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Peter Medawar and the scientific method


Oxford: tutorials with Peter Medawar
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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Tutorials- that was once a week for one hour, person to person. About seven times a term, eight-week term, well first week didn't count very much and maybe not the last week so maybe six, something like six tutorials a year, 24 a year, and that was my education. This was one on one? One on one. For three years? For three years- no, it wasn't for three years, it was for two years. But that was enough. That fixed- that fixed me as- well, he was- like I said, I always needed an older brother and there was Peter, quite as good as either of my brothers. So what did he do in these tutorials? How would they work? He would set an essay for me- for his students to write, and they then- would then use what information they had accumulated in lectures, because they were going to lectures at the same time, and indeed doing practical classes at the same time. But those were, intellectually I think, quite minor compared with the impact of the tutorial. Basically, we went off to the science library, which was the Radcliffe South Library. Lovely place. And we would have fun there. We would try to find journals which the library didn't have and chat up the librarians who were these charming young ladies. Sometimes we would hide walnuts behind the books for others to find, and so on and so forth, test each other. But there were always a group of us. Very competitive among ourselves. But I was a leg up on everybody else because, when we'd talked enough about and- Peter wasn't terribly interested in the lectures he was setting. I mean, I remember his setting an essay on The Specialisation of the Benthos, the marine animals that live at the bottom of the sea, you know, they can travel anywhere radically symmetrical but stop moving around although they do have a lively larvae, all that kind of thing, but you could see his heart wasn't in it at all. But you can imagine, he'd just discovered the homographs reaction. And I lectured to him, I'm sure in a most improper way, about genetics, which he didn't know all that much about. And I certainly knew more about it than he did. And he was quite willing to accept that and we were sort of exploring genetics together. That was great. Very old-fashioned genetics, but still, genetics. But he would set an essay, you would write the essay? I would write the essay. Then you'd discuss it the next time. Is that how it works? Yes. Or you would read the essay to him. I see. And then he would say, well, all this reading is bit of a waste of time, why don't give me a lecture on an essay in advance. You knew he'd never read it anyway. I don't think I terribly minded whether he listened to the essay or not. He just wanted to talk.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 2 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 24 January 2008