Denied the prize
Posted on homepage: 13 August 2007 (GMT+10)
Frederick Banting and John Macleod are renowned for having shared the 1923 Nobel Prize as the first to discover insulin. But Romanian creationist professor Nicolae Paulescu (pictured below) had beaten them to it.
While in Paris, aged 55, Alfred Nobel, the discoverer of dynamite, read about his own death in a French newspaper. In fact it was his brother Ludwig who had died—the reporter had it wrong. He wrote how Nobel would be remembered as the ‘merchant of death’, a businessman who made his fortune by blowing things and people up.1 Perhaps to ensure that posterity would remember him more kindly, Nobel had a good part of his fortune assigned for the now-famous prize that bears his name.
Far from always bringing harmony, the Nobel Prize awards (most of which are well-deserved) have often triggered bitter debates. This is especially so when it is later documented that somebody else was ‘the first’ or was otherwise overlooked. We already presented the case of the creationist Raymond Damadian, the inventor of MRI scanning.2 It seems that the discovery of insulin may be a similar case.
Echoing the Damadian injustice, Nicolae Paulescu, the discoverer of insulin, was in many respects a creationist. A highly respected and admired academic, he even taught his anti-evolutionary views in university. He used to say: ‘The scientist cannot just say Credo in Deum (I believe in God). He must clearly affirm: Scio Deum esse (I know God exists)’.3
Nicolae C. Paulescu (1869–1931) was a scholar of international stature. He received his medical education in Paris and for 30 years performed extensive scientific research in his homeland, Romania, at the University of Bucharest. In 1903 he began publication of a monumental treatise on medicine in four volumes and later (1919–1921) a 3—volume, 2110—page treatise on physiology (Traité de Physiologie Médicale). His research on the pancreatic hormone that regulates blood sugar levels started in 1916 but was interrupted by WWI.
Between April and August 1921, Paulescu announced the discovery of ‘pancreine’ (now known as insulin) in several scientific papers. The highly respected Archives Internationales de Physiologie of Liège (Belgium) received his comprehensive paper on 22 June 1921 and published it on 31 August that year. In it, Paulescu announced his successful isolation of the antidiabetic hormone of the pancreas and its use in lowering the blood sugar levels in both diabetic and normal dogs.4
Banting (and a co-worker, Charles Best5 ) gave the first reading of the paper that announced their discovery of insulin on December 31 that year, months later. It appeared in the February 1922 issue of Toronto’s Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine.6
Although Banting and Best knew of Paulescu’s paper, they misinterpreted it in their 1922 paper, by saying: ‘He [Paulescu] states that injections into peripheral veins produce no effect and his experiments show that second injections do not produce such marked effect as the first.’7
Had the Nobel Committee checked Paulescu’s paper, they would have noticed that Banting and Best (et al.) had it upside down! It turns out that neither of the two Canadians understood sufficient French, and in a letter to Professor Ion Pavel on 15 October 1969, Charles Best apologized, saying, ‘I do not remember whether we relied on our own poor French or whether we had a translation made. In any case I would like to state how sorry I am for this unfortunate error and I trust that your efforts to honor Professor Paulescu will be rewarded with great success.’7
In a 1971 article, Roif Luft, president of the International Diabetes Foundation and chairman of the Nobel Prize Committee for Physiology and Medicine, said: ‘One fact remains, namely that the earlier discovery made by Paulescu was misinterpreted by Banting and Best for reasons which we cannot know anything about today … In my opinion, the [Nobel] prize should—without any doubt—have been shared between Paulescu, Banting and Best …’.7
One would have expected some effort to rectify this injustice, but as in the case of Damadian, nothing was done. Paulescu and Damadian shared another thing in common; their belief in divine creation. It is quite possible that Paulescu’s outspoken critiques of Darwinism ‘sealed his fate’ in this regard.
A staunch anti-Darwinian
The beginning of the 20th century in Europe was a time of massive change in academia. Darwin’s theory was widely embraced and extended beyond the boundaries of biology, reshaping social sciences and even the medical sciences. Very few academics had the courage and scientific open-mindedness to stand tall in front of the crushing bulldozer of Darwinism.
