserted them into and danger, dirt and impurity quickly emerges.

They are now dynamically fluid hybrids - fused beings - a little garden soil and a little bed sheet with much of our fear coming from the uncertainty over just how much the fused creature is of each.

Douglas also does discuss the opposite of fusion - fission.

This is when a normally solid dry complete object (say a living body) becomes a dynamically uncertain mixture of part solid dry normal body and part mold-dissolved gooey wet decaying nothingness.

This produces another hybrid that crosses mental borders - with the living being solid, dry and complete - while the decayed dead is wet , dissolving and incomplete.

Something similar happens early on when as children we realize that the cooked whole fish, still biologically complete and detailed , will later emerge from us as just a pile of shapeless gooey feces.

This putrefaction of a single being, for all of us, is as least as disgusting and disturbing as any fused being.

Physically, we the living are totally unharmed by the fact that penicillium threads will soon weave their way through the dead body of our beloved in their coffin.

But mentally, that image shakes us to our core.

And that image and dozens like it centring on our revulsion to molds crippled our use of natural penicillin for twenty years : from 1928 to 1948.

Quite quickly, after only a few weeks work in 1928, it was shown that natural penicillium mold juice was both harmless and a great lifesaver.

Rather like oranges are to scurvy threatened sailors on the seas for a long time - a small amount of active Vitamin C buried in a tasty impure mixture of dozens of others of non-toxic materials.

But for about twenty wasted years, Normal science and scientists/doctors ( including the man who first determined it was perfectly safe - Alexander Fleming !) absolutely refused to save the lives of the dying.

Not if that meant having to accept the use of natural - impure - penicillium juice inside the temple of the human body.

Rationally they claimed to accepted the 1928 evidence as a scientific fact (and they were never able to disprove it) --- but emotionally they could not.

"Impurity IS Danger" was their unconscious mantra - and they consciously found ways to rationalize this emotional response into excuses as why they declined to use natural penicillin to save the dying.

Hippocrates weep !

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The poor poor pitiful slimed - always misunderstood , always maligned ...

In 1928, the year Fleming discovered and then rejected (three times) the penicillium that makes lifesaving penicillin, there were about two billion humans on the planet.

That year , tens and tens of millions of miscarriages and premature deaths were caused or hastened by bacteria and virus.

Everybody knew somebody who had died from bacteria or virus - everyone knew the primeval fear of raging epidemics.

That same year tens and tens of hundreds of people died from fungus - their individual deaths - spotted here and there almost at random- usually just seen as the result of eating 'bad' food.

Except in a few remote cultures, almost no one knew anyone who had died from fungus.

Yet in the world of cultural horrors and monsters , did we see this reality reflected at all ?

Of course not - no giant viruses or bacteria stalking the innocent maiden of movie screen and genre literature ---- it was always some faceless, shapeless, smelly, flowing, slimy gooey thing : fungus, in other words !

One suspects that this is because the virus or bacteria seems invisible ( though if we walk across the rocks of a shallow stream, the slime on the rocks is bacteria made visible).

But while most mold colonies are as equally invisible as bacteria colonies, the fungus frequently grows to highly visible sizes - easily drawfing even the bacteria colonies force feed to visible size on lab petri dishes.

In our homes or out in forests , molds easily grow big, fast, furry and slimy --- and always are extremely colorful.

The slime mold (a mold indeed as the word is understood by all but experts, just not a fungus mold) actually moves and quivers - a real life monster just waiting to be scaled up to the movie screen.

But molds are definitely the least harmful to humans of the big four of microbes life forms - more a danger to plant life than to humans and animals.

They simply are - to turn a phrase around - in sight and in mind ....

Monstrous penicillium makes Marvellous penicillin

HP Lovecraft died before injections of penicillin were freely on offer but I highly doubt he would have accepted any if they had been available.

His particular set of monsters and horrors were slippery slimy moldy thingies and the thought to him of someone voluntarily polluting their sacred human temple with the pee and poop of such terrors was literally beyond the ken.

Popular culture hasn't really moved on from Lovecraft's deepest fears -- it still sees giant gooey slimy dissolving fluid lifeforms as the most terrifying of the 'monstrous made visible'.

But once outside the movieplex, we are quite willing to have white crystal-pure 'beta lactam' antibiotics from huge factories put into our 21st century human temples - despite half-knowing that the pure white powder actually originates as the time-honored waste excretions of Lovecraft's still terrifying green slime.

Penicillin (today's all-white version anyway) seems safely far far away from the moldy smelling blue-green slime that we , doctors and patients  alike, still fear is rotting out our teenager's basement apartment and making our worksite "toxic" and "sick".

Because consistency is truly 'the hobgoblin of little minds' and we are broad minded adults here , are we not ?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the NON-TOXIC mold - ten billion served since Oct 16 1940 : the story of natural penicillin ... and how we almost lost it

Every time we hear about a building closing its doors because of toxic mold , let us always remind ourselves that for every door that closes sometimes a thousand or a million , nay billions upon billions,  open in its place.

Yes ,some strains of some mold species , under highly specific environmental conditions,  are somewhat toxic (even highly toxic to immune weak individuals).

But other molds - such as the mold that produces the original natural penicillin - are resoundingly non-toxic and continue to be the biological base from which almost all of today's best anti-bacterial agents are still made.

Thanks to the herd-immunity-like effect that happened when public domain natural penicillin became ultra cheap and globally available , I estimate ten billion of us have lead healthier happier lives since Henry Dawson gave the first antibiotics injection on October 16th 1940.

