Anecdotes about great people make for bracing reading. All right, the reader thinks, so I didn't discover chloroform, but I wasn't the worst student in my class, as Liebig was. Of course I wasn't the first to find salvarsan, but at least I'm not as scatterbrained as Ehrlich, who wrote letters to himself. Mendeleev may be light-years ahead of me as far as the elements go, but I'm far more restrained and better groomed regarding hair. And did I ever forget to show up at my own wedding like Pasteur? Or lock the sugar bowl up to keep my wife out, like Laplace? By comparison with such scientists, we do indeed feel slightly more reasonable, better bred, and perhaps even higher-minded as regards daily living. Moreover, from our vantage point, we know which scientist was right and which was shamefully mistaken. How innocuous someone like Pettenhoffer, for example, seems to us today! Pettenhoffer was a doctor who ferociously battled the findings on bacteria's pathogenetic powers. When Koch discovered the comma bacillus of cholera, Pettenhoffer publicly swallowed a whole testtubeful of these unpleasant microbes in order to demonstrate that the bacteriologists, with Koch at their helm, were dangerous mythomaniacs. This anecdote gains particular luster from the fact that nothing happened to Pettenhoffer. He kept his health and scornfully flaunted his triumph until the end of his days. Why he wasn't infected remains a mystery for medicine. But not for psychology. From time to time people do appear who have a particularly strong resistance to obvious facts. Oh, how pleasant and honorable not to be a Pettenhoffer!
Scientists in Anecdotes by Waclaw Golebowiez, second edition, Warsaw: Wiedza Powszechna, 1968.
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