On the other hand, "discovery" is a nebulous term, and plenty of discoveries have inconclusive origins. Why would we call this doctor the discoverer and not the first hospital workers to encounter the disease? Neither knew what it was, both groups thought it something new. Same with the Belgian researcher, (contestedly) named the discoverer.
Identifying a disease is the kind of thing that's not going to come from one cook in the kitchen. I'm glad this guy is getting recognition, it sounds like he's a noble person who played a critical role in uncovering Ebola and leading to its present level of controllability.
Most philosophical and scientific concepts have concurrent or disparate discoverers or inventors. And even those that don't have borrowed so much from precedent that you can often make the case the discovery was previously made.
The real thing is the question needs to be more specific. Is it the origin of programmable computers? The origin of programming itself? The origin of non-programmable computers? And so on.
I'm no epidemiologist, but I imagine something similar is at work here. As you say, different people performed different key roles in the whole process which constitutes "discovery" of Ebola.
The first design of a general-purpose computer was obviously Babbage's. Wikipedia says work on it started in 1833, after the difference engine (already completed by 1822). He even developed two dozen programs for it between 1837-1840. He just ran into funding issues for his projects.
Now if for some reason you feel an urge to hold an external issue like the lack of funding against him when giving credit, then you'd give credit to Konrad Zuse's Z3 (1941) for the first completed implementation. The fact that most computer scientists haven't even heard his name is evidence enough in my eyes that that's a thin rope to hang onto, but whatever.
Beyond that, I find mention of those 3 other people just bizarre. If the person who actually produced the first design for a computer started its implementation doesn't get the credit, and the person who finally built the first one doesn't get the credit either... then are you sure your credit criteria are actually reasonable?!
Turing is the easiest:
What is a computer? What isn't a computer? If you can't answer that question, you don't have a computer. The Church-Turing thesis is the invention of the computer.
Lovelace and Hopper are notable for paradigm shifts (as much as I hate the term) in what computers "are".
Lovelace invented computers because the essence of the computer is the ability to perform computations, not just calculations:
Lovelace published the first algorithm (Babbage obviously had to have written a few to design an analytical engine) and was the first person imagine computers as more than just a flexible calculator. In particular, she was the first to use a variable to represent anything beyond the intermediate/final step of a calculation: she was computing the 7th term of a series, so she used series/loop indices.
Hopper invented computers because a general-purpose computer is a computation machine with a human-friendly interface. A "smart" lightbulb that runs embedded linux isn't a "computer" (until modified).
Grace Hopper conceived of abstract programming in human-aligned languages, and invented A-0, the first "compiler" (her term; now we'd call it a linker). Before Hopper, computers were only ever programmed directly in machine code; every step of a computer program was a specific operation. Before A-0, we just had computation machines, but no human-centered interface. After A-0, we had computers.
Zuse would be a perfectly excellent 5th name, as would Church, Godel, Herbrand, Bohm, and many others.
I don't get this sentiment. So if we had the same devices we did nowadays, with all the same capabilities, but nobody had developed the theory behind computation... then we wouldn't actually have computers? Even though we could do exactly the same things as we do now?
Or heck, so this means even a modern layperson can't have computers? Because in order to have a computer they have to be able to define the Church-Turing thesis for you first? If I hand my laptop to my grandma then suddenly she has... what? An email-receiving brick with a touchscreen that somehow isn't a computer?
> Lovelace invented computers because [...]
No, what she's given credit for is being the first computer programmer (in our modern definitions). Now even that is disputed , but regardless, taking it at face value, that's what she gets credit for. Not for inventing the device she was using, but for tasks she realized she could use it for, which Babbage (allegedly?) did not realize.
> the essence of the computer is the ability to perform computations, not just calculations
I don't know if you can tease out a comprehensive definition for what exactly means here, because I don't think I can give a natural definition that would somehow pinpoint the credit to Lovelace rather than Babbage or Turing. Even if you look up what 'computation' means now, the dictionary will say something like "mathematical calculation". The only way I see to exclude 'calculation' from it seems to be to say "the ability to perform Turing-complete calculations", a formal notion which just didn't exist back then, so the credit for that wouldn't go to Lovelace.