Cheap ,widely available penicillin allowed even poor nations to reduce the incidence of endemic pools of pathogenic strains of common virulent bacteria among their poor and the rurally isolated.

These national pools of poverty, isolation and infectious diseases had kept these diseases globally endemic for thousands of years .

For example, a short twenty years after penicillin's introduction, Rheumatic Fever (until 1960 the leading cause of school age death due to infection) quickly became something that younger doctors only read about in a medical history book - but never themselves saw in their entire careers.

So loudly curse the toxic molds - but spare a moment to silently thank the Non-Toxic mold - saving lives for seventy five wonderful years as of next October 16th 2015 .

Because as once famous advertising firm Ayer's reminds us, we almost lost natural penicillin - thanks to the best of Allied science - it almost got away....

1928-1948 : 'normal' scientists and doctors loved penicillin but detested penicillium

What if Fleming's team , in early 1929, HAD easily purified penicillin and then synthesized and patented analogues of it ?

Contrary to myth , there never was any 1928-1948 resistance, at all, by normal doctors and scientists to the injecting of penicillin to save lives - just provided it was the penicillins that we have today.

These penicillins are all made by someone else while someone else will gladly come and deliver them to any doctor's door.

Just as chemists have worked hard to ensure these modern penicillins have a long and profitable shelf life in doctors' offices.

Someone else, actually lots of 'somebody elses', have also worked very hard to ensure that all the safe dosages and bad side effects have been found and are made are clear to everyone - laity and GPs alike.

These modern penicillins cum beta lactams emerge as crystal pure white and are usually at least partially semi-synthesized.

They are made in gleaming porcelain-white factories in high tech stainless steel tanks - operated by men mostly.

Men who almost never even seen the yucky green slime hidden inside those opaque stainless tanks.

Nature and the natural has been removed as far as possible from the scene - Man instead, is everywhere.

It would still be best if Man had synthesized penicillin totally out of basic chemicals off the shelf but that can't be.

So while the slime still does all the actual hard work (actually makes the tasty steak), Man (medical and scientific PR) does its best to sell the sizzle instead.

The green slime is rendered as Man-made as possible before anyone has to see or touch the stuff.

Yes, normal doctors and scientists have always loved modern penicillin - it was just ancient natural penicillium molds that they (largely unconsciously) feared and detested.

Fleming in 1929 , Florey in 1940 and 1941, Dawson in 1941 and 1942 : no one responds to their Good News gospels

All three detailed to the entire world of doctors of the wide anti-bacterial potency, the extremely low toxicity and the ease of production of natural penicillin in any hospital lab .

Yet in the many published books on early penicillin there are almost no clear accounts of any  - let alone many - doctors responding to all those articles with a request for some of the starter penicillium spores.

There were no shortage of patients dying of penicillin-treatable diseases in those days.

Just seemingly a shortage of doctors willing to use elbow grease to make the penicillin to save lives - a job a later doctor admitted could be easily done by 'any' hospital lab technician.

And I just don't buy that.

I remain convinced that in the medical world from 1928 to 1948,  there were many, many hard working doctors willing to practise very heroic medicine and willing devote long hours to saving the dying.

So why the moral holdback in the sole case of penicillin - particularly when it will probably turn out to be the easiest to make, safest lifesaver to deliver that will ever be found ?

Its about the mold - not the medicine

The answer, I suggest, lies back beyond the medicine to the mold itself - our ancient (and ongoing) muddled relationship with yeasts, mushrooms and molds.

Generally we like yeasts and mushrooms but detest molds - though all are but different visible forms of the same basic being - the fungus.

To over-simplify terribly, we should think of mushrooms as the above-ground flowering heads of underground molds with the yeasts very much like the tiny spores those mushroom heads' periodically release.

Some yeast/spores are good - bread, beer - others spoil food and ruin whole crops.

Some mushrooms are among the tastiest of foods - while other ours are among our fastest fatal poisons.

Moreover by 1900 ,most of us olny saw yeast and mushrooms as divorced from nature - bought packaged in stores.

By contrast, we didn't really consciously buy mold - all by itself - in stores : though we did buy mold-infected cheeses instead.

Instead, in those largely pre-plastic polymer days - we did see mold in nature and in our homes almost daily ---- and hated doing so.

Mold spreading and spoiling our foods , ruining any clothing made of natural products stored in dark damp warm places, rotting wet wood fixtures, growing vigorously up dank dark basement walls.

Mold seemed associated with death and decay - who hadn't come across an animal body dug up by a dog and seen the mold threads running all through the shrunken corpse ?

It even smelt bad ( actually we simply associated its smell with negative situations !)

The fact that it was slimy, slippery, and jelly like was the worst.

Though we often like like materials and even food that is slippery and jelly-like.

But mold only grew by decaying something else : a black spot quickly became a furry and slimy jelly only by visibly dissolving what was once seemingly dry and solid with fixed boundaries  into a watery gell with fluid boundaries.

Now humanity isn't that upset by violent death - not by the way we love war, murders and the slaughter of animals.

And the molds rarely kill what they consume - they usually feed on the those who have died naturally or at others' hands.

So it it isn't the deadness of death they evoke - only the decay of death - the breaching of definite boundaries between the fixedness of solid substances and the fluid state of liquids.

A  mold (gell) is neither solid or liquid - or rather, worse, it is both.

The ever changing slimy mold is the very symbol of modernization or globalization - the mixing and intermingling of everything and anything in ever new unexpected ways.

By contrast, the 100% pure rationally-made chemical synthetic, built from the bottom up by chemists out of known consistent pure atoms, with consistent known repeatable results, is the very symbol of Modernity.

