STOCKHOLM CEREMONY PROCEEDS DESPITE DISPUTE
STOCKHOLM (Independent/Nature Magazine)–More than a thousand people–commoners–scholars–and royalty–sat down Wednesday night in the grand surroundings of the City Hall in Stockholm to celebrate this year’s winners of the Nobel Prize.
But few of the attendees could have been unaware of an unseemly spat that has marred this year’s award ceremony. Full-page advertisemen’s in national newspapers in both Sweden and Britain that morning had lambasted the medicine prize as a shameful attempt to re-write history.
On the table of honor–next to Princess Madeleine of Sweden–sat Professor Sir Peter Mansfield with Professor Paul Lauterbur four places to his left–the two joint winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on medical scanners.
A third pioneer of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning was conspicuously absent. Instead of donning his dinner jacket and Nobel medal–Raymond Damadian had to content himself with reading the long newspaper accounts–paid for by his friends–of why he feels he has been robbed of a place in the history books.
But Damadian did not end today empty-handed. A Swedish inventors’ group called Id-Forum–based in rnskldsvik–is flying out to New York to present him with a gold medal in the fields of physics and technology at the Melville headquarters of his company Fonar.
"It’s not the Nobel but it’s sweet of them to come over here," Damadian says. He has not decided whether to continue his protest after the ceremonies.
Dr. Damadian thinks he should have shared the Nobel podium with Mansfield and Lauterbur because it was he who first conceived the idea of using MRI in medicine–and it was he who built the first medical scanner. "Had I never been born–there would be no MRI today," Dr. Damadian has repeatedly said to anyone who would listen. "I can’t escape the fact that I started it all."
It is not unusual for scientists who have missed out on a Nobel honor to feel wounded. What makes this different is the scale of the publicity and the intensity of the language.
Damadian’s campaign has elicited some 2,000 letters and e-mails to the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine. Nonetheless–the committee will not change its decision–says its secretary Hans Jornvall of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm–because it was carefully researched and because strict statutes surrounding the prize forbid such a move.
Academic textbooks on MRI have given Dr. Damadian credit for important innovations in a field that has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of millions of patients. Last year–doctors carried out more than 60 million MRI scans throughout the world–with some 22,000 machines which investigated everything from brain damage to cancer.
Although the rules permit the Nobel committee to award the prize to three people–its members evidently chose not to do so in the case of Dr. Damadian. The reasons why will remain secret until the committee’s deliberations are opened for public scrutiny in 50 years’ time.
Some commentators have suggested that it may have been because of Dr. Damadian’s unscientific view of evolution. He is a fundamentalist Christian and creationist who believes that the Earth is only 6,000 years old–and if there is one thing the Nobel committee hates–it is controversy.
But others believe that it is simply because his initial insights into MRI were no match for the more important discoveries and developmen’s made subsequently by Mansfield and Lauterbur. Some specialists claim that–although Dr. Damadian conceived the idea of using MRI to take pictures inside the body–he did not manage to achieve the crucial breakthrough of forming an actual image rather than portraying the "picture" as a set of numbers.
To understand Mansfield’s and Lauterbur’s contribution–it is necessary to explain what MRI is. The process works by exposing the body to a strong magnetic field while simultaneously allowing radio waves to "excite" atoms which as a result resonate. This enables doctors to see differences in the water content of soft body parts–highlighting the boundaries between tissues and organs.
Professor Lauterbur’s initial contribution was to devise a way of altering the gradient of the magnetic field to allow the construction of two-dimensional images of internal structures that cannot be seen with conventional X-rays.
Professor Mansfield refined the concept of magnetic gradients to show that the signals from inside the body could be analyzed mathematically to provide even higher-quality pictures almost as soon as they were taken–such "real time" imaging was a remarkable revolution in medicine.
Dr. Damadian accepts the contributions of Mansfield and Lauterbur but stands by his contention that they could not have done what they did without his seminal work published in 1971–and subsequently refined over the following decade.
Unfortunately the four co-authors of the book are not as supportive of Dr. Damadian’s case as his advertisemen’s suggest. None of them were approached by his campaign managers to ask whether they agreed with the view that he was robbed of a place in history–and none were prepared to say whether he does in fact have a legitimate case.
Neither is it new that the Nobel Prize committee may have got it wrong. Fred Hoyle–Jocelyn Bell–and Salvador Moncada are but three names that spring to mind when it comes to missed honors for deserving scientists.
What makes Dr. Damadian so different can be explained by one thing: he has the money to inflict his disgruntlement on the rest of the world.