> Hopper invented computers because a general-purpose computer is a computation machine with a human-friendly interface.
No, she's given (like you acknowledged) credit for making the first linker. Not the first computer. Nobody I've ever seen tries to argue she invented the first computer. Are these claims you actually hear in the real world?
> Before Hopper, computers were only ever programmed directly in machine code; every step of a computer program was a specific operation. Before A-0, we just had computation machines, but no human-centered interface. After A-0, we had computers.
Great, so the credit to give here would be that Hopper invented high-level programming languages (or something along those lines). Not that she just flat-out invented the computer!.
I also regret my sarcasm, sorry.
You forgot Gottfried W. Leibniz.
Another question is its historical impacts: did it have any influence on its further development? A good account of history should document and analyze them from different perspectives. You can have the credit of being the "first" even it doesn't have much influence, and you can have the credit of being influential even it doesn't have much publicity. And often the story is not black-and-white.
For example, we can say Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine was never completed and conclude that it has no influence on its further design. But we you know that the story of Charles Babbage helped Howard Aiken at IBM selling his machine? (Harvard Mark I).
> "In Leibniz's mind, “this language will be the greatest instrument of reason,” for “when there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, and see who is right”"
"[Pattyn] claimed that we needed a few more days to ready it for transport," Piot wrote. "So we kept a few tubes of VERO cells, as well as some of the newborn mice, which were dying. Perhaps it was a stubborn rebellion against the whole Belgian history of constantly being forced to grovel to a greater power. That material was just too valuable, too glorious to let it go."
When I worked in development, organization was formal and collaborations were informal. People shared ideas and exactly who thought up what wasn't too important. Overall performance mattered more. Documents that were published were only circulated internally. Patents were sometimes applied for, but inventorship was settled informally.
After I transferred to research I was struck by how important priority of ideas became. Organization was informal but collaborations became formal. Who was principle investigator was very important. Publications were external and who's name appeared in what order was very important. Patents were fought over.
Even in an industrial research lab it got pretty weird. I can only imagine how it is at a place like CDC. Being first author on a paper describing a new disease probably makes your career.
> The discovery, says Muyembe, was thanks to a "consortium of research." But Google "Who discovered Ebola?" and you get a bunch of names — all of them white Western males. Dr. Jean Jacques Muyembe has been written out of history. "Yes, but it is ..." he pauses. He takes a breath and laughs, looking for the right way to respond. "Yes. It is not correct," he says. "It is not correct."
... and since the internet is full of people who love to comment on articles without actually reading them I think that is worth explicitly mentioning here.
(to be clear: not a slight against your comment)
I have just noticed both here and elsewhere that it is very common for people to read the comments first and react there without reading the article. So I was picturing the scenario where one would open this discussion, see your top comment, and go off on speculative discussions that are already addressed by the article in question.
A classic example is the story of the semiconductor and radio. The popular history said that the point-contact transistor was invented in 1947 at Bell Labs and started the age of semiconductors. But do you know that Russian physicist Oleg Losev (also a pioneer of LED) discovered negative resistance in zinc-oxide diodes in 1923, and built solid-state amplifiers, oscillators, regenerative and superheterodyne radio receivers, 25 years before the transistor, but starved to death in the hunger during Nazi Germany's invasion and forgotten? And do you know that at the same year, 1923, American physicist J. Edgar Lilienfeld (also a pioneer of electrolytic capacitor), invented the first prototype of the Field-Effect Transistor, but due to technical limitations and his failure to publizie his researches in big-name journals, remained unknown for a long time?
At the end of the day, I think some simplification and ignorance is acceptable in entry-level/popular history books, but in more advanced-level history books, all the known co-inventors/co-discoverers who have made contributions deserve a mention.
Wikipedia has a good "list of multiple discoveries".
