Het historisch werk van Acta Biomedica resulteert in verrassende inzichten op basis van interviews en gedegen archief- en literatuuronderzoek.

  • Historical Lessons

  • Peer comments

Het vereist een professionele aanpak hetgeen krachtig is verwoord door wetenschapshistorica Barbara Tuchman in haar boek Practicing History:

“Research is endlessly seductive; writing is hard work. One has to sit down on that chair and think and transform thought into readable, conservative, interesting sentences that both make sense and make the reader turn the page. It is laborious, slow, often painful, sometimes agony. It means rearrangement, revision, adding, cutting, rewriting. But it brings a sense of excitement, almost of rapture; a moment on Olympus. In short, it is an act of creation.”

Door historisch onderzoek krijgen vergeten gebeurtenissen opnieuw een plaats in het geheugen en vormen zo de context om het heden te analyseren.

Barbara Tuchman kent de historicus een belangrijke rol toe: “... past events cannot exist independently of the historian because without the historian we would know nothing about them ...”.

Computerhistoricus Michael S. Mahoney argumenteert dat alleen via historisch onderzoek de werkelijke betekenis van de computer voor de maatschappij valt te achterhalen (‘The history of computing in the history of technology’, Annals of the history of computing 10 (1988), blz 113-125):

“From the very beginning, the computer has borne the label ‘revolutionary’. ... By its nature as well as by its youth, the computer appeared to have no history. Yet, ‘revolution’ is an essentially historical concept. Even when turning things on their head, one can only define what is new by what is old, and innovation, however imaginative, can only proceed from what exists. ...

What is truly revolutionary about the computer will become clear only when computing acquires a proper history, one that ties it to other technologies and thus uncovers the precedents that make its innovations significant. Pursued within the larger enterprise of the history of technology, the history of computing will acquire the context of place and time that gives history meaning.”

“Social factors can affect competitiveness in unforeseen ways. For example, strong social ties between users and manufacturers can create barriers to entry and retard the increase in technical specifications of products.
Technological competitiveness occurs in monopolistic and publicly regulated industries, but in these industries it is defined in terms of how technology should be employed, to what aims, and for what benefits, not in terms of competition over customers, profits, or markets. Government regulation can promote competition in monopolistic industries.

Business, technical, regulatory, and other factors all affect technologies chosen for a given application; there is no such thing as one ideal, correct, or appropriate technology for a given application. Frequently, the technology employed in a given application changes over time.
Versatility is a great asset of technologies; they can win out over competing technologies by being able to be used in many different settings and in new designs and applications.”

Bron: William Aspray (red.), Technological competitiveness: Contemporary and historical perspectives on the electrical, electronics and computer industries (New York: IEEE Press, 1993), met ‘Lessons from history’, pp. 352-4.

Pierre-Olivier Méthot (Université Laval, Quebec, Canada),
Writing the history of virology in the twentieth century - Discovery, disciplines, and conceptual change
Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (Elsevier, 2016):

The history of virology has often been written as the coming into being of a discipline, namely as a process going from the study of illdefined biological or chemical objects called ‘viruses’ in the late nineteenth century to the experimental and professionalized laboratory-based science known as virology some seventy years later. The creation of scientific disciplines offers historians of science a privileged way to access and explore the multiplicity of factors (conceptual, technical, cultural, etc.) involved in the growth of science, which has largely developed by means of a “continual branching out into fields of investigation previously unexplored and often totally unexpected.” The organized study and control of biological entities known as ‘viruses’ is often seen as one such example of a domain that has ‘branched out’ from previously established fields of inquiry - plant pathology, bacteriology, chemistry, etc. - before achieving disciplinary status, a process once described as “a model of the emergence and establishment of a new branch of biological knowledge.”
Virology’s emergence as a discipline, of course, does not merely result from the discovery of new forms of biological entities, standing between the living and inert matter; it is also the product of new techniques and apparatuses being used to advance knowledge, notably in the medical and biomedical realms, as well as a consequence of scientific infrastructures and social practices, including the foundation of scientific journals and the development of research communities and institutions such as the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York, the California Institute of Technology, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and the Friedrich Loeffler Institute in Greifswald...

In her study of Wendell Stanley’s work on the tobacco mosaic virus, historian of science Angela Creager noted this methodological point: “the origin of virology”, she remarked, “is most often narrated as the history of a concept, that of the virus as a nonbacterial pathogen.” Creager’s comment was directed to Sally Smith Hughes’ earlier study, The Virus: a History of the Concept, in which the historical emergence of virology was characterized in terms of a shift from bacterial to nonbacterial concepts of virus; but several other historical accounts of the long history of virology are equally concept oriented.
In 1978, London virologist P.A. Waterson wrote an Introduction to the History of Virology together with historian Lise Wilkinson that, he acknowledged, was “essentially, and indeed deliberately, conceptual” (1978, xii; emphasis in original), a book later perceived to be both “comprehensive and authoritative” by historians of virology (van Helvoort, 2014, 258)...

