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Scottish Inventions: Insulin

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36628.  Fri Dec 02, 2005 5:36 pm Reply with quote

Stephen, in a recent program, listed Scottish inventions...

In that list, he listed Insulin.

I was horrified at this. As a Canadian, I know as every school child does, that it was discovered by a German (Paul Langerhans), but isolated and extracted by Frederick Banting (A Canadian) and Charles Best (an American) both at University of Toronto.

I can only think that Stephen and the researchers of the program were mistakenly led astray by the fact that Banting and Best worked in the Laboratory of JJR Macleod, at the university of Toronto. Although Macleod and Banting were jointly awarded the Nobel prize, in 1923, it would be a gross mis-representation to say that Insulin was "invented by the Scots".


36630.  Fri Dec 02, 2005 5:44 pm Reply with quote

insulin was not invented by anyone since it is a natural occuring substance in the pancreas.

gerontius grumpus
36680.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 6:34 am Reply with quote

What about guillotines?

Was Deacon Brodie's guillotine the first, or were there others before that?

36694.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 7:34 am Reply with quote

James-C, I'm sure an Elfish reply to your insulin question will appear in good time, and I'm also sure it will involve JJR Macleod as you predict.

To dismiss Macleod's part in the discovery as merely "that Banting and Best worked in the Laboratory of JJR Macleod" would seem slightly offhand, as surely the fact that he got a Nobel Prize for the discovery implies that he was instrumental in the discovery. Indeed one contributor to Wikipedia claims that:

Best and Banting only obtained good results once Macleod started advising them on experimental technique, and the crucial use of alcohol in extracting insulin was entirely Macleod's suggestion


John Waller's Fabulous Science describes the way Charles Best attempted to discount the contributions of the other scientists involved

While the official Nobel line in 1923 was:

The Professorial Staff of the Caroline Institute has considered the work of Banting and Macleod to be of such importance, theoretically and practically, that it has resolved to award them the great distinction of the Nobel Prize
Implying (perhaps erroneously) to me that Banting was honoured for the theory and Macleod for the practicalities. (Best was mentioned in the speech, but was not recognised with a split of the prize.)

However I have been reading a few more accounts of the discovery, and the story seems to become murkier and murkier.
Best and Banting were clearly unhappy about Best being ignored by Nobel, as well as Macleod's inclusion.

For instance this is from a writing from Best (who was, it seems, also a Canadian citizen, despite being born in the US)

I have to confess that even after all these years, the revival of the memory that Professor Macleod and later Collip, instead of being grateful for the privilege of helping to develop a great advance, used their superior experience and skill, with considerable success, in the attempt to appropriate some of the credit for a discovery which was not truly theirs, still makes me warm with resentment."

also this from Banting:

I ascribe to Best equal share in the Discovery. Hurt that he is not so acknowledged by Nobel trustees, [I] will share with him.

The whole story seems genuinely QI and its tough to find any source which doesn't sit on one side of the fence or the other.

Did Nobel make a mistake, or a deliberate decision to leave out Best in favour of the more experienced pysician? Or did Best become a bitter man due to missing out, and deliberately spread stories dismissing the work of his colleagues?

36819.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 3:38 pm Reply with quote

Those are all good points, and I think the water is extremely murky when trying to unravel the truth. With my own knowledge of academic egos, I would not find the rumours of baxkstabbing or anyone involved with the project wanting to claim more glory than they might deserve as very surprising. As their mentor and supervisor MacLeod surely deserves a share of the credit. Nobel nominations were, at the time and still are, quite political in many ways.

However, even if MacLeod does deserve some of the credit, it still seems to me to be a gross misrepresentation to say that "the Scots" *invented* Insulin.

Not really my area to be if it was medieval lit...


36837.  Sat Dec 03, 2005 7:53 pm Reply with quote

The list on the programme was of Scottish inventions and discoveries, so insulin would surely come under the latter category

36854.  Sun Dec 04, 2005 2:51 am Reply with quote

I missed recording show 10 but I think it would have been "some of the things invented by scots"
Flash is the man to confirm

36876.  Sun Dec 04, 2005 7:49 am Reply with quote

I will now tell you what theyve invented. Scotch inventions and discoveries include; adhesive stamps, the Australian national anthem, the Bank of England, bicycle pedals, the breech-loading rifle, you notice Im going in alphabetical order...

gerontius grumpus
36877.  Sun Dec 04, 2005 7:54 am Reply with quote

The Australian national anthem was mentioned as a Scottish invention.

I remember in the Seventies when the Australians decided they needed a national anthem.
Everyone was quite surprised because they thought it was Waltzing Matilda.


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