The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

Foreword
The Phenomenon of Medawar

Stephen Jay Gould

Peter Medawar was a paragon of rationalism. I have never met a man more committed to that combination of logic and common sense that we call science at its best. I have also never met a tougher or more confident man. Reason and fortitude forge an unbeatable combination. One personal story: I attended a scientific meeting with Peter Medawar after a stroke had made half his body virtually unusable. We had to move from the thirdfloor lecture room to the basement restaurant -- and the building had no elevator. Peter could only go down stairs backwards, and slowly. Most people in his condition would have meekly waited for everyone else to descend and then painfully made their own way down, no doubt missing half the lunch by late arrival. Peter was the star of the meeting -- and he knew it. He went down first, one step at a time, slowly as could be -- and everyone followed at his pace. How entirely right and proper, we all agreed.

Peter Medawar was also a paragon of humanism -- and this form of compassion took the edge off the occasional harshness of his rationalism. He loved people and their foibles, and he loved to laugh. He was a true philosopher, but he also reminded me of the fellow in Johnson's famous quip about the man who wanted to be a philosopher, but failed because cheerfulness was always breaking through. Another personal story: A year or two after the British forum with the luncheon descent, Peter and I attended another meeting in Minnesota. He had suffered another stroke, and was now confined to a wheelchair. Meanwhile, I had come down with an apparently incurable cancer. Peter was my guru

-v-

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