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The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen Paperback – Illustrated, 27 August 2019
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"[A] magisterial account... Anderson's compelling study captures the texture of twentieth-century medical fieldwork and provides insight into the social dynamics and ethical realities of globalized science and medicine. The Collector of Lost Souls persuades us that these things really happened and shows us why they matter."--Science
"A strikingly original and exciting work, imaginatively conceived, meticulously researched, and powerfully argued. It deserves to be widely read."--Social History of Medicine
"An admirably readable book that weaves together bio-prospecting, cannibalism, colonialism, and globalization and remarkably manages to put the complexity of human relationships at the very center of the story. Especially valuable to the field for what it demonstrates about the possibility of writing a compelling narrative about postcolonial and postmodern complexity in a way that is both straightforward and engaging. It should be read as a venerable model for how to bring the insights of science studies to a broader audience."--Pauline Kusiak "East Asian Science, Technology and Society "
"An excellent, even superb, volume, which combines great scholarly vigor with a well-told story on a fascinating and important topic. A highly 'teachable' book, it will also be of interest to anyone studying the Pacific who is interested in learning more about kuru and/or the history of medicine."--Bulletin of the Pacific Circle
"An exemplary account of the discovery of the causes of a disease... a work of great theoretical insight."--Journal of the History of Medicine
"An outstanding book that is must reading for anyone interested in the history of medical science. It will help place in perspective the broad influence, the triumph, and the ultimate tragedy of the life of Nobel Laureate D. Carleton Gajdusek."--Journal of Child Neurology
"Anderson has masterfully captured the complex, exotic and often extraordinary nature of this inquiry and the idiosyncrasies of a key scientist... This is a significant book."--Oceania
"Anderson's book is a valuable and sometimes provocative contribution to the study of science and medicine in colonial and post-colonial contexts. He shows how the relationships between scientific researchers and their 'tribal' research subjects have changed in the past 50 years. Modern bioethics has constructed welcome limits to research activities in this regard, but these limits are often defined purely from the perspective of the western world. Anderson gives an eloquent voice to other concepts and shows that truly global bioethics still face many challenges."--Bulletin of the World Health Organization
"Distinguished by captivating storytelling and a historiographically rigorous account of the events. Lost Souls is not only enjoyable for any interested layman, but it also provides a thoroughly researched account of a remarkable scientific adventure that spans four decades."--Nature Neuroscience
"Essential reading for those concerned with science studies and biomedical ethics."--Annals of Science
About the Author
For almost thirty years Warwick Anderson, medical doctor and historian of science, has been studying kuru, those who were affected by the disease, and the scientists who identified and investigated it. Based at the University of Sydney, he is the Janet Dora Hine Professor of Politics, Governance and Ethics in the Department of History. He is the author of Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines and the coauthor of Intolerant Bodies: A Short History of Autoimmunity.
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1421433605
- ISBN-13 : 978-1421433608
- Best Sellers Rank: 48,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Kuru is the first of a new class of human diseases to be recognized: first thought to be caused by "slow viruses" and now known to be prion diseases. These diseases pose a riddle whose unraveling has yielded two Nobel prizes so far: D Carleton Gajdusek and Stanley B. Prusiner. If these diseases are ever conquered, that will yield another Nobel. These diseases include kuru, Creutzfeld Jacob disease and its variants (mad cow disease in humans), possibly Alzheimer's disease, and animal diseases such as scrapie.
The story begins in the early 1950s with the work of anthropologists Catherine and Ronald Berndt among the Fore tribes of Papua New Guinea. The Bernts first described the fatal kuru condition, attributed to sorcery by the tribesmen and to a hysterical reaction to cultural contact by the Berndts. It seems quaint to us to attribute a physical disease to sorcery, but many modern westerners attribute physical diseases to possibly imaginary contamination by traces of toxic substances introduced by malign profit-seeking companies. Perhaps our ritual practices are not so far removed from those of primitive peoples? See Horace Miner's classic paper "Body ritual among the Nacirema."
Key roles were played by D. Carleton Gajdusek, a pushy American who invaded this Australian preserve, and Vin Zigas, an Eastern European doctor who worked for the Australian health service in New Guinea. Gajdusek was backed by the considerable resources of a branch of the National Institutes of Health, and the ultimate proof that kuru was transmissible came from experiments with chimpanzees done in Maryland by Gajdusek's colleague Joe Gibbs.
In the late 1950s Igor Klatzo at NIH examined kuru brains sent by Gajdusek and Vin Zigas as having lesions similar to those of Creutzfeld jacob victims, which was, as we now know, right on target. This shows how recognizable features of these diseases are to a pathologist who has seen examples of them.
The path of the research was convoluted, as many varying and appealing hypotheses, genetic, environmental, viral and so on were considered. The various researchers pushed for their points of view and sought to shut out their rivals. Toward the end, all the pieces fitted together and pointed to a transmissible proteinaceous agent that somehow reconfigures proteins naturally found in the body into the forms associated with amyloid plaques and cell abnormality and cell death.
The exact mechanisms by which these agents work are not understood as of this writing. No cures for these diseases are known. We do know enough to recognize and deal with outbreaks such as that of mad cow disease, but we still have a long way to go.
Reading this book, you will see how dependent progress is on the enthusiasm and drive of a few people, and how dependent their work is, in turn, on backing by a team and resources. Anderson rightly casts Gajdusek as central, but his flaws make him a tragic as well as triumphant figure.
This book ranks with the few that describe the full drama of scientific breakthroughs: others are Walter Alvarez's T. REX AND THE CRATER OF DOOM and Andrew Brown's wonderful IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORM.
All highly recommended. Read them.