I buy Roger Griffin's thesis - even if he doesn't - that all Modernity (not just Fascist Modernity) was a reaction against Late Victorian modernization and globalization that progressive moderns both sought and feared.

So I see this twenty year battle (between using slime mold to save lives or waiting until it has a chemical synthetic before doing so) as a key battle between Modernity and modernization.

Perhaps even the key battle : the result being the end of Modernity and the birth of a post-Modernity far more willing to seek power-with-nature rather than only wanting power-over-nature....

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rumours of death of wartime penicillins : "Greatly Exaggerated"

Seventy five years on , the wartime penicillins are just dusty relics , found only in some museum of medical curios, right ?

(You been talking to your GP again ?)

It is simply amazing how many family doctors dismiss wartime penicillins and say 'we physicians are all into the latest beta lactams today' .

Time for some FACTS, Doc :

Viagra and Lipitor are some of the best known and best selling drugs of all time.

So how much of them are produced annually ?

Two Hundred and fifty metric tons each - very impressive numbers in the world of drug production.

So how much of the old wartime penicillins ( Penicillins G , V and N) are still produced annually ?

How about fifty thousand tonnes (!!!!)

So much so, and at such cheap prices ,that some statistic indices rate them as commodity chemicals like caustic soda and ethyl alcohol - the cheap bulk raw materials intended for further chemical or biological processing.

Because that is exactly what the wartime penicillin are produced in such huge amounts for - to be worked up into the varied anti-bacterial drugs we call the modern beta lactams.

The old geezers are still the foundation beneath the largest component of the anti-bacterial armoury (and one of the largest components of overall acute care medications).

Seventy five years on , the best of chemistry and microbiology has still not bettered how cheaply and efficiently the tiny penicillium chrysogenum eat cheap farm wastes and turn them into valued lifesavers.

Alexander Fleming was dead wrong, Howard Florey was dead wrong, almost every WWII era doctor, scientist and science journalist was dead wrong.

The wartime chemists did not quickly and decisively eclipse these tiny un-super heroes of the era of antibiotics .

And they still haven't done so, even today...

Active inventor Alfred Nobel screwed by passive academic discoverers

You write your will with the help of the smartest lawyers in the universe , you die , and then you take your chances.

Because no matter how simple blunt and explicit your will instructions were , the ambitious and the dishonest will still find a way to screw the dead.

Like the disgusting way the worldwide academic science community has screwed poor dead Alfred Nobel and all his fellow (living) inventors.

Because Nobel's fortune came from his inventions and not his discoveries, he naturally wanted to honor inventions , as well as discoveries ,that had helped humanity the most in the previous year.

The thousands of intellectually dishonest - elite - academics who nominate candidates for the Nobel Prizes and the handful of intellectual dishonest - elite - academics who decide on which candidates to reward have long ago throw out Nobel's silly dying request to focus on the events of the last year.

Because that awkward request throws far too much weight on inventions (or discoveries) that are in active use now .

 Ignoring Alfred's dying request lets the juries award discoveries made many years earlier that lay fallow until someone much less passive than their initial discoverer invented ways to make them useful.

Nobelling ultra-passive academic Alexander Fleming for 'lifesaving' is the posterboy of all that is wrong with Nobel Prize committees

(Think of the notably passive Alexander Fleming winning a Nobel for being the first to discover penicillin , despite his refusing to invent ways to use it to actually save lives.)

Academics are notorious both for disdaining applied science and for worshipping the alpha male pissing contest of 'who discovered something first' , aka primacy of discovery.

Putting them in charge of the Prize system in hope that they will honor Nobel's command to reward urgency , ie that useful things will happen to humanity within a year of discovery or invention , is like putting foxes in charges of chicken coops and hoping for eggs.

The full reason most discoveries lay fallow for decades and thus the reason why Nobel committees reward work done up to a half century earlier isn't just academics' reluctance to apply their discoveries by getting their hands dirty in the commercial marketplace.

Rather it is also because of the heavy inertia of Normal Science ( ie the whole of the scientific world - scientists, corporations & universities, even science journalists) against having their comfortable careers and assumptions upset by a paradigm-busting new discovery or invention.

Most discoverers are reluctant to get their hands dirty in the scientific marketplace of ideas - old incorrect ones with powerful friends fighting off new correct ones with no friends.

If humanity is going to avoid environmental self destruction , it needs a new world class medal and prize - awarded to the people who actively invent new scientific paradigms and with the courage and endurance needed to destroy the old one in the process.

Maybe we need a prize that awards active scientific courage instead of just passive primacy of discovery...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"The 'Cillium is a Roan that's never been rid , though thousands of chemists once claimed they did "

The title is a snatch of a song about the penicillium chrysogenum , with apologies to Curley Fletcher and his rather better known tale of the Strawberry Roan that also was never successfully rode.

To justify the expense of the Manhattan Project , America's military research bosses at the OSRD saw to it that A-bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then credited (wrongly) with being the sole cause for ending WWII.

To justify all the OSRD money wasted on not synthesizing penicillin, particularly when their rival WPB-OPRD spent far less to quickly make natural penicillin a resounding success, the OSRD bosses faked a synthetic success (about penicillin) to release to the gullible scientific media.

du Vigneaud's synthetic success (read synthetic = fake)

For Vincent du Vigneaud's team at Cornell Medical in NYC did indeed produce a little biologically active penicillin in the course of their efforts to synthesize penicillin.

So thousands of the world's top chemists got to take a public bow for yet another signal triumph in modern - BIG - science's endless progress ever upward.

