IEEE PULSE presents

Oblivion Phenomenon in Science

Retrospectroscope November/December 2019

Recognition of true merits may not be a common virtue of the human being, as often achievements are either forgotten, not seen or just buried into oblivion. History of science has plenty of examples, occasionally tainted by endless and useless accusations or even lawsuits leading nowhere.

Physiology in the University of Buenos Aires Medical School

Bernardo Houssay (1887–1971) was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, obtained the bachelor’s degree at the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (National College of Buenos Aires) when only 13, then the farmacist at 17 and the medical degree when only 23, both from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) Medical School. He was appointed Professor of Physiology when 21 years old, before getting his medical degree, setting the condition of full dedication to the task, something unheard of in those days. Endocrinology was his specialty, founding in 1919 the Institute of Physiology. The military 1943 dictatorship expelled him from his chair exclusively for political reasons, leading him to organize the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine, supported by private funds.
There, along with his colleagues, he produced over 1000 articles about endocrinology, nutrition, pharmacology experimental pathology suprarrenal glands, pancreas, hipertension, and diabetes. Houssay established the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), or National Research Council of Argentina. His scientific and academic ideas were no doubt revolutionary in those days [1].

Institute of Physics Research Applied to Clinical Pathology

At one point difficult now to pinpoint, a group of medical personalities linked to the Argentine National Academy of Medicine, as Dr. Mariano R. Castex, but also perhaps under influence of Houssay, too, decided to create the institute indicated in the title above.
My father, Máximo Valentinuzzi (1907–1985) [2], was appointed in charge of the Laboratory of Biophysics, placed in an ample space located in the basement of the Academy building, a beautiful construction at the intersection of Melo Street and Las Heras Avenue, a nice Buenos Aires area, which by that time faced a nasty fort-like prison later demolished and transformed into an open green park. Thus, the whole appearance has radically change for the better.

Biophysics Laboratory: Research and teaching

The Laboratory soon became a research and teaching place where many, even elementary school pupils, used to come over learning to operate a Poggendorf potentiometer, to see a beating frog’s heart, to repeat the traditional Luigi Galvani’s experiments first performed in Bologna (1737–1798). Galvani was a physician and physicist who can be considered the modern founder of electrophysiology. I was one of those and well recall once when during one of the many academic meetings I almost bumped into Houssay, who was speaking in English with foreign visitors. My father took me often to those meetings, I suppose in an attempt to inject in me the research idea … and he succeeded.
It was in that laboratory that the first Argentine Biophysics Society was organized by not more than 12 or 14 enthusiastic young people. The original document, asked to my father when still alive, was passed on foolishly to a person who could not care less, who perhaps lost it or never informed the second Argentine Biophysics Society. A total lack of respect to historical truth that reminds of the obscure Official Argentine History published in two volumes by Ricardo Levene. In it, and for many long years, heroes of the Independence War times were unpolluted beings beyond any human error or mistake or sin. History new revisionists show that nothing of such unreal picture ever existed [3], [4].

Scientific production

The scientific production was quantitatively significant and it meant hard work with meager funds. I have selected what I deemed most conspicuous while recognizing that none forming the collection ever saw the light; they were published in unknown journals now a long time vanished.

  1. M. Valentinuzzi and M. Portnoy, “Distribución anátomotopográfica del potencial eléctrico en la superficie cutánea del cuerpo humano,” Prensa Médica Argentina, vol. XXVIII, nos. 15–16, pp. 1–31, Apr. 9–16, 1941.
  2. M. Valentinuzzi, “Interpretación físicomatemática de las diferencias de potencial eléctrico en la superficie cutánea del cuerpo humano,”
    Academia Nacional de Medicina, pp. 3–11, 1941. Also in Prensa Médica Argentina, vol. XXVIII, no. 35, pp. 3–11, Aug. 27, 1941.
  3. M. R. Castex, M. Valentinuzzi, and E. M. Busconi, “Importancia de la electricidad atmosférica en los fenómenos biológicos,” Prensa Médica Argentina, vol. XXIX, nos. 37–38, pp. 1–71, Sep. 16–23, 1942.
  4. M. Valentinuzzi and E. M. Busconi, “El crecimiento de algunos vegetales puestos en campos electrostáticos,” Anales Instituto Investigaciones Físicas Aplicadas Patología Humana, year IV, vol. IV, pp. 240–286, 1942.
  5. M. Valentinuzzi and M. Portnoy, “Reacción víscero-galvánica,” Revista Médica Latino-Americana, year XXVII, nos. 320–321, pp. 3–23, May–Jun. 1942.
  6. M. Valentinuzzi and E. M. Busconi, “Relación entre el metabolismo energético y la temperatura ambiente,” Revista Médica Latino-Americana, year XXVII, no. 319, pp. 3–30, Apr. 1942.
  7. M. Valentinuzzi and B. Estela Magistocchi, “Análisis de la acción del potencial eléctrico de la corteza cerebral sobre el electrodo explorador,” Revista Médica Latino-Americana, year XXVII, no. 317, pp. 3–22, Feb. 1942.
  8. M. Valentinuzzi and E. M. Busconi, “El potencial eléctrico en vegetales bajo la influencia de campos eléctricos aplicados,” Anales Inst Investig Físicas Aplicadas Patología Humana (see footnote 1), year IV, vol. IV, pp. 299–311, 1942.
  9. M. Valentinuzzi, “Teoría de la polarización en tejidos vivos por efecto de campos eléctricos,” Anales Inst Investig Físicas Aplicadas Patología Humana (see footnote 1), Year V, vol. V, pp. 283–293, 1943.
  10. M. Valentinuzzi and E. M. Busconi, “La polaridad en el potencial eléctrico cutáneo.” Anales Inst Investig Físicas Aplicadas Patología Humana (see
    footnote 1), pp. 1–20, 1943.
  11. M. Valentinuzzi, “Factores del potencial eléctrico-cutáneo,” Anales Inst Investig Físicas Aplicadas Patología Humana (see footnote 1), Year V, vol. V, pp. 1–56, 1943.
  12. M. Valentinuzzi, “Influencia de la constante dielétrica del medio en los cultivos de vegetales bajo campos electrostáticos,” Anales Inst Investig Físicas Aplicadas Patología Humana (see footnote 1), Year VI, vol. 6, pp. 1–8, 1944.
  13. M. Valentinuzzi, L. E. Cotino, and M. Portnoy, “Potencial de óxido-reducción de la lactoflavina,” Anales Sociedad Científica Argentina, EII, vol. CXLVII, pp. 45–77, 1949.

