Saturday, October 10, 2015

Open Source 'artisan' penicillin

Dr Henry Dawson well understood that creating a "Big Tent coalition of all possible talents" to win the moral and military war against the Axis really meant letting the small and the powerless inside the tent, both as those to be helped and those doing the helping.

After all everybody knew that the big and the powerful were already inside the tent, were always already there.

Dawson had already selected those he felt would be a potent symbol of those not being helped in the Axis+Allied rush to deify the big and the fit over the small and the unfit.

SBE patients from working class minorities, considered to be unworthy of any scarce wartime medical care : the very '4Fs of the 4Fs'.

Dawson's next decision was to employ the tiny penicillium cells to make his pioneering systemic penicillin, instead of using man-made artificial penicillin made in huge factories.

This also would be serve as a potent symbol of what good can happen when small helpers were allowed to join the war effort.

Finally Dawson knew the that the resulting natural penicillin made by the small penicillium could be made by small teams of researchers on the cheap.

And thus they could remain independent of government, university and foundation authorities trying to centralize all penicillin research into one big group-thinking agency such as had happened with atomic research.

Natural penicillin could do this for two reasons : one technical and the other legal.

It proved much easier and certainly much cheaper to make clinical natural penicillin on a very small"artisan" scale (ultimately even on an ordinary domestic kitchen table) than to try to synthesize it with a mess of pungent and dangerous chemicals in high pressure, high temperature chemical reactors.

Most importantly, natural penicillin was inherently open source and PD (public domain) : it could not be patented and hence controlled by Big Pharma and Big Government (as happened with atomic research).

Any medical researcher in the world who truly cared about saving the dying right now (never as many as you might think) could make clinical natural penicillin and for a time in late 1943 and early 1944, it seemed they all were.

Small patients, small helpers from Nature, small human helper teams : working together to give a war-torn world the best possible boon : the gift of life.

Penicillin certainly helped the Allied military effort, though less than the myth claims.

However its biggest effect was on the longstanding Allied effort to create a 'moral coalition' of all the world's people against the evil of the Axis ideology.

In late 1943, the Allies began to fly some of their now abundant natural penicillin (thanks to Dawson and Pfizer) around the world to save the lives of small children in Neutral countries.

This act finally convinced a hitherto skeptic world about the Allies' moral worthiness.

Now that they finally saw some flesh put on the Allies' high blown but hollow rhetoric of their moral superiority over the Axis.

If penicillin had been patented like the atomic bomb, this pax penicillia would never have left the starting gate in WWII.

Chalk another one up for the virtues, practical and moral, of the open source movement ...

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