A decade later, scientist and historian of science Ton van Helvoort argued in a number of foundational papers (1991, 1992, 1993, 1994a, b, 1996) that virology as a field emerged out of the ‘deconstruction’ of the concept of ‘filterable virus’ and the subsequent rise of the ‘modern’ concept of virus from the 1950s onward. While these works do follow the development of techniques such as filtration, cell and tissue cultures, electron microscopy, etc., what explains broad, even paradigmatic changes in the field of virology are usually changes in the concept of virus itself (e.g. bacterial to non-bacterial, filterable virus to the modern concept of a virus, etc.) In other words, concepts - and not so much techniques, institutions, research environments, or their interaction - are seen as the main drivers of scientific change.

Eva Becsei-Kilborn (Scotland),
Scientific Discovery and Scientific Reputation: The Reception of Peyton Rous’ Discovery of the Chicken Sarcoma Virus
Journal of the history of biology 43 (2010), 111–57

As Ton van Helvoort observed, Rous always showed considerable circumspection in discussing his research findings in his published papers and mostly avoided using the word ‘‘virus,’’ preferring instead to employ terms such as ‘‘filterable agent,’’ and ‘‘filterable principle.’’ In doing so, Rous was not only expressing a measure of his own uncertainty about the nature of the agent, but was also following the advice of older colleagues to refrain from linking cancer with viruses. In his correspondence of much later times Rous intimated to several of his colleagues that when he was prepared to use the term virus the ‘‘crusty,redoubtable, lovable old Secretary of the Board of Scientific Directors, Dr Prudden, whose wisdom I admired, put his granite foot down against it, suggesting ‘‘agent’’ instead.’’

The association of cancer with viruses could have triggered further anxiety among the wider public. If little was known about the precise character of viruses, they were seen to be part of a highly contagious process. Despite the fact that by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, worries about the infectious nature of cancer were largely dispelled, the public was still ill at ease about coming into close contact with cancer sufferers. Nothing expresses this apprehension more than the fact that as late as 1913, some hospitals in New York had isolation wards for cancer patients. It is also noteworthy that when Rous’ findings reached the newspapers in early 1912, with the headline in the New York Times: ‘‘Clue to Parasite as Cause of Cancer,’’ Flexner, felt obliged to reassure the public in the same newspaper article by saying that ‘‘cancer is certainly not readily infectious; in fact, there is no clinical evidence that it can be transmitted between human individuals.’’ (Helvoort, 2004)

There was an additional institutional factor which may have contributed to Rous’ reticence to attribute a viral connection to cancer causation. In 1910 the young scientist James B. Murphy had been appointed to a post in the RIMR. Having requested to work in Rous’ laboratory, Murphy’s task was to develop other methods for the propagation and transmission of tumors. He soon perfected a technique for freeze-drying the tumor, which provided an alternative way of transmitting cell-free tumors in addition to the filtration techniques used by Rous. Both Murphy and Rous recognized that the tumor in the chicken sarcoma experiment was a true tumor with the essential characteristics of malignancy. (Helvoort, 2004) The two colleagues however disagreed on the nature of the sarcoma agent. Whereas Rous was inclined to regard it a ‘‘living microorganism,’’ Murphy was convinced that the agent was a chemical entity, perhaps an ‘‘enzyme.’’ Indeed, as time went by, Murphy actually became one of the most determined adversaries of the viral theory of cancer causation.

Robin Wolfe Scheffler (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA)
Following cancer viruses through the laboratory, clinic, and society
Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (2014)

After several decades of muted activity, interest in cancer viruses began to revive in the 1940s with the discovery of mammalian papilloma viruses and the development of instruments, such as the electron microscope or ultracentrifuge, which allowed the treatment of viruses as physiochemical objects in the laboratory (Creager & Gaudillière, 2001; Kevles, 1995). As Morgan describes, this revival received further impetus from Ludwik Gross’s discovery of cancer causing viruses in mice during the 1950s, animals whose relevance to human disease was more widely accepted than chickens. The release of the polio vaccine inspired considerable optimism for vaccination as a public health measure, and during the 1960s, cancer viruses were the focus of an intense research campaign at the United States National Cancer Institute.
Meanwhile, molecular biologists such as Renato Dulbecco developed tissue culture methods for the reproduction of animal viruses in vitro which were used to study a growing number of animal tumor viruses (Kevles, 1993). In the 1970s, cancer virus research resulted in the identification of cancer causing genes, or oncogenes, in both viruses and normal animal cells (Fujimura,1996). Before the widespread adoption of PCR and restriction enzymes, cancer viruses provided one of the few means of manipulating individual genes in eukaryotic cells (Müller-Wille & Rheinberger, 2012, p.162).
In the 1980s and 1990s viruses were eclipsed by interest in the genetic basis of cancer. With work on the human genome, the discovery of oncogenes appeared to provide an ironic coda for cancer virus researchdthe search for an external cause of cancer had revealed a quintessentially internal cause (Helvoort, 1999; Klein, 1999; Weinberg, 1998). Recently, the development of the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine as a preventative for cervical, oral, and anal cancers promises to fulfill earlier hopes of vaccination, although not without controversy (Wailoo, Livingston, Epstein, & Aronowitz, 2010).