But privately most knew that du Vigneaud synthetic goal was towards a molecule shape that did not match the necessary shape of biologically-active natural penicillin.

So this tiny amount of real penicillin must have been an accidental impurity of a mis-conceived theoretical approach !

More than 85 years after it was discovered, chemists have still not commercially synthesized a better or cheaper base penicillin molecule than what the tiny weak fungi can do on its own ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

'There's just something about a Mercury ' : how the potential of a young black man kickstarted penicillin and has benefitted ten billion of us ever since

Can we still - 75 years on - get some sense of the personality of the very first person in history to get an antibiotics injection ?

Fortunately , yes.

But why then should we even care ?

Because, children , just because.

Because the normally reserved doctor who kickstarted natural lifesaving penicillin-for-all (the medical approach that has benefited about ten billion of us since 1940) personally wrote and told Nobel winning Ernst Chain that this patient's personality and potential had directly inspired him to take up his penicillin crusade.

When the personality of a young black man inspired medicine's biggest ever paradigm shift, an event that saved my life and that of many in my family, of course I want to know all I can about this wonderful person.

And if you have ever had a family member saved by antibiotics and if you have even an ounce of gratitude within you, so should you.

So here is a long "letter to the editor" that A. (Aaron) Leroy Alston wrote , addressed to the black-oriented New York Age newspaper in early April 1939.

That is just 18 months before he received that historic first ever needle.

And it allows us to learn something of the patient who inspired a doctor to change our whole world for the better , forever .

Words of first patient in history to get an antibiotics injection

Aaron, a young black man with a high school graduation certificate , held a good day job in an insurance company at the height of the Great Depression.

This is quite impressive because the Depression was a tragic event for most Americans but certainly hit black Harlem extra extra hard.

He was also a winning track star who then founded the Mercury Athletic Club.

The club, with him as coach, manager, pr rep and fundraiser , focused on seeing that Harlem's black female runners finally got a chance to compete in the big races.

They did very well, as he says in this letter to the editor - for the first time black girls were being judged as the best runners in America in various categories.

Who knows what further good young Aaron might have done if only Alexander Fleming had tried harder, earlier, to see to it that penicillin become a real lifesaver.

True, (Martin) Henry Dawson in October 1940 did kickstart the process to make penicillin into a cheap abundant lifesaver that was available to all .

But though Dawson was inspired to do so by seeing all of young Alston's great potential going with him if he should die,  Dawson had made too little penicillin - at that time - to save Aaron.

So young Aaron died. But he was not a victim or a loser.

He had already done a lot.

And I sincerely believe that for all the good he might have gone on to do over a long life, if he hadn't contracted invariably fatal SBE endocarditis, it would never have matched what he did do as a dying patient.

For when his buoyant-personality-in-the-face-of-imminent-death met a doctor looking for a way to help retain social values in the middle of a big war, our whole world started to change for the better.

Who among us - including the fictional trio of Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - can claim that great honour ?

Monday, September 8, 2014

WWII's paradigm shift - at least publicly , modern scientists forced to repress their Id fears about natural penicillin's slime monsters

We have long been taught that 1950s science fiction movies with all their red-colored Blob taking over and consuming  little towns were really just a stand in for the dreaded red Russian commies taking over.

But this does those wonderfully slimy monsters a big disservice.

They do symbolize real fears but those fears are much deeper and far more profound than jus fearingt some opposing political party.

The values of the Modern Age (now called (big M) Modernity) were an unconscious (Id-induced) reaction to the events of late Victorian (small m) modernization (now more usually called globalization) that was both consciously welcomed and unconsciously feared.

Modernization brought not just an overwhelming plenitude of new physical goods and experiences but a plenitude of new and bewildering mental experiences as late Victorian era academics greatly and quickly expanded our sense of the vast size, age and complexity of our universe and this planet within it.

Things and ideas no longer seemed to remain in their traditional stable corners but intermingled in many destabilizing ways.

But Progress and Modernness was good , was it not ? - so how to release all those fears about all its unintended consequences without seeming as hopelessly old-fashioned as grandma ?

Slime creatures are the visually physical embodiment of these mental notions of instability - always living in the littoral regions between solid earth and fluid water, their very bodies were halfway between wet and dry, between solid and jelly-like.

When - much to almost everyone in science's total surprise - synthetic penicillin failed and natural penicillin triumphed, all scientists had to make the best of a scary situation - at least in public.

Deep tank penicillin with all its reassuring huge stainless steel tanks run by stern faced men in white coats behind mountains of dials and knobs was one way, the best way, to deny that the pee and poop of tiny slime molds was soon going to surge into the temple of the human body.

Once again, the iconography tells the tale the Id can't publicly speak about : no more shots of women (never ever men) tending their tiny poop and pee charges inside the transparently walled flasks of penicillium mold .

Poop and pee is still there but concealed behind the stainless steel wall so men (and it is always and only men now) can now safely stand close to the little unruly darlings.

You'd almost confuse it with a synthetic penicillin fctory - and that is the whole intent.....

Twelve year resistance against injecting crude natural penicillin was

Doctors Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey did nothing at all about injecting crude natural penicillin into patients to try and save lives during the 12 long years between the Fall of 1928 and and the Fall of 1940.

But they did nothing more (less ?) than did all the other doctors in the world.

Their (lack of) response to the great potential in a crude penicillium liquid that was very non-toxic to primates and very toxic to death-dealing bacteria was perfectly

Because doctors - just like the rest of us - also have unconscious Ids and also have unconscious fears about monsters.

