Thursday, December 31, 2015

wartime penicillin : Outsiders vs Insiders

In 1940, Canada, Britain and America had similar equally insular little clubs of a few elite research oriented (Ivy League) universities, a few national government science agencies and a few top research-oriented pharmaceutical firms, all strung closely together like pearls on a necklace, down along their relatively compact major urban corridor.

It was inside these exclusive clubs/corridors that their national scientific elites confidently expected that wartime penicillin would be quietly and thoroughly researched in big labs and top hospitals' wards and successfully mass-produced - as a patented synthetic - in large high tech plants.

Then and only then the same few elites would distribute penicillin to a grateful population, across the entire nation and indeed the entire world.

But in all three countries, doctors, patients , the public and journalists all got tired of patiently waiting for a life-saving drug that still hadn't seen public distribution 15 long years after it was first 'discovered'.

Enough was enough.

Time to act up.

Canadian troops in Italy ignored ottawa's excuses for the delay and saved their soldiers with their own penicillin made out on the frontlines on a novel feedstock consisting of the water used to wash potatoes.

In Britain the Royal Navy ignored the tardy bureaucrats at the Ministry of Supply, in bed with the patent-seeking pharmaceutical industry, and built its own fully professional penicillin growing and process operation in the wilds of Somerset -- about as far from the urban corridor elite as possible.

In backwoods Pennsylvania some nobody MD with an ethnic sounding name made his own penicillin on his kitchen table, for pennies, and sympathetic local reporters gave his method full airing in the popular media.

Up yours, martini-sniffing urban elites.....

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