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Selman Waksman's tarnished legacy

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | July 13, 2012
From the July 2012 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine


Although the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded in 1952 for the streptomycin discovery, it was only Waksman who collected it. Not until 1990 – two decades after Waksman’s death — did Schatz finally receive his rightful merit.

Prior to his kerfuffle, Waksman respectably received his doctorate from Berkeley’s University of California, soon securing a position at the Rutgers Bacteriology Department and later accepting an appointment as microbiologist at the Experiment Station and as lecturer in soil microbiology at the University. He was appointed associate professor in 1925, professor in 1930, and when the Department of Microbiology was organized in 1940, he became professor of microbiology and head of the department. Aside from this, he was also President of the American Society for Microbiology.

Dodgy dealings aside, in 1952 the professor was ironically voted as one of the most outstanding 100 people in the world. Throughout his life, Waksman snagged 66 awards and 22 honorary degrees for his scientific work and he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1942. He also published more than 400 scientific papers and wrote, alone or with others, 18 books.

Waksman died in August 1973, leaving a plethora of achievements in his wake. One wonders though: how many of these were truly his own?

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