Muller’s Nobel prize research lacked peer review — which culminated in the linear no-threshold (LNT) Model, still being relied upon, by many, today

These GEITP pages have continued to follow the saga (by Ed Calabrese) –– in uncovering a certain amount of deception (during the 1920s-30s-40s) that led to an undeserved Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. To reiterate briefly, Hermann Joseph Muller claimed that high doses of X-rays had induced gene mutations in the fruit fly Drosophila. Previous articles by Calabrese claimed that Muller deliberately avoided peer review of his Nobel Prize data, in order to “win the race” to become the first to report such a unique, important finding. Further examination of the underlying reasons for Muller’s avoidance of the peer review process now suggests, however, that it may not have been simply to “win the race” to publication.

The [attached] paper proposes a more nuanced and novel hypothesis that Muller feared his “landmark” paper may fail the peer-review process, because the critical “gene mutation” interpretation was not supported by experimental data. This concern resulted in Muller devising a “camouflaged process” to avoid peer review, while still retaining his worldwide acclaim –– thereby securing “preeminence” for a discovery that would later yield the 1946 Nobel Prize. Muller’s 1927 publication in Science (claiming he had produced X-ray-induced “gene” mutations in Drosophila) was challenged by his long-time friend/confidante/Drosophila geneticist, Edgar Altenburg. Altenburg insisted that Muller may have simply poked large holes in chromosomes (i.e. chromosomal breaks) with massive doses of X-rays; Altenburg insisted Muller must provide proof of gene “point” mutations.

Given the daunting and uncertain task to experimentally address this criticism, the [attached] paper suggests that Muller purposely avoided peer-review of his “most significant findings,” because he was extremely troubled by this insightful and serious criticism by Altenburg. Muller therefore manipulated this situation (i.e. publishing a discussion within his Science article –– with no data; and publishing a poorly written non-peer-reviewed conference proceedings with no ‘Methods and Materials’ section, and no References). This approach by Muller appears to reflect both the widespread euphoria over his claim of gene mutation –– and confidence that Altenburg would not openly challenge him. This scenario permitted Muller to achieve his goal to appear to be the first to “produce gene mutations,” while buying him time to try later to experimentally address Altenburg’s criticisms. And it was a possible way to avoid discovery of his possibly questionable actions.


Philosophy, Ethics & Humanities in Medicine Oct 2018; 13: 15

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