Back in that era - pace H P Lovecraft and innumerable horror movies - the unconscious monster feared the most were the slime beings lying an uneasy halfway between stable solids and mobile liquids.

The scientific reluctance to inject the poop and pee of slime molds into the temple of the human body might have had a multiple of scientific excuses to support it but let's be frank - it was really was just an Id thing .

After all , doctors had no such reluctance to inject all sorts of man-made chemicals into the body - very dangerous chemicals like Salvarsan and Sulfa drugs.

They also had no reluctance to inject dangerous horse serum into humans.

These too were biological products like the much avoided penicillin juice.

 But in the case of serums and vaccines the paradigm shift over using deadly bacteria and foreign serum as internal medicines had been heavily fought over (and settled) centuries earlier with Jenner's first successful smallpox treatment.

Today, of course, doctors (often indeed the children  and grandchildren of the earlier generation of reluctant doctors) routinely inject medications taken from various slimy members of the fungal family without ever blinking an eye.

It's all perfectly

But let us recall the doctor who first flaunted his willingness to break this taboo.

Henry Dawson breaks the slime taboo

After a five month effort, Fleming and his two young assistants had concentrated and semi-purified penicillium juice to a point similar to that reached by Florey 12 years later.

Despite this great advance, Fleming would still only use it cautiously , on external infections, and he also cautiously declined to give many details of this clinical work in his initial paper.

By contrast, after just five weeks of work, a much less refined penicillium juice concentrate was available to Dr (Martin) Henry Dawson.

The word he used publicly to describe it was "crude" - the first time this normally pejorative term was ever used to describe penicillin , albeit by a firm proponent of penicillin !

Nevertheless , he eagerly injected it into some patients on October 16th 1940.

While one survived his invariably fatal disease, Dawson frankly indicated in the resulting published paper (May 5 1941) that there had been no reduction in the number of bacteria colonies in the man's blood after the treatments.

Dawson did not decline to discuss his dismal clinical results nor did he choose to bury them in a relatively obscure journal.

Instead he released his results before eight hundred research doctors at one of North American medicine's most important traditional big international conferences held every Spring in  Atlantic City*.

(*Largely held there each year because Prohibition (along with laws against gambling and prostitution) was never enforced in Atlantic City - research doctors drink just as much as the rest of us - as well as having Ids and fearing monsters.)

There it proved a surprise hit with various science reporters, was given a big headline in the New York Times and Newsweek, was picked up by the wire services , and reported upon in a medical journal in faraway South Africa.

Most importantly, this sort of important international conference attracted ambitious drug companies eager to get a jump on their competition by learning early about drug breakthroughs.

In Dawson's case, the firm he impressed the most was Pfizer - then tiny , today huge thanks largely to this early teaming up with Dawson which led Pfizer to be WWII's by far biggest producer of penicillin .

Natural penicillin...naturally.

Because Fleming backed three wrong horses with regards to penicillin - the most important one perhaps being that he insisted it would only work (and even then only as a minor antiseptic) if it was a patentable chemical synthetic : no slime juice in the human temple for him.

But with Pfizer's unexpected success - thanks mostly to a big big assist from Miloslav Demerec - the paradigm shifted and natural was , if not totally rad cool, at least passably coolish...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Int'l competition spurs penicillin production as American Pfizer/Dawson goes against British ICI/Florey for most production

Wartime penicillin production was greatly hurt , not helped , when Florey came to America.

Because then an Anglo-American cartel emerged that focused on restricting what firms could produce penicillin - rather than increasing competition to produce more penicillin.

Already in September 1941, fermentation experts Pfizer and their advisor Dr Dawson were already producing commercially-oriented penicillin in the USA - without government inference or 'help' .

As was Florey's team and chemical giant ICI in the UK, again without government 'help'.

This was before Florey's across the ocean visit to his good American friend Dr A N Richards.

That led to Richard's decision to abuse the extraordinary wartime powers of American's main military research agency (the OSRD) to create an international penicillin cartel.

Only when Dawson's former patient and friend Floyd Odlum induced the equally powerful (but New Dealer oriented) WPB agency to open up penicillin production to more firms, did the spur of competition finally produce massive amounts of penicillin.

But what if Florey had stayed home instead of coming to America to mark his claim to penicillin fame over that of Dawson ?

The normally cautious Pfizer had been very bold once before - risking all on a new method of producing citric acid and ending up very wealthy.

If it decided to go all out for penicillin in 1941-1942 as it did in 1943-1944 , there would have been no wartime penicillin shortage crisis....

In Howard Florey's Dunn , nurturing penicillium was women's work . REAL men didn't change diapers or penicillin vessels...

No women were ever allowed to be lab technicians at Howard Florey's Dunn Institute on the conservative campus of Oxford University*.

Tech work was way over their pretty little heads.

But then suddenly,  because raw natural penicillin juice is basically the piss and poop of the stinky, slinky, slippery penicillium slime , no man - at least no real man - ever wanted to touch the stuff the Dunn was forced to grow for the chemists to destroy analytically.

(In those days, no real man ever changed a diaper or had anything else to do with all those dark damp dank things , you know, "down there".)

So enter ,stage left : Ruth Callow and Clare Inayat Khan. Pioneering "penicillin girls" aka Dunn lab techs.

(Memo to Twin Tower terrorist Ramzi Yousef: lifesaving penicillin pioneer Claire was a Moslem, just like yourself - only she did good, not evil.)

But the indignity of having to deal with the unpredictable penicillium was hated by all the men at the Dunn , not something to be proud of.

