Awarding the Nobel is often a No Brainer
Science and politics collide on PBS as often as in Stockholm. Liberals deplore DNA laureate James Watson's racial politics, while conservatives loathe Linus Pauling's second Nobel because of the Lenin peace prize that deservedly accompanied it.
You would scarcely guess from watching tonights American Experience episode that a World War I Foreign Minister made a medical discovery that changed the world view of thousands as profoundly as Al Gore's environmental consciousness raising. All PBS says is that in 1936, the episode's protagonist, Dr. Walter "Freeman came across an obscure monograph by Portuguese neurologist Egas Moniz" More to the point, his work won Portugal its first Nobel Prize
Like the Former Next President, António Egas Moniz inherited a Senate seat, but his road to political fame led through medical rather than divinity school and journalis. Yet both realized their literary ambitions--Moniz' s History Of Playing Cards was as much a best seller in its time and place as An Inconvenient Truth . Both were accomplished statesmen too, but unlike Gore, Moniz was no scientific amateur. He stepped down as Foreign Minister to became Professor of Neurology in the University of Lisbon.
His use of x-rays to visualize arteries in the brain evolved into cerebral angiography, revolutionizing the study of strokes, and winning him the coveted Oslo Medical Prize, prefiguring his medical Nobel just as Al's Oscar did his Peace Prize.
And just as Al embarked on a third career as an investment banker, the polymathic physician next turned to the transmission of information within the brain. At the Second World Congress of Neurology in London in 1935, listening to an account of a temperamental chimpanzee's tantrums subsiding with the flick of a scalpel within its simian skull, it occurred to Ambassador Egas Moniz that he need not let his Nobel dreams ride on angiography.
Returning to the University Hospital he exercised his considerable prerogatives and had a human brain fetched from the morgue, to practiced thrusting his pen through its base until he figured out the best angle to detach bits of cortex from the whole. In so large a seaport as Lisbon, not a year passed without some obstreperous whore making her way from bordello to bedlam. Moniz had the next such brought to his operating theater, and plunged a leucotome into her brain at the same angle he had practiced with his trusty Montblanc. When she awoke placid, albeit unaware of her age or whereabouts, he pronounced the operation a clinical success. signed her commitment papers, and never saw her again.
The operation's destruction of personality seemed monstrous to many, but there was no denying partial brain amputations emptied asylum cells around the world. Its popularity in calming political dissidents in Siberia led some adventurous Third Reich practitioners to add to the surgical learning curve, and before long, clinics from Harley Street to Park Avenue had a new panacea to offer the fashionable parents of inconveniently mad children. So a decade and 100,000 operations later, the phone rang in Lisbon, inviting the latest benefactor of mankind to dine with Sweden's King.
Drugs that calm psychosis have consigned Moniz operation to oblivion, but the suave diplomat's startling resemblance to
assures the revival of his fame each Halloween, and the Nobel committee's subsequent choices have tended to make his work seem less horrendous than it once did. Many would sooner undergo his procedure than endure some of the peaces that have won the Peace Prize. Yet when it comes to accepting the award, money talks. So far only Viet Nam's Le Duc Tho has declined to admit :
" I'd rather have a Nobel in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."