A Head For Science
New Zealand Listener|February 2-8, 2019
A Head For Science

Sometimes the sick and injured are the keys to scientific knowledge.

Marc Wilson

We know the names of people who pushed the boundaries of physical sciences: Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein … And the life sciences: Gregor Mendel, James Watson, Francis Crick, Alexander Fleming …

But there is an unsung group whose names we often don’t know, who don’t receive Nobel prizes – the people who inspired, informed and were guinea pigs for the advances some scientists are associated with. In medicine, think Henrietta Lacks, whose cells have played a major part in our understanding of cancer.

In neuroscience, there are some classic case studies, including Henry Molaison and Phineas Gage. Molaison, long referred to in scientific papers as “HM” until his death in 2008, was the subject of more than 50 years of study following surgery to remediate severe epilepsy. The surgery had the side effect of anterograde amnesia – the inability to create new memories.

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February 2-8, 2019