I'm not an engineer, but I read that tunnel diodes were hailed as the greatest innovation in semiconductor of the 1960s, and it was often the only available option in high-frequency applications, but they were almost completely abandoned when integrated circuits became feasible. Leaving the embarrassing situation that the tunnel diodes in lot of vintage Tektronix oscilloscopes are unobtainium.
> Bell created a design that was commercially useful and widely applicable
This is kind of the point made by the original comment. Arguing about the "first" sometimes is a waste of time, it's better to list all the codiscoverers and discuss their respective contributions.
The more we ignore and "justify" the issue with intellectualism, the farther away we all get from a real solution.
Should teams get credit for discoveries instead of individuals? Sure and both people should get recognition. But let's not be hyperbolic here or claim this is the result of "colonialism", whatever it means in the mouth of people who use that word out of context.
I'm baffled as to how some people always fall for that old intersectional shtick of claiming there is racism,sexism,colonialism everywhere and in everything, just because someone says so. It completely weakens the meaning of these words and turn them into insignificant weasel words because after all they apply to anything...
He identified Ebola by being aware that it was different from other diseases he had dealt with and sent it off to a lab for further examination. By your argument the only people that would ever get credit are the people in the labs, not the people doing fieldwork and recognizing new diseases as they appear.
"When all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing."
I agree and addressed that. I don't disagree that colonialism's dark past plays a significant role in these things, but my larger point is "discovery" is always a hotly contested concept.
I'm certainly not attempting to justify or mitigate it, that's specifically the reason I talked about colonialism first. It's important to frame much of our present day as being in the shadow of 19th and 20th century European exploitation abroad.
I think the whole thing is more complicated than the article makes it out to be. Clearly, Muyembe should get credit for the field epidemiology and recognizing that this could be something new. But can you say, as the article does, that someone “discovered” Ebola if they didn’t isolate the virus that causes it? Now you can argue the reason Muyembe couldn’t isolate the virus was because of colonialism and the Congolese government not being able to afford an expensive piece of equipment like an electron microscope. But would the Congolese have had electron microscopes but for Belgian colonialism?
I mean, there is a great story here even without the sensationalism. Man from Congo gets a PhD in Belgium, goes back home to help his country, but is held back by lack of local resources. What does Belgium owe in terms of equipping it’s former colony to help themselves? There is good material there.
As someone from a poor former colony myself, I find the whole thing somewhat patronizing. Bangladeshis rely on European and American geneticists to develop GMO rice to feed the country. But if the British hadn’t colonized us, it’s not like we would have developed that technology ourselves by now. But, on the flip side, we had math and civilization and indoor plumbing when the British were tribal people in the forest. No need to patronizingly give us credit for things we didn’t do.
Probably yes. Europe and Central Africa were already connected and trading since the 1400's. The kingdom of Kongo sent an ambassador to Vatican in the 1600's. Things would have played out differently if the slave trade in the Americas did not precipitate the downfall of many African kingdoms. The part of Congo where Ebola was discovered would probably not have been called Congo today.
Colonialism's goal was not to trade or bring technological advances but rather to accelerate the exploitation of the continent. Belgian colonialism in particular was vicious at that.
> Probably yes.
Probably not, if you understand how "non integrating gap countries" work.
It's true, none of us like the role that we and our often similarly-privileged ancestors have played in the systemic rape and plunder of entire continents, or the massive wealth that we still enjoy today as a result. Good callout :)
Carefully, they're a hero.
But scientists are people too and there can be conflicts over who does the work and who gets the credit. This is fundamentally political, where people have conflicting interests and somehow need to make a decision anyway.
Such decisions might be made based on scientific ideals and practical considerations, but compensating the people who lose in a political fight is still important. Telling their story is certainly part of that. Maybe there should be other compensation too?
Belgian colonialism was particularly vicious and damaging. It is certain that its consequences extend to the present day.
Payback for the mass forced labor of Congolese to extract rubber? I don't even live in Belgium or the Congo and we learned about atrocities committed under Leopold II in school. In