Volker Wunderlich and Peter Kunze
Peyton Rous: A Centennial Tribute to the Founding Father of Cancer Virology
In: E.S. Robertson (ed.), Cancer Associated Viruses (2011)

Recent historical research substantiates that Rous’ discovery triggered a longlasting scientific discussion (van Helvoort 1999, 2004; Becsei-Kilborn 2010). However, a detailed description of this discussion would go beyond the framework of this article. Rous found himself facing considerable skepticism, even resistance.
Even James B. Murphy (1884–1950), temporarily his close colleague when carrying out these experiments and who later gained increasing infl uence in the US cancer research community, did not believe in the involvement of viruses, but interpreted the agent as a “transmissible mutagen.” Later, he thought to have proved it to be a ferment. Rous’ sharpest critic was James Ewing (1866–1943), who was very conscious of his power as pathologist and director of research at the Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases in New York City. Ewing largely rejected experimental pathology for the research of cancer etiology and believed the origin of cancer to be within the cell itself. Frequent points of criticism by other scientists about Rous’ experiments were: (1) when preparing the fi ltrate, a few tumor cells could have passed through the fi lter; (2) the effect might have been caused not by an infectious agent, but by products synthesized by tumor cells; (3) it was doubted that the induced sarcomas were real tumors, and it was suggested that they should rather be seen as “granulomas”; (4) since the agent could not infect most cells – with the exception of certain chicken cells – the high specifi city of its effect remained enigmatic; and (5) whether tumor development could be caused by external factors at all or if tumors develop in an endogenous way was not decided at that time. However, the belief favoring purely endogenous reasons prevailed at that time. Although Rous could dispel some objections, he did not succeed in convincing his critics. All in all, the results were for a long time considered an oddity of chickens that were of no relevance to the situation in humans.

But there were also advocates for Rous, in America most notably Flexner and the highly respected Leo Loeb (1869–1959). In Japan, Akira Fujinami (1870–1934) found a very similar agent in chicken sarcomas that is known today as Fujinami virus (Fujinami and Inamoto 1914 ) . From the mid 1920s on, much-discussed studies by the British scientists Willam E. Gye (1884–1952) and Christopher H. Andrewes (1896–1988) kept Rous’ experiments from being forgotten. Rous himself did not take up work in this area until 1933, after Richard E. Shope (1901–1966) had succeeded with a cell-free transmission of papillomas of cottontail rabbits (Shope 1933). Shope left the alleged virus tumor to his colleague Rous for further experiments.
The model gave Rous the opportunity to study many characteristics of the natural development of tumors. Under special conditions, real carcinoma developed from the papilloma. Rous found that tumors develop gradually. A phase of tumor initiation is followed by phases of promotion and progression up to the fully developed metastasizing tumor (Rous and Kidd 1941 ) . This may cause a synergistic effect of viruses and chemical carcinogens. The terms “latent or dormant tumor cells” and “cancer as a multifactorial disease” were also introduced by Rous on the basis of these experiments (see Rous 1967b ).
The real breakthrough of the virus theory of cancer came in the 1950s. In 1951 and 1954, respectively, Ludwik Gross (1904–1999) in New York and Arnold Graffi (1910–2006) in Berlin were able to prove that viruses caused lymphatic (Gross 1951 ) and myeloid leukemia (Graffi et al. 1954 ) in mice. Numerous other isolations of DNA- or RNA-containing oncogenic viruses were made in a variety of animal species. Many of these became outstanding models of the emerging molecular biology.
The golden age of tumor virology had begun.
Rous had always believed in the viral nature of his agent. In a letter to his British colleague Stephen L. Baker (1888–1978), he confessed in 1930: “My own belief has always been that the agents causing these tumors are viruses.” But at that time, he had to continue carefully “(…) though the statement is confi dential to you” (quoted from Becsei-Kilborn 2010 : 132).