So as soon as possible all the elaborate equipment used to grow and extract natural penicillin was dumped - without ceremony - into the nearest rubbish pile.

Nothing was retained to serve as historical evidence for this supposedly noble effort.

Because the real show was all in the chemistry section, trying to synthesis patentable artificial penicillin analogues.

And there - need I say more - the workers were all men.

Real men ...

* As reported by David Wilson in his book "Penicillin in perspective ",1976 - page 176.

The STRAWBERRY ROAN of Synthetic Chemistry : natural un-patented lifesaving penicillin

A thousand chemists tried and a thousand chemists died (at least in academic embarrassment) failing to break natural penicillin's bouncing bronco at the height of WWII - when they really should have been doing something far more useful - like fighting Hitler , instead of restraining the natural miracle's ability to save lives....

Natural penicillin's unexpected triumph --- against Synthetics' 1939-1945 war against Nature

Big Science - Synthetic Science - had a lot of triumphs during WWII, the war that its promises , not Hitler's megalomania, actually started.

Synthetic Oil, Synthetic Rubber, Synthetic Silk, Synthetic Quinine , Synthetic Man , Synthetic Penicillin all sought to replace 'unreliable' natural products with new improved Man-perfected 'predictable' substitutes.

Synthetic Plutonium (sic) , Synthetic DDT, Synthetic Zyklon-B , Synthetic Freon, and Synthetic Napalm went one step further when Man was considered to have created new products that Nature could never have dreamed up.

Thank God for Nature then !

And as for Man-made predictability , it is worth recalling that human chemists only make a tiny minority of all chemical compounds.

Chemists usually stumble on a compound with useful properties and then go to work on replacing its side chains until even better properties emerge.

But so too the environment and biological beings do the same to the sidechains of Man-made chemical compounds such as Freon and DDT.

 In the process Nature created massive un-natural disasters Scientific Man could never have predicted precisely but human humility might have considered a distinct possibility .

The German chemical world's promise that in the very near future total synthetic autarky was possible allowed enough otherwise sensible adult Germans to go along with Hitler's megalomania talk of endless wars of conquest to get the whole ball of wax started.

Sensible adult Germans who should have personally remembered the failure of WWI's ersatz synthetics to feed and heat a starving , freezing nation under total blockade.

Auschwitz to help birth the Perfect Man  , Man-Made Man, Synthetic Man

During WWII, Germans killed tens of millions of Slavs, Jews, Romas and Aryan 'unfits' , all part of a huge (scientific) war within a smaller (military) war .

That scientific war , a deadly serious war that both proceeded and succeeded WWII's nominally important military war, sought to replace Nature's messy plenitude of many imperfect natural types with one Man-made perfect , perfectly static , type.

The synthesis-minded, Nature's breakers , were going to tame these unruly bucking natural broncos.

Just as the Victorian Era pornographers had virtually tamed similar bucking uppity feminist women with stirrups* in their texts and images.

(*Victorian male doctors read pornography as much as other Victorian men did and they later renamed the foot rests for their female patients as "stirrups".)

The stinky,slinky, slimy , constantly mutating fungal molds existing in an unstable, unpredictable world midway between the solid/dry and the wet/flowing , were a particular bete noire to Modern Man , as a glance at that era's most feared monsters ( H P Lovecraft anyone ?) will readily attest.

This is the real, if largely unconscious , reason why 1939-1945's synthetic chemists warred against the penicillium mold (and not the enemy) and why doctors of that period declined to use perfectly safe, effective natural penicillin to save the dying.

But the penicillium was (and remains) one bucking bronco these chemical breakers never could break.

Hitler and the synthetic chemists thought they were good - but then Hitler and the chemists had never tangled with the Strawberry Roan ...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Natural penicillin the Strawberry Roan : there ain't no chemist here all alive that can stay with that mold when it makes that... high dive"

Chemists versus the fungal Strawberry Roan

To the Big Scientists of the Modern Age , natural penicillin from the penicillium mold was like an old moth-eaten cayuse , an old strawberry roan , a has been and a never was .

They saw it as a living being easily broken at the chemical wheel - requiring only a little heat and pressure to make it reveal all of its secrets.

Then the chemists could patent improved analogues of natural penicillin and thus corner the financial market on this precious lifesaver.

But as Montana Slim (Wilf Carter) might have sung it - "There ain't no chemist here all alive that can stay with that mold when it makes that... high dive."

Eighty seven years after chemists first set to work to break the penicillium mold , it still rides the range free and unpatented.

"A true micro bucking bronco that's never been rid, though there's many a chemist that claims that he did...."


Their leader, Dr Henry Dawson, dying of Myasthenia Gravis (MG) with deadly bulbar nerve involvement.

By the end , his MG crisis were ever more frequent and he was reduced to working out of a wheelchair, with oxygen assist.

WWI poison gas and too much time in damp trenches hadn't helped his lungs now threatened by bulbar nerve failings.

His foot and shoulder had also been severely wounded in the war, resulting in months spent in hospitals recovering.

His wife and helpmate, Marjorie Granger Dawson, had been born with congenital hip problems and no amount of operations had helped - she walked , but with a cane.

His clinical assistant , Thomas H Hunter. Polio had left him with two legs paralyzed so he got about with two crutches.

Former Dawson patient (and Dawson's great behind-the-scenes influence within the powerful WPB ) , financier Floyd Odlum.

The Warren Buffett of his age, he was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis while stressing about American unpreparedness for total war.

He was wracked with pain for the rest of his life and only really comfortable submersed in a warm water swimming pool.

