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Excellence and Chance: The Nobel Prize Case of E. von Behring and É. Roux

Franz Luttenberger
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Vol. 18, No. 2 (1996), pp. 225-239
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23331941
Page Count: 15
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Excellence and Chance: The Nobel Prize Case of E. von Behring and É. Roux
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Abstract

The first Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded in 1901 to the German immunologist Emil von Behring 'for his work on serum therapy, especially its application against diphtheria'. This paper examines the intricate selection process leading up to this prize. In accordance with the Nobel statutes and prevailing scientific ideals, the prize authority tried to single out the most outstanding discovery made in this field, and disregarded all others. Thus, Émile Roux, who had been nominated for the isolation of diphtheria toxin in 1888, was clearly considered inferior to von Behring, while Shibasaburo Kitasato and Alexandre Yersin were merely regarded as von Behring's and Roux's co-workers, respectively. Up to 1932, Roux received numerous nominations (120), but did not receive the award, mainly because he did not make any more discoveries that were considered prizeworthy, and with time his achievements of 1888 were thought to be too 'old'. Thus, he is one of the many 'highly qualified losers' who, over the years, came close to the prize but who were finally discarded.

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