The T Suppressor Cell Program and the Dynamics of Collective Error in Biomedical Science

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Abstract Summary

Science is regarded by many as unique among human endeavors in its inherent ability to correct its own errors. Many cases, such as those involving N-rays or cold fusion, are offered to exemplify the process. These episodes are uncontroversial and make attractive illustrations, but there are less well known cases in which acknowledgement of error is universal, but there is no agreement on just what exactly was mistaken. These cases are certainly more complex, but likely more informative as well.

I will introduce the Suppressor T-cell program, which spanned the 1970 and ‘80s, and present my analysis of its rise, fall, and lasting influence. Broadly: In the wake of recent stimulating progress, highly anticipated experiments were performed and their striking results compellingly interpreted in terms of the new theories. The nascent field that quickly arose attracted hundreds of investigators and the enthusiastic financial support of the NIH. But over time, new experiments more often introduced complications rather than resolve outstanding questions. Key predictions failed. Eventually, the community lost its bearings and “T suppressor” became a stigma. Soon thereafter, however, a distinct program involving different investigators observed related phenomena and explained them via similar theories. The elements of these latter theories are now universally accepted and are actively studied.

There is no agreement about which observations were erroneous, or what, in modern terms could explain the phenomena. What transpired does not exemplify error correction; we have yet to undertand how so many scientists were misled for such a long time.

Abstract ID :
Submission Type
Individual Paper
Abstract Topic
Life Sciences
Temporal Keywords
immunology, error-correction

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