Another former Dawson patient, Dr Dante Colitti

Years spent in hospital while doctors struggled to save his life from TB of the spine left him determined to become a surgeon despite his arthritis of the spine.

A condition which left him a hunchback and required him to use crutches.

The medical establishment rejected his services - partly because he was also catholic and Italian-American.

When he saw his chance he delighted in emulating Dawson , by tweaking the noses of the medically powerfuls by getting scarce penicillin for a dying baby via an appeal to the Hearst newspaper empire.

Miss H : Dawson's first SBE patient in which is can be said for sure that his penicillin alone saved her life.

But SBE casts its net wide and with her , it also damaged her uterus so badly she couldn't have children and left her blind in one eye. But she hung on, despite all the new operations and hospital stays, and thrived.

Her continued survival was crucial to answering the many doubters of Dawson's use of precious penicillin on the useless SBE patients, in the critical period between the Fall of 1942 and the Fall of 1945.

Charlie Aronson, along with Aaron Alston, was the first person to ever get a penicillin shot. Dawson's historical injections couldn't have hurt, because Charlie amazingly survived the then almost invariably fatal SBE.

He got a second bout of SBE and more Dawson penicillin again saved his life - but SBE also gave him a life threatening major stroke that left him permanently paralyzed in speech and body and in a wheelchair.

He survived and thrived - it was but the latest in a life long battle with a half dozen diseases that should have killed him.

As far as we know , he survived SBE - thanks in part to his historic first ever penicillin injection - from October 1940 till at least the end of December 1948.

(My current best guess is that he lived at least until 1955.)

His continued survival again stifled the many doubters to Dawson's SBE efforts.

In the parlance of the day, all seven were 4F --- in fact, the 4F of the 4F , useless, unfit, useless mouths.

But these seven , the Gotham Seven, were the ones who fought off their own Allied government and their own physical weaknesses to rescue natural lifesaving penicillin and set it free for all.

Honour their names : un-super heroes indeed....

1945 Big Science's failed promises : synthetic stability and predictability

Chemically-minded/blinded scientists (and during WWII that included almost all scientists) hate, hate, hate penicillium mold.

To them , it is like an unbroken , un-house-trained mustang bronco .

A petulant two year old pooping penicillin all over the floor and then mutating like crazy so it now refuses to eat right, go to bed on cue or produce more penicillin on demand.

And natural penicillin itself - it also sometimes mysteriously lost its potency in mere days or even hours.

"For Darwin's Sake, give me man-made penicillin every time !" was their universal cry.

"It will be stable in shelf life and with all its predictable characteristics both known in advance and consistently stable."

But if we have learned anything since Big Science's apogee in 1945, it is that merely because a substance is man-made does not mean we can predict all its characteristics in advance.

Witnesses in my defence ?

Freon Gas, Leaded Gasoline, DDT and Thalidomide just for starters.

As the offspring of a philosophy prof who taught intro logic for decades , I am tempted - very tempted - to say that all scientists need to pass a tough course in logical fallacies.

For these sort of fallacies tend to show up ,time and again, not in scientists' overt research data, but in their unspoken and unquestioned silent assumptions....

1945's apogee of Modern science , Big science, Synthetic science : Zyklon-B, Plutonium, Napalm , DDT , Freon and leaded gas

Wow ! Quite a lot for Big Science (particularly chemists and synthetic scientists) to celebrate in 1945.

Set against that , a bit of a minor and undoubtedly temporary disappointment.

For there was (also in 1945) the totally unexpected failure by a thousand of the smartest guys in the room - nay the entire universe - to quickly synthesize the simple small molecule made by some small and extremely simple beings : penicillin.

Flash forward Gordon to 2015.

Chemistry (what's left of it) is now Green , a johnny-come-lately attempt to regain ground lost to biology and penicillin-mediated microbiology in particular.

And yes penicillin is still unpatented, still cheap and abundant, still only created by those extremely simple minded little slime cretins.

Synthetic is now passe , un-cool, like white bread to whole grain bread , and natural is the thing.

We're almost all post-moderns now (angry old white protestant male deniers of climate change, Auschwitz and post-modernity aside.)

For once Big Modern Synthetic Science was given its head (aka WWII) , a lot of us apparently didn't like what we saw.

That is why I find 1945's climatic battle between modern synthetic penicillin and postmodern natural penicillin so darn fascinating.

For the long, broad and convoluted battle between modernity and postmodernity is a story only a seasoned academic could love or fully understand.

But the tale of 1945 penicillin is a tight page turner that both laity and ivory tower can really enjoy...

Friday, September 5, 2014

How can you tell when a scientist is lying? They don't footnote : the sad case of Gwyn MacFarlane

Before I knew much about penicillin , I really enjoyed Gwyn Macfarlane's two books on penicillin - he's such a smooth writer.

But now that I have seen many of the primary documents and more particularly now that I have the exact 20 year chronology of early penicillin firmly set in my mind (one of the very few things I don't mind saying that I am very good at) , MacFarlane severely depresses me.

Why are so many scientists such morally bad historians ?

He sought in both books to redress the wrong done to his old boss Howard Florey by the many fabrications in the Fleming Myth that gives almost all the credit for anything good in wartime penicillin to Fleming alone.

A worthy objective.

But he can only do so it seems by doing a Fleming - by seeking to denigrate all the good done by Florey and Fleming's North American counterpart, Henry Dawson.

Macfarlane claims that Dawson's announcing of the first penicillin injections in human patients in history got little press attention.

But no footnote to back up his claim, basically saying that he has checked such indices as the North American Readers Guide to Periodical Literature and found nothing.

