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British Food Journal Volume 22 Issue 3 1920

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 1 March 1920



Sir Watson Cheyne, M.P., recently introduced a deputation to Mr. Balfour to urge upon the Government a proposal for the granting of awards or pensions to persons making medical or other scientific discoveries of general benefit to humanity. The method suggested is the annual voting of £20,000, to be distributed in pensions, some of £1,000 a year, others of £500. In commenting upon the matter the Daily Telegraph observes that the public is more concerned with the adoption of the principle than of any cut‐and‐dried scheme, but it may be pointed out how essentially moderate this proposal is, considering the priceless value of the services which it is desired to reward, and how our credit as a nation stands in this respect. It has been pointed out by foreign writers at least as often as by our own that Great Britain stands above all other countries in respect of the number of original and world‐important ideas and discoveries contributed to science, and that reputation is well maintained to this hour. But what material form does the nation's gratitude, and its pride in the possession of such citizens, take? The answer is that they are not rewarded to the extent of one penny of public money, and we believe that ours is the one leading country in the world of which this can be said. Let us note the case of Sir Ronald Ross, for example, whose work in connection with the cause and prevention of malaria is a landmark in the progress of medical science, and has already been the means of saving tens of thousands of lives. If we considered only the direct benefit done to his own countrymen, and left out of account the honour that he has reflected upon the British name, Sir Ronald's work might still be regarded as equally worthy of recognition with that of a distinguished soldier let us say. But it has brought him nothing, so far as his own country is concerned, in recompense for the years of devoted and often dangerous labour which his discovery represents. Sir Ronald Ross has himself remarked that a doctor who gave to the world the long‐sought cure for cancer would get nothing for his pains from his own people; yet of those people alone, we have seen it stated on high medical authority, 35,000 die of cancer every year upon the average. For any material reward, such a British discoverer would have to look outside his own country. He might receive a small prize from the French Academy; he might receive—as Sir Ronald Ross, we are proud to remember, has received—a large prize from the Nobel trustees, in Sweden. That is not a very gratifying reflection; and even if it were consistent with our self‐respect that such services should be rewarded at other than British expense, the fact would remain that not one in fifty of our pioneers of science could receive such recognition. The matter is thrown into an especially strong light just now, when large sums of public money are being awarded—and most justly and properly awarded—to officers and others who have assisted Britain's military effort by inventions found serviceable by the Army and Navy. A great innovation in healing science will preserve to the world incalculably more lives than the most deadly device of war could destroy; but only the latter service is thought worthy of recompense. Yet consider the circumstances in which by far the greater part of British research, leading to ultimate discovery, is carried on. Much of the most valuable work in medicine, for example, has been done by men who, at the expense of health and strength, were carrying on medical practice at the same time, and not always making ends meet without difficulty. Even the researcher who draws a salary from public or private funds has no more than a pittance in most cases. Some of the greatest names in the history of British science are associated with melancholy stories of poverty and struggle, continued over many years. For such triumphs are not achieved without the devotion of a great part of a man's life. Koch's discovery of the tubercule bacillus was the fruit of eleven years of patient seeking. The wonderful drug salvarsan was only given to the world after years of monotonous labour. Any scale of reward which Parliament could reasonably be expected to sanction would have been earned a dozen times over by sheer hard work and perseverance alone in every case which was held to deserve such recognition. Mr. Balfour, we can be quite sure, would be personally well‐disposed towards the appeal that has been made. As Lord President of the Council, he has the national organisation of research which Great Britain at last possesses—such as it is—under his Ministerial care. The Medical Research Committee expends an annual sum of £60,000 of public money, which represents, we should say, infinitely the cheapest national investment on record. The sum which it is now proposed to lay out stands upon a similar footing. A great stimulus would unquestionably be given to research of every kind, if a reasonable prospect of such recognition were opened to the scientific worker; and a man possessing the definite talent for such service would, once adequately pensioned, be able to carry on without distraction the task of extending still further the boundaries of knowledge. That science should continue to be starved because men can be found to undertake unrewarded labour for their fellow‐creatures is not only a reproach to us as a nation, but bad from the point of view of tangible results; and we trust that the case submitted by Sir Watson Cheyne and his colleagues will be admitted and acted upon without delay.


(1920), "British Food Journal Volume 22 Issue 3 1920", British Food Journal, Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 21-30.




Copyright © 1920, MCB UP Limited

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