Who were the heroes and scoundrels among the winners of the world’s most prestigious award in medicine?

Interview with the Author

EDITOR: Hello Dr. Dolan. Whatever possessed you to write this book?

DR. DOLAN: It all started for me when I found out the Nobel Prize was established by Alfred Nobel, a global arms manufacturer who invented dynamite. From there, I kept discovering fascinating things. Did you know that an early Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for color therapy, a modality later outlawed by the FDA, only to be proven effective again a century later? The eighth Nobel winner advocated preventive colon removal for all adults, in order to eliminate the body’s major reservoir of bacteria. Some of these winners were eugenicists and Nazis; others were war heroes, poets, politicians, and sci-fi authors.

EDITOR: Wow, who knew? Is the book for the general reader?

DR. DOLAN: Yes, it’s written for the lay public. Medicine can be complex, but not when it is explained in plain language. Scientists can be quite boring, but not when you know the back stories of some these brainiacs and boneheads.

EDITOR: Can you give us an example of a bonehead?

DR. DOLAN: A top contender would have to be Julius Warner-Juaregg, the guy who thought it would be a good idea to give the blood of malaria patients to people suffering from dementia from advanced syphilis. It utterly failed to drive bad bugs out of the brain, and of course many of the patients died from the treatment.

EDITOR: That is really wild! How about a brainiac?

DR. DOLAN: Robert Koch was one of the most scientifically productive Nobel winners, but he made an embarrassing error with his worldwide announcement of a cure for tuberculosis—in fact, it was a total flop.

EDITOR: So the appellations are not mutually exclusive?

DR. DOLAN: Exactly!

EDITOR: What do you want readers to take away?

Dr. DOLAN: I want readers to get excited about medical discovery, so that they tune in when they hear on the news every October that Nobel Prize winners have been announced. I also want persons from all walks of life to differentiate great scientific contributions from great (or small) people, as we do tend to put technical advances ahead of the humanities in Western society. I hope the book encourages readers to develop a healthy skepticism of the pronouncements emanating from the grandiose pulpits of the medical scientific establishment.

Boneheads and Brainiacs book

Discover the astonishing backstories of the most famous names in medicine!

Little-Known Facts About Alfred Nobel

1833 – Birth of Alfred Nobel in Stockholm, Sweden

1842 – Moves to St. Petersburg, Russia to join Nobel, Sr. who was manufacturing explosives.​

1850-52 – Nobel studies in the United States, while Nobel, Sr. produces armaments for the Russians.​

1864 – Nobel is granted his first patent for the ignition device for nitroglycerine.​

1867 – Nobel granted U.S. patent for dynamite, a mixture of 75% nitroglycerin and 25% diatomaceous earth.​

1870 – Nobel enters into business agreements in Austria and France to provide dynamite production for both sides of the Franco-Prussian War.​

1896 – Death of Alfred Nobel.

By the time of his death, Nobel held 355 patents, most of them related to arms manufacture or explosives production, and he had various degrees of financial interest in business entities managing Nobel-related factories in the U.S., England, Scotland, Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, and Russia.

Find out the personal and professional stories of past winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Read Boneheads & Brainiacs: Heroes and Scoundrels of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Nobel Laureates can be inspiring, surprising, and shocking.

Read what they have said and what has been said about them below.

“If a man loses his reverence for any part of life, he will lose his reverence for all of life.”

– Albert Schweitzer, 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner

From Reverence for Life: The Words of Albert Schweitzer. HarperCollins; 1st edition (October 1993)

“Like the Veiled Prophet, he still remains unseen to any eyes save those of his coworkers and research assistants. The stranger must content himself by looking up at the long grey walls of the Hygiene Museum and knowing that somewhere within them the great master mind is working.”

– Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle (remarking on Robert Koch, 1905 winner of the Nobel Prize in medicine).

From Doyle, A. Conan. “Dr. Koch And His Cure.” The Review of Reviews (December 1890, p. 552)

“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought.”

– Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, 1937 Nobel Prize winner in medicine.

From Good, IJ. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi quoted. The Scientist Speculates. Basic Books, Inc., New York, NY (1962).

“People sometimes think that I and the others worked on penicillin because we were interested in suffering humanity. I don’t think it ever crossed our minds about suffering humanity.”

– Howard Walter Florey, 1945 Nobel Prize winner in medicine.

From De Berg, Hazel. “Transcript of taped interview with Lord Howard Florey.” National Library, Canberra 5 April 1967, pg 9 of 15. Quoted by Denise Sutherland in “Sir Howard Florey – a driven spirit.” Australasian Science February 1998.

“I have doomed people with goiter, otherwise healthy to a vegetative existence. Many of them I have turned to cretins, saved for a life not worthy living.”

– Emil Theodore Kocher, winner of the 1909 Nobel Prize in medicine, speaking of his horror at how his thyroid surgery caused cretinism.

From Sarkar, et al. “A Review on the History of ‘Thyroid Surgery’.” Indian J Surg 2016 Feb; 78(1): 32–36. (quoting Kocher, T. “Uber Kropfextirpation und ihre Folgen.” Arch Klin Chir 1883; 29: 254–337.)

“This relatively simple operation on a sane person rendered them incapable of exercising their own will and made them mere robots.”

– CIA report on lobotomy, for which Egas Moniz won the 1949 Nobel Prize in medicine.

From CIA Information Report, date removed, sanitized copy approved for release in 2011, number RDP80-00809A000600030562-5.

“Despite all his grumbling, ideologically (in his works, not in his speeches) he is working for us,”

– Written about Ivan Pavlov, 1904 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, by Nikolai Bukharin, former editor of Pravda newspaper.

“Yes, in my inmost being, I am humiliated because I belong to this vile animal species, the most foolish of all created things.”

– Charles Richet, winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in medicine.

From Richet, Charles. 1925. Idiot Man; or The Follies of Mankind (L’homme Stupide). Published by T. Werner Laurie, LTD.

Get a behind-the-scenes view into the brilliant discoveries and tragic mistakes of past Nobel Prize Winners in Medicine.

Boneheads and Brainiacs book

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