(See page 182 in the 1984 British edition of his book Alexander Fleming ) .

In fact, Dawson's May 5th 1941 announcement at a big big international medical convention in Atlantic City was a big press story.

More importantly, it was that rarity, an unexpected big story.

At least in the recollection of the New York Times' top science reporter William L Laurence - a man with a world reputation for knowing all and seeing all that was newsworthy in new science.

So a big headline in his New York Times , right next to the business section ,where it inspired Pfizer management to take up penicillin.

 And Pfizer (let me remind you) made most of WWII's penicillin, all by itself.

Ditto big headlines Philadelphia's biggest paper and in the then giant newsmagazine Newsweek .

Naturally then both American wire services picked it up so that it appeared in remote communities all over North America the next day.

Reported at far afield as the South African Medical Journal.

By contrast, I have never found any contemporary news coverage of the complete cure of Yale university's Ann Miller in March 1942 in any periodical.

And nobody - particularly nobody from that time period from Merck or Yale , with a great interest in seeking such material - has shown any such press citations.

As part of Macfarlane's campaign against Fleming , this cure in far off America can only add to Florey's fame - because his closest scientific friends in America were all from Merck or Yale.

So page 196 of Macfarlane's Alexander Fleming has him claiming (as always without a footnote of proof)  that the American popular press made much of her cure and that it pressed for rapid factory production of this miracle cure - one paper at this time, he claims , even called it a "giant germ killer".

Err, no they didn't.

But the headline in the New York Times a year earlier on May 6th 1941 (you can look it up ) did call Dawson's pioneering efforts a Giant Germ Killer.

So MacFarlane did know that Dawson had gotten much press attention in May 1941 , but he ignored this fact .

All because it stole some of the lustre from his old boss.

So instead he took this 1941 press acclaim away from Dawson and transferred it instead to an 1942 event that lacked any press attention -- all to help bolster Macfarlane's case about Florey's right to more penicillin fame.

I call this sort of academic card shark tactics sleazy and if Macfarlane was in a room with me I'd tell him so to his face - but unfortunately he died not long after publishing Alexander Fleming.

Read Macfarlane ? Yes, I do - all the time. Trust him?
No, I don't....

How a handful of Gotham unfits rescued the unbroken bronco of modern medicine (un-patentable natural lifesaving penicillin-for-all) and set it free to do good

When your life hangs in the balance because of bacterial infection and all else has failed, hospitals reach for Plan G - a needleful of Penicillin G - 87 years old and still our most potent , safest and yet by far the cheapest lifesaver.

Big Pharma practically giving away its most potent and yet safest lifesaver - that hardly sounds like the Big Pharma you and I know --- and hate !

Penicillin still remains un-patentable - still remains made naturally by tiny bugs in a bottle , not by human chemists in a factory.

It still finds its main use as an internal lifesaver not as an external antiseptic for cuts and scrapes.

And it still is a widely available lifesaver - regardless of skin color or lack of income .

Partly because it is cheap because it is un-patentable so no one firm or nation can control its production  but mostly because making it available for all is a longstanding tradition since the last year of WWII.

But if Alexander Fleming , that Presbyterian-raised Scot from Old Scotland had had his will, none of this good news would have happened.

Thankfully, another Presbyterian-raised Scot , but this time from New Scotland (Henry Dawson), was there to thwart his will ...

Penicillin fame , September 1941 : when cat Florey is out of town, mouse Fleming begins to play ...

Alexander Fleming never asserted his quite spurious claim that he had long advocated a lifesaving role for penicillin until the beginning of September 1941.

That was exactly the time when the person most likely to be able and willing to accurately dispute that claim, his friend and fellow penicillin pioneer Howard Florey, was (in) conveniently out of the country and unable to respond because of war restrictions on communications.

When one of the UK's biggest newspapers - the Daily Herald - took up Fleming's claim from his letter to the editor in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) , the infamous "Fleming Myth" was fully made.

Because , quite quickly, both popular and learned journalists took up and repeated the myth on and on throughout the next month.

Nobody from Florey's team at Oxford University refuted the the myth before it grew.

None there dared speak up for the boss , for like present day Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Florey was a controlling individual who particularly hated the popular media.

Florey had done nothing to diminish Fleming and had been the picture of kindness to him - which itself  was rather unusual for Florey.

He would continue to bend over backwards towards Fleming for at least another year .

For example, by personally delivering some of his own precious penicillin to Fleming to help him save a life - the only injection of penicillin Fleming ever gave in the 14 years since he first discovered the substance.

I feel that Alexander Fleming was sneaky in the way he operated this end run around his friend when that friend's back was turned.

 I have a feeling that Leonard Colebrook could provide other examples of when  his friend Alexander Fleming also was sneaky in how he had gradually replaced Colebrook in the affections of their joint boss, Sir Almroth Wright.

In person, Florey was instantly hard to like and Fleming was instantly easy to like - but superficial surface impressions did not convey the true nature of either man ..

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Big Apple's (green) un-super heroes

The biggest horse races offer the biggest prize money so every jockey naturally wants to win big in the biggest of Big Apples - New York City.

Nothing living and green is implied in the term  --- nothing beyond the green colour of cold hard cash.

Its ironic then, isn't , that wartime's penicillium green grew best in The Big Apple's (The Green Apple's ?) concrete jungle.

Not in leafy green Oxford University.

Brewed up in Gotham by Henry Dawson's small group of unfits, misfits and rebels - fermenting up a revolution in how the world of medicine now views the natural world....