Failed assistanceship with Houssay

My father got into the Medical School of UBA in 1927, living alone in a very modest boarding house supported by savings collected over his high school years in the city of Río Cuarto, Province of Córdoba, by offering private lessons to students requiring help. He taught a bit of almost everything, as he was a natural teacher always looking for something new. Exploring the river edges of the Río Cuarto, once he found a fossil bone that he correctly classified as a glyptodont piece.[2] Years later, he donated the piece to the Museum of Natural Sciences of Buenos Aires. After passing the physiology exam with an outstanding grade (the maximum), he submitted application to become an assistant. An interview was then granted. That exam was divided into three heavy parts: physiology, biological physics, and chemical biology. The salary was slightly less than 100 pesos. [3]
However, things turned out very disappointing, radically changing my father’s scientific future. Houssay was very demanding, in capability and dedication, but
his environment came always from socioeconomic affluent levels, that is, people enjoying incomes that easily compensated for any sudden need, and he was not accepted as an assistant because the 100 pesos were deemed as not enough to grant his dedication. Quite a surprising and arbitrary discriminatory policy.
There is not much to discuss or to add, except that the human being often faces situations that go beyond their personal control. Many times they mean significant deviations from what could have otherwise happened, especially when negligent, prepotent, arrogant, even ignorant would-be scientists interferences show up.
My father precisely in June 1955 was dismissed from the Acamedy’s Institute accused of supporting Perón (just he, a natural democrat, lover of the republican system). Besides, due to intense gastric pains, he underwent surgery that, after pathological studies carried out by Dr. Alberto Patalano of the same institute, confirmed cancer. A few months followed plenty of nasty remembrances heavily upsetting the family life, such as his mother’s death, Clementina Donda, after a painful and extended disease. In 1956, unenthusiastically and depressed, he resumed his private medical practice to make up for an income while getting in touch with Prof. Nicholas Rashevsky, a Russian-born physicist settled down in the USA as chairman of the Committee on Mathematical Biology of the University of Chicago. They had maintained correspondence for several years. After knowing the situation, Rashevsky immediately got a position for him, and he departed early in January 1957. Those were the best years of his life, quiet and highly productive.
Shall we have to fall into the unfulfilled dream proclaimed by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681): ¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión, una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño, que toda la vida es sueño y los sueños, sueños son (or in English: What is this life? A frenzy, an illusion, a shadow, a delirium, a fiction). The greatest good is but little, and this life is but a dream, and dreams are only dreams. If so, what is to be expected? “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate,” read Dante, when facing the doors of Hell. I confess, with my 86 turns around the King Sun, that such a dark prediction is not acceptable.

References

  1. “Bernardo Alberto Houssay,” 2017. [Online]. Available: https://cyt-ar.com.ar/cyt-ar/index.php/Bernardo_ Alberto_Houssay
  2. M. Valentinuzzi, “Máximo Valentinuzzi (1907–1985): Perhaps the first Latin American biophysicist, biomathematician, and bioengineer,” IEEE Pulse, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 66–74, May–Jun. 2014.
  3. M. E. de Miguel, Las Batallas Secretas de Belgrano. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Espasa Calpe, 1995.
  4. M. E. Valentinuzzi, Perón: Arquitecto de la Desgracia Argentina, unpublished.

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