The UK: Island of Geniuses

There was much hype this week about a small British company that is on the verge of “curing cancer.”  The Independent reports:

A single-storey workshop on a nondescript business park in Oxfordshire is not the sort of place where you would expect scientific revolutions to take place. But behind the white-painted walls of this small start-up company, scientists are talking about the impossible – a potential cure for cancer.

For the past 20 years, the former academics who set up Immunocore have worked hard on realising their dream of developing a totally new approach to cancer treatment, and finally it looks as if their endeavours are beginning to pay off. In the past three weeks, the company has signed contracts with two of the biggest players in the pharmaceuticals industry which could lead to hundreds of millions of pounds flowing into the firm’s unique research on cancer immunotherapy – using the body’s own immune system to fight tumour cells.

Immunocore is probably the only company in the world that has developed a way of harnessing the power of the immune system’s natural-born killer cells: the T-cells of the blood which nature has designed over millions of years of evolution to seek out and kill invading pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria. T-cells are not nearly as good at finding and killing cancer cells, but the hard-nosed executives of the drugs industry – who are notoriously cautious when it comes to investments – believe Immunocore may have found a way around this so that cancer patients in future are able to fend off their disease with their own immune defences.

The leader of the research team, Bent Jakobsen, is Danish born, but the team largely English, which got me to thinking of the brilliance of British accomplishment.

Science isn’t truly practiced everywhere.  As Gregory Cochran illustrates with this graphic, science is only performed in certain regions of the world (mostly by European or North Asian-descended peoples).  And even then, certain European groups seem to outperform others (esp. the British, Germans, and French).

Regarding Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment, it’s really quite remarkable how many of the world’s greatest accomplishments were performed by the British.  The UK has been a true intellectual powerhouse.

Here’s my own abbreviated list of major British scientific achievements:

Newton   (physics, calculus, optics)

Darwin (natural and sexual selection)

Michael Faraday (electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis)

Ernest Rutherford (NZ of English ancestry, nuclear physics)

James Clerk Maxwell (physics, electromagnetism)

Charles Lyell (geology)

Arthur Eddington (astrophysics)

Francis Galton (HBD)

Alan Turing (computer language)

Watson & Crick (DNA)

WD Hamilton (Neo-Darwinism, inclusive fitness)

Quite an impressive list, given the UK’s size, which can only make one proud of his English ancestry.

On the downside, one only worries that mass Third World immigration into the UK will eventually have a dysgenic effect, bringing this long trend of accomplishment to an end.

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13 thoughts on “The UK: Island of Geniuses

  1. Darwin never came up with Natural Selection, supposedly even Christian writers were talking about it years before him. He did popularise it I guess.

  2. When it comes to scientific geniuses, it’s arguable that the British win, hands down. But when it comes to literary geniuses, they face some pretty stiff competition from the French, the Russians, the Italians, the Germans, and even the Spanish. And when it comes to music, painting & sculpture? England is relatively speaking, a backwater. Where is the British Mozart, or the British Chardin, or the British Donatello?

    • The Germans might be able to hold their own in physics, but when it comes to evo-bio sciences, the British win hands down.

      I’d say in classical music the Germans win hands down. Painting, Southern Europe.

    • Late response, but in classical music, Elgar and Purcell are OK. True, they ain’t the equal of Mozart, Bach or Beethoven, but no-one is. Sculpture weak, but in art we have Hayman, Gainsborough and Reynolds.
      As for England facing tough contest in literature from the French, Italians, Spanish and Germans, can you name some names? Only the Russians come close…

    • Nonsense. England has (over a millennium) as strong a record in Composition as either Germany France or Italy. Mozart is seriously over rated in any event. How about William Crotch or (his pupil) Cipriani Potter or S.S. Wesley or even the much and unfairly maligned Henry Bishop to name a few better composers more or less contemporary with Mozart. Or how about Charles Dibdin. Did Mozart ever write anything as affecting (and English) as Tom Bowling?

      Having read a fair amount of French and Russian literature the idea that those countries ever produced writers of the calibre of Milton or Shakespeare, Byron or Keats is laughable.

      The best Philosophers are also British (Hume Hobbes Locke, Bacon – to name a few).

      I sense a certain (hand-me-down) ethno-masochism from vinteuil9

  3. “On the downside, one only worries that mass Third World immigration into the UK will eventually have a dysgenic effect, bringing this long trend of accomplishment to an end.”

    Why? Even with mass immigration, most people still practice selective breeding. Geniuses are no more likely to marry morons than before. They are probably less likely, as urbanization and technological development have led all the smart people to cluster in a handful of places (including smart immigrants). The presence of dumb people a few neighborhoods over won’t make the smart people vanish. Granted, they are an expensive burden, but that’s a separate issue. I think most people have methods of avoiding the prole areas, so their presence is almost irrelevant in the minds of most.

  4. Robert Recorde – Inventor of the mathematical equation, the = sign and the + sign. Foundation of algebra with John Dee founder of the “English” school of mathematics. Both were Welsh and Recorde taught in Scotland for a while.

    Alfred Wallace should go on any list that includes Darwin.

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