In those times, at Europe’s south-eastern edge, Professor Paulescu actively opposed Darwinian ideas. In 1902, he opened his course on physiology with a devastating critique of spontaneous generation—the new evolutionary idea of the day, according to which chemical elements had combined spontaneously to generate the first primitive life-forms. Paulescu appropriately asked whether ‘the issue of the origin of living substance is part of experimental science or of philosophy?’7 He further pointed out that, because one could have no idea of conditions on any ‘primitive’ Earth, ‘No hypothesis on the origin of living substance can be experimentally tested’.7
Thus, as early as 1902, Paulescu was making a clear distinction between experimental science and historical science, a distinction creation ministries can never emphasize enough, while secular education seems to completely ignore it.8
Paulescu concluded that since physics and chemistry were unable to generate life from non-living substances, ‘we have to admit here the intervention of certain Powers …’ which he identified with notions of God and the soul, saying that the time had come for these to be acknowledged and introduced into science.9
Further into this opening lesson, Paulescu deals with Darwinism per se by pointing out that the hereditary changes within a type only lead to a variety within that type.10 In his day, the biological definition of a species as mating only within its own boundaries had not emerged, so Paulescu did not distinguish between a species and a created kind.11 He gave the example of a sheep born at a Massachusetts farm in 1761 with shorter legs than the rest of the flock. This was a useful variety since lower fences, which are cheaper, would be sufficient. So from it, a new breed—the Ancon—was derived. However, it was still a sheep, he pointed out. (And with today’s knowledge of genetics and information theory, Paulescu would have been able to also show that it was in fact the result of an information-losing mutation.12 The heritable defect turned out to be useful, but it was still a downhill change.13,14 )
Paulescu also pointed to experiments which showed that heritable changes to species characteristics tended to reduce fertility. Thus, natural selection (which he accepted as a self-evident fact, as most creationists always have) would work against any trend towards a radically different species, but rather was a conservative agent, acting against ‘the degeneration of species’.
This Romanian scholar powerfully attacked the evolutionary logic applied to homologies (shared characteristics) much as creationists would today, as well as the idea that extra nipples on humans are an ‘atavism’ (a throwback to animal ancestry). He pointed out that these were simply anomalies by replication of the same organ, and were often (unlike those of animals) located outside the ‘mammary line’, e.g. the shoulders, side or inner hip.
All these arguments may seem commonplace today, but back in 1902 such a use of sound scientific logic in countering the impetuous ascent of the new Darwinian paradigm was exceptional. It even caused voices to be heard in the Romanian Parliament demanding Paulescu’s removal from his chair at the faculty! Undeterred, he actively debated the elite of evolutionary biology academics of the day.
An Eastern Orthodox believer, Professor Paulescu once said that because ‘God is both the initial cause and the final scope of all that exists, [therefore] true science can only lead to deciphering in nature the signs of the divine will and reason, [directed toward] meeting the Living God, Jesus Christ, the embodied Logos.’15 From all reports, he was a humble man who, though greatly saddened at the Nobel injustice, took it with good grace.
Coming from a different time and culture, Nicolae Paulescu nevertheless deserves to be added to the list of great scientists for whom God was a certitude and Christianity the way of life. The fact that the Nobel Prize Committee ignored his priority in the discovery of insulin, and over 80 years later his contribution is still widely ignored, may very likely reflect his strong creationist stance.
Today more than ever, it is immensely difficult to be an outspoken creationist and still be accepted as a scientist by the ‘establishment’—whatever one’s degrees or achievements. This is strange indeed, given that no less than Sir Isaac Newton believed totally in the biblical account of creation—and he was also the greatest scientist of all time.16
References and notes
- Campbell, J., Alfred Nobel and his prizes, 2 June 2005. Return to Text.
- Wieland, C., The not-so-Nobel decision, Creation 26(4):40–42, 2004, <www.creation.com/mri>. Return to Text.
- Paulescu, C.N., Noţiunile de ‘Suflet’ şi ‘Dumnezeu’ în fiziologie (the notions of ‘soul’ and ‘God’ in physiology), Anastasia, Bucureşti (Bucharest), p. 9, 1999. Return to Text.
- Pavel, I., Journal of historical reviewers, Book reviews, 18 July 2005. Return to Text.
- Banting shared his portion of the prizemoney with his assistant Best, as Macleod (who as Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto, was head of the whole team) did with J.B. Collip, the biochemist who had assisted him. It has also been argued that the 1889 work of German physiologists Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski, in which they showed that some internal excretion of the pancreas prevented diabetes, should have been recognized as pioneering. Return to Text.
- The listed authors were Banting, Best, Collip, Campbell and Fletcher, though by today’s criteria it is likely that only the first two met the standards for authorship credit. Return to Text.
- Ref. 3, p. 165. Return to Text.
- See Batten, D., ‘It’s not science‘, <www.creation.com/notscience>. Return to Text.
- Ref. 3, p. 169. Return to Text.
- Ref. 3, p. 171. Return to Text.
- For example, a lion and a tiger, assigned to different species, can hybridize to give a liger, indicating they descended from the same created kind. See Batten, D., Ligers and wholphins? What next? Creation 22(3):28–33, 2000, <www.creation ontheweb.com/liger>. Return to Text.
- See www.creation.com/ancon. Return to Text.
- Paulescu’s arguments against materialism and for life’s divine authorship often smacked of vitalism, something which, given today’s knowledge of information and molecular biology, he would have no doubt seen as an unnecessary hypothesis. What the vitalists mistook as a mysterious ‘life-force’ is clearly the result of programmed machinery–which overwhelmingly implies an intelligent programmer. Return to Text.
- For discussion of beneficial mutations, see Wieland, C., Beetle bloopers: Even a defect can be an advantage sometimes, Creation 19(3):30, 1997; <www.creation.com/beetle>. Return to Text.
- Ref. 3, p. 14. Return to Text.
- See www.creation.com/newton. Return to Text.