The Discovery of Bacteriophages and the Historical Context

  • Summers W
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Scientific discovery and priority are entangled concepts, and no more so than in the case of bacteriophage. The initial recognition of certain bacteriolytic phenomena constituted a "fact" that begged for explanation. The recognition of such a fact, however, cannot be fully accepted as a discovery. The "fact" must be integrated into existing or novel paradigms and explanations and meanings must be accepted by the scientific community. At some point during that integration process, the fact seems to expand into a stable discovery by accretion of other facts, contexts, theoretical explanations, and general understanding. Thus, discovery seems to be a process rather than event. The first "facts" related to bacterio-phage were observations made in the second decade of the twentieth century. The integration of these observations into scientific paradigms was a process that was not fully complete until about 1940. The discovery of phage, in this sense, did not occur with a eureka moment, but instead by the usual scientific process of evolution over time. One casualty of this way of thinking about discovery is the habit of assigning priority based on something with intrinsic uncertainty.




Summers, W. C. (2017). The Discovery of Bacteriophages and the Historical Context. In Bacteriophages (pp. 1–15). Springer International Publishing.

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