Issue Date: December 10, 2012
‘Down And Dirty Science’
Regarding the book “Prize Fight,” by Morton A. Meyers, reviewed by Jovana J. Grbić: One of Meyers’ case studies concerns the controversy that arose between Nobel Laureate Paul C. Lauterbur and Raymond V. Damadian. Meyers’ version of the controversy contains outright errors and unsubstantiated claims (C&EN, Sept. 17, page 33).
Meyers states that the “distinction of coming up with the original idea of applying NMR to medical imaging belongs to Damadian” when it does not. Meyers also states that Lauterbur built “on Damadian’s ideas to produce images by mapping the location of hydrogen nuclei in the body.” However, in the 1970s Damadian was primarily interested in applying differences in NMR relaxation times to differentiate normal cells from malignant ones in excised tissues, not in creating medical images.
Meyers further claims that “Damadian had beaten Lauterbur both in originating the idea of MRI as well as building a prototype machine that produced images.” These statements are also incorrect because Lauterbur both conceived the idea of MRI in 1971—long before Damadian ever published anything on NMR images—and also made the first NMR images of both inanimate objects and an animal: water capillaries and a clam in its shell, respectively.
With regard to unsubstantiated claims, Meyers states that “colleagues siding with Lauterbur gave him advance notice to submit an NIH grant application for an MRI prototype,” so that the application “then received fast-track funding before Damadian’s grant was ever evaluated.” Statements like these impugn the integrity of the National Institutes of Health grant process, and Grbić cites no evidence for Meyers’ claims.
What is especially surprising about the above statements is that Meyers and Lauterbur were contemporaries at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, and Meyers should not be wading into the controversy as a novice.
It is even more unfortunate that C&EN published a book review in which Grbić appears to have uncritically accepted Meyers’ claims without making the effort to verify them by contacting people who are knowledgeable in the field of NMR imaging.
Eugene P. Mazzola
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