f Faults and Fallacies in Microbiology
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SUMMARY: I need hardly say how much I appreciate the honour of being asked to give the fourth lecture in memory of Marjory Stephenson and how little I feel able to do justice to the task. Though many of you here knew her better than I did, I may perhaps be allowed to claim a small share in the success which she achieved. In the early twenties, when she was brooding over problems of growth and nutrition, she realized the necessity of using a quantitative technique. For this reason she came to Manchester where Topley had recently inaugurated the Diploma in Bacteriology course, and it was there that I had the privilege of teaching her how to count bacteria.
The choice of a subject for this lecture proved very difficult. As I have done no bench work for 14 years, it had to be a general one. I have always been interested in technique, and I therefore thought it might be worth studying the part played by faulty technique in reaching erroneous conclusions. I found an almost embarrassing richness of material before me, and I have perforce limited myself to a few illustrative examples.
Many of you will regard studying the errors of others as a presumptuous and invidious undertaking. I admit this. My purpose, however, is not, as that of some of the literary critics has been, to denigrate the outstanding men of the past, but to try and learn how lesser men can avoid falling into their errors. Even the greatest of scientists may go wrong, and all of us should realize the abyss at our side and say with John Bradford ‘But for the grace of God there go I’. So far from attempting to act as a judge, I propose to be no more than an honest seeker after truth and of the ways of reaching it. I approach my subject, as every scientific investigator should, wearing ‘the napless vesture of humility’.
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