The Private Science of Louis Pasteur

The Private Science of Louis Pasteur

Gerald L. Geison
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The Private Science of Louis Pasteur
    Book Description:

    InThe 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 1996.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6408-9
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    • ONE Laboratory Notebooks and the Private Science of Louis Pasteur
      (pp. 3-21)

      IN 1878, WHEN he was fifty-five years old and already a French national hero, Louis Pasteur told his family never to show anyone his private laboratory notebooks¹ For most of a century those instructions were honored Pasteur’s notebooks—like the rest of the manuscripts he left behind at his death in 1895—remained in the hands of his immediate family and descendants until 1964 In that year, Pasteur’s grandson and last surviving direct male descendant, Dr Pasteur Vallery-Radot, donated the vast majority of the family’s collection to the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris² But access to this material was generally restricted...

    • TWO Pasteur in Brief
      (pp. 22-50)

      PASTEUR sprang from humble roots. For centuries his ancestors lived and worked as agricultural laborers, tenant farmers, and then modest tradesmen in the Franche-Comté, on the eastern border of France. The shift from agriculture to trade came five generations before Louis was born. For two generations, in the early eighteenth century, the Pasteurs were millers in service to the Count of Udressier. Pasteur’s three immediate male ancestors, including his father, were small-scale tanners. His father, Jean-Joseph Pasteur (1791–1865), was drafted into the French army at the age of twenty. Assigned to the celebrated Third Regiment of Napoleon’s army, he...

    • THREE The Emergence of a Scientist: The Discovery of Optical Isomers in the Tartrates
      (pp. 53-89)
      James A. Secord

      IN APRIL 1848 the streets of Paris still echoed with the shock waves set off by the revolutionary “February days,” during which King Louis Philippe had abdicated and a provisional republican government had been formed Among those who played a minor role in defense of the new provisional government was a twenty-five-year-old chemist named Louis Pasteur During his brief service in the 200,000-man National Guard—a city militia charged with the maintenance of civil order and the protection of municipal liberties—Pasteur apparently experienced no hostile action, nor even any serious disruption in his chemical research At the Ecole Normale...

    • FOUR From Crystals to Life: Optical Activity, Fermentation, and Life
      (pp. 90-109)

      ON 3 AUGUST 1857, three years after he had been named professor of chemistry and dean of the newly established Faculty of Sciences at Lille, Pasteur delivered a now famous paper on the lactic fermentation to the Societe des sciences, d’agriculture, et des arts de Lille¹ This paper announced a major shift in Pasteur’s research interests—a shift, briefly put, from crystallography to fermentation More than that, it laid out the central theoretical and technical precepts that marked all of his subsequent work on fermentation It was, in effect, the opening salvo in Pasteur’s campaign on behalf of the biological...

    • FIVE Creating Life in Nineteenth-Century France: Science, Politics, and Religion in the Pasteur-Pouchet Debate over Spontaneous Generation
      (pp. 110-142)

      ON THE EVENING of 7 April 1864, Pasteur took the stage at the large amphitheater of the Sorbonne to give a wide-ranging public lecture on spontaneous generation and its religio-philosophical implications¹ It was the second in a glittering new series of “scientific soirees” at the Sorbonne, andtout Pariswas there, including the writers Alexandre Dumas and George Sand, the minister of public instruction Victor Duruy, and Princess Mathilde Bonaparte They were expecting a grand performance, Pasteur did not disappoint them He opened the lecture with a list of the great problems then agitating and dominating all minds “The unity...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • SIX The Secret of Pouilly-le-Fort: Competition and Deception in the Race for the Anthrax Vaccine
      (pp. 145-176)

      ON THE AFTERNOON of Thursday, 2 June 1881, Pasteur stepped off a train in Melun, 40 kilometers southeast of Paris. Escorted by his three leading collaborators and various dignitaries, he made his way to the nearby commune of Pouilly-le-Fort and to the large farm of Hippolyte Rossignol, a local veterinary surgeon. Rossignol’s large farmyard easily accommodated an expectant crowd of more than two hundred government officials, local politicians, veterinarians, farmers, agriculturists, even calvary officers and newspaper reporters. Among the latter was the Paris correspondent for the LondonTimes, who had been invited to attend. His route to Rossignol’s farm took...

    • SEVEN From Boyhood Encounter to “Private Patients”: Pasteur and Rabies before the Vaccine
      (pp. 177-205)

      ON 18 OCTOBER 1831 a lone but menacing wolf left its natural habitat in the wooded foothills of the Jura mountains in eastern France and descended upon several nearby communities, attacking and biting everything in its path. The focus of its rampage was the village of Villers-Farlay, where eight of its human victims eventually died of rabies, but it also bit several people in and around the town of Arbois. Some of these terrified victims made their reluctant way to a blacksmith’s shop in Arbois, there to submit to the traditional treatment for a rabid animal bite: cauterization with a...

    • EIGHT Public Triumphs and Forgotten Critics: The Debate over Pasteur’s Early Use of Rabies Vaccines in Human Cases
      (pp. 206-233)

      ON MONDAY, 6 July 1885, three frightened and unexpected visitors made their way to Pasteur’s laboratory at 45 rue d’Ulm in Paris. They had come to Paris by train from a village in Alsace, where two days before, on 4 July, two of them had been attacked by a dog displaying all the classic signs of rabies. One of the victims was the dog’s owner, a grocer named Théodore Vone. His dog had bruised his arms, but without penetrating his shirt or skin. Pasteur sent him home with the assurance that he had nothing to fear. The other two visitors...

    • NINE Private Doubts and Ethical Dilemmas: Pasteur, Roux, and the Early Human Trials of Pasteur’s Rabies Vaccine
      (pp. 234-256)

      ONE DAY in the mid-1880s, the “independent” research of Pasteur and his leading collaborator on rabies, Emile Roux, came too close for comfort On that day, or so we are told by Pasteur’s nephew and research assistant Adrien Loir, he prepared some cultures of the swine fever microbe, working as always under Pasteur’s watchful eye, and carried them to a laboratory stove Since Loir’s hands were filled with flasks, Pasteur opened the door of the stove for him As Loir went about his usual tasks, Pasteur noticed an unusual flask in the stove a flask of 150 cubic centimeters supplied...

    • PLATES
      (pp. None)
    • TEN The Myth of Pasteur
      (pp. 259-278)

      DEATH CAME to Pasteur in the late afternoon of Saturday, 28 September 1895, at the age of 72, in a simple bedroom at Villeneuve l’Etang, near Garches, an annex of the Institut Pasteur roughly a dozen kilometers northeast of Pans Pasteur had presumably received the last rites of the Catholic Church from a priest of the Dominican order Even so, he probably died as he lived, a Christian “believer” without any deep attachment to the specific doctrinal content or rituals of the Roman Catholic Church¹ Pasteur’s body was embalmed and transported from Garches to a makeshift chapel at the Institut...

  9. Appendixes
    (pp. 279-304)
  10. Author’s Note on Notes and Sources
    (pp. 305-308)
  11. Notes to the Chapters
    (pp. 309-342)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 343-344)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 345-366)
  14. Index
    (pp. 367-378)