Could An MRI Find Adam's Rib?

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New at Reason: Raymond Damadian invented the first MRI machine. So why did two other people win the Nobel prize? Ron Bailey has a theory.

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  1. I forgot why anyone should care what the Swedes think about any subject outside the realms of interior design, vehicle safety, skiing, or vodka.

  2. Hi,

    The noble prize is awarded for original research, not for inventions the spring from the research.

  3. I think Bailey’s got it nailed. I’m certainly no creation nut (though there are interesting questions to be answered about macro-evolution), but I have to wince when I see somebody who’s obviously responsible for an enormous accomplishment getting the shaft for essentially unrelated beleifs.

    Maybe they figured he’d use the money you get along with a Nobel to do umm, ‘research’ on his creationist theories, and deemed that wouldn’t really be in the interest of promoting scientific acheivement.

    It still looks like bullshit though.

  4. When lefties float wild, unsupported accusations about the prejudice of others, people correctly call “bullshit”.

    I’m calling bullshit.

    Ron has officially jumped the shark.

  5. Pritesh:

    Actually, one of he early physics awards (ca. 1905, I believe) was for the invention of an improved type of light for lighthouses.

  6. I’d like to know whether his work built on the work of the guys who got the prize. From the synopses I read, it sounds like the guys who got the prize had to devise algorithms and proofs of concept before anybody could build an MRI machine suitable for clinical use. One of them imaged vials of regular water and deuterated water to show that the technique could distinguish between them (and hence distinguish between different types of nuclei). The other guy spent a lot of time developing mathematical techniques to analyze the data.

    I have no reason to doubt Ron when he says that Damadian built the first MRI machine usable in the clinic. But I suspect that Damadian stood on the shoulders of giants, and that the Nobel recipients were the giants whose shoulders he stood upon.

    Don’t get me wrong, it could easily turn out that the innovations needed to move from lab to clinic were substantial enough to merit sharing the prize. But I wouldn’t assume that a priori.

    It’s kind of like how the guys who invented the transistor got a Nobel prize, but not the various other teams of engineers who started designing all sorts of useful devices and improved transistors. The original one might not be all that useful in practical settings, and it might not measure up to its descendants, but it made everything else possible.

  7. The person who truly deserves a Nobel Prize is Dr. Thomas Barnes of El Paso, Texas. His painstaking research demonstrates that the earth cannot be more than 10,000 years old, based on recorded data of decay of the earth’s magnetic field. Also, Barnes has developed a classical, rather than quantum, model of the atom. Because he is a creationist, he has no chance of receiving the Nobel Prize.

  8. This is from a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

    “A name absent from yesterday’s Nobel announcement was that of another NMR pioneer, Dr. Raymond Damadian, a New York physician and researcher who had done earlier work on the use of NMR to analyze malignant tissues. He later founded a company, Fonar Inc., that makes MRI scanners. Damadian received the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1989.

    The original idea to apply NMR to imaging may well have originated with Damadian, said Dadok, who knows both men. But Lauterbur found a practical way to make it work, he added, and “definitely was the first person to make an image.”

    Chien Ho, professor of biological science and an NMR researcher at Carnegie Mellon, said Nobel recognition for MRI was long overdue and that the delay likely was because of the conflicting claims of Lauterbur and Damadian.”

  9. The noble prize is awarded for original research, not for inventions the spring from the research.

    Hmmm…the way I read the National Academy report that Bailey links to, it looks like Damadian made the initial observation that the NMR signal from tumor tissue vs. normal tissue was different. That seems an awful lot like original research to me.

    Still, I can’t really say I blame the committee for not wanting to throw prize money at a guy who might use it to promote a decidedly un-scientific agenda. I’m not saying it’s “right”, but I could see where they might be coming from.

  10. Here’s a good secular view on the whole thing:

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/news/20031008/06

    The key quote:

    “What all this illustrates, says another prominent Canadian researcher R. Mark Henkelman, professor of medical biophysics at the University of Toronto, is the difficulty of pinpointing the eureka moment in scientific endeavor.

    ?This is probably one of the hardest prizes, as making MRI a reality in the medical domain involved many, many people,? he told The Scientist. ?It’s very hard to go back to the beginning and stick your finger on one guy with one bright idea.?

    Nevertheless, Henkelman thinks the Nobel committee did the right thing. ?I think he [Damadian] had a real insight on NMR and cancer and that there might be differences in tissue with pathology that might show up with magnetic resonance, but that’s not what this prize is given for, the prize is given for MR imaging and that really belongs to the other two people.?”

    Religious indignation and victim mentality aside, he’s not the first guy to feel screwed out of a nobel, and most of the others haven’t been creationists.

  11. One of the professors at my university was involved in a project that eventually got a Nobel. There were (according to the biased sources here) 4 key people involved in the research, and (as I understand it) the prize can’t be shared by more than 3 people. Somebody has to be unlucky #4.

    Of course, this is a case where there are 3 claims on the prize rather than 4, but the basic problem is the same: How do you weigh who did the most when an innovation requires several different advancements:

    1) The research to show that tumors and normal tissues produce different NMR signals.
    2) The experimental techniques to get spatial information from NRM signals (you need to know where the signal came from, otherwise it’s useless).
    3) Computational tools to make sense of the data.
    4 through 100? 200?) Countless other innovations necessary to make MRI a clinical tool.

    It’s always easy to point to the countless people who didn’t get prizes and single out one or two and say “Surely it’s because of an unjust bias!”

  12. The “we only award one Nobel to 3 people or fewer” clause is one big reason why Japanese scientists are relatively underrepresented. And it’s the major reason why nothing’s been handed out yet for quantum chromodynamics. Too many people. So the Committee will wait until enough of the scientists involved die off to get down to the magic quota, then award the Nobel to who’s left.

    Take a look at the play “Oxygen” by Roald Hoffmann and Carl Djerassi for an excellent investigation of what discovery actually means.

  13. I know less about MRI technology than Jimmy Carter and Yassir, that’s by baby, know about world peace, but anything derogatory said about these sacrosanct organizations handing out free bucks nourishes my atheist soul.

    Now, when will someone blow the whistle on the McArthur foundation for not having backed their dump truck of cash to my door?

  14. Don’t you think a man who owns a company that manufactures these machines has enough money to donate to “creation research”…what difference will the million dollars make. Just offering my two cents.

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