|What the Boss Wants to See
A month after sending out his press release, Pauling was at a loss. Despite the newspaper
coverage, he wrote a contact in a pharmaceutical company, "Not many people have written
in for information about our experiments on the in vitro production of antibodies.
Perhaps they have been too skeptical."
Indeed. The scientific community was still waiting for the data. Most immunologists
withheld comment until Pauling finally published his results in Science and the Journal of Experimental Medicine in August 1942, five months after the press release went out. The papers were not
impressive. Pauling's control experiments looked weak. The experiments were described
with such a paucity of detail that replicating the work was difficult. When Landsteiner
and others tried to create artificial antibodies using Pauling's approach, they failed.
Nor were things going well inside Pauling's lab. Dan Campbell seemed to be the only
researcher who could make artificial antibodies. When others, students and postdoctoral
fellows, tried, they had no luck. "You have my good wishes in your endeavor to create
artificial antibodies," one research fellow wrote Pauling, "but I must confess to
a feeling of pessimism.... Frankly, I am not impressed by experimental procedures
which work sometimes but which do not at other times, and no cause can be assigned
for the failure." Further experiments in which Campbell's artificial antibodies were
given to infected test animals showed only a slight effect.
By early 1943, even the Rockefeller Foundation was becoming skeptical. Pauling was
now dealing with Frank Blair Hanson, who had taken some of Weaver's duties during the War, and who was less entranced
than Weaver with Pauling's work. Hanson surveyed the nation's leading immunologists
to see what they thought about Pauling's claims. The responses were not encouraging.
The general consensus seemed to be that Pauling's experimental evidence was thin at
best. The results were not convincing. Even Landsteiner opined that the chances were
less than 50-50 that Pauling had created artificial antibodies.
When Hanson asked why, in the face of so much inconclusive work, his artificial antibody
grant should be renewed, Pauling was uncharacteristically retiring, saying only that
he was "disappointed" with his failure to find medical applications for his antibodies.
The Rockefeller Foundation responded by cutting his funding for the project by more
than half. The experimental results continued to look weak. Pauling began downplaying
the importance of the work. He stopped talking about artificial antibodies. He quietly
abandoned his patent application. And the whole issue faded away as immunologists
began to put together a picture of a far more complex – and much different – method
of antibody formation in the body. Pauling, it was clear by the end of the 1950s,
had been wrong.
But he never retracted his work. He continued to believe that Dan Campbell had created
artificial antibodies, albeit "very weak ones."
Campbell, for his part, told another Caltech researcher years later that the whole
thing had been the result of overenthusiasm. A lab assistant, he said, had shaded
the results to fit what he thought his bosses wanted to see. The whole thing, he said,
happened "because of some technician who wanted the results to please the professor."