The Private Science of Louis Pasteur

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Princeton University Press, 1995 - 378 pages

In The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, Gerald Geison has written a controversial biography that finally penetrates the secrecy that has surrounded much of this legendary scientist's laboratory work. Geison uses Pasteur's laboratory notebooks, made available only recently, and his published papers to present a rich and full account of some of the most famous episodes in the history of science and their darker sides--for example, Pasteur's rush to develop the rabies vaccine and the human risks his haste entailed. The discrepancies between the public record and the private science of Louis Pasteur tell us as much about the man as they do about the highly competitive and political world he learned to master.

Although experimental ingenuity served Pasteur well, he also owed much of his success to the polemical virtuosity and political savvy that won him unprecedented financial support from the French state during the late nineteenth century. But a close look at his greatest achievements raises ethical issues. In the case of Pasteur's widely publicized anthrax vaccine, Geison reveals its initial defects and how Pasteur, in order to avoid embarrassment, secretly incorporated a rival colleague's findings to make his version of the vaccine work. Pasteur's premature decision to apply his rabies treatment to his first animal-bite victims raises even deeper questions and must be understood not only in terms of the ethics of human experimentation and scientific method, but also in light of Pasteur's shift from a biological theory of immunity to a chemical theory--similar to ones he had often disparaged when advanced by his competitors.

Through his vivid reconstruction of the professional rivalries as well as the national adulation that surrounded Pasteur, Geison places him in his wider cultural context. In giving Pasteur the close scrutiny his fame and achievements deserve, Geison's book offers compelling reading for anyone interested in the social and ethical dimensions of science.

Originally published in 1995.

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About the author (1995)

Gerald L. Geison, 1943 - 2001 Gerald L. Geison was born in 1943 in Savanna, Illinois. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin and his Doctorate in History of Science and Medicine from Yale in 1970. Geison accepted the position of professor in the history department at Princeton after the completion of his doctorate, where he remained for more than thirty years. In 1977 he was promoted to associate dean of the college and in 1980 was named director of Princeton's History of Science department. Over the course of his tenure at Princeton, Geison wrote 20 Dictionary of Scientific Biography articles and over 40 essays and book reviews. These earned him awards and lectures, as well as being named a visiting historical scholar at the National Library of Medicine and being offered a position as a member of the editorial board of The Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. Geison's book entitled "The Private Science of Louis Pasteur" was published in 1995, and noted for it's ethical accuracy of the scientist. In 1996, the American Association for the History of Medicine awarded him the William H. Welch medal for his book. Gerald L. Geison died on July 3, 2001 at the age of 58 from an enlarged heart.

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