Laissez faire flaw

November 25, 1994

Terence Kealey (THES, November 18) would prefer that scientific research should return to some sort of 19th-century paradise in which private funding was available in abundance and which seethed with private scientific education. His historical analysis, is however, flawed and misleading.

Even if these conditions did obtain in Britain and America, which is highly doubtful, it is an indisputable fact that at this time scientific and technological leadership belonged not to the English-speaking world but to Germany. It came from the state-funded universities and research institutes there, a fact that Kealey conspicuously fails to mention in his article.

The foundations of my own subject of medical microbiology, for example, were laid by Robert Koch and his school working in the 1880s in Berlin and elsewhere in Germany as civil servants in government-funded institutions. Over the next 40 years they went on to describe most of the important causes of bacterial diseases. Hardly any British or American names are associated with these discoveries. So much for the superiority of laissez-faire!

T. H. PENNINGTON Aberdeen Royal Hospitals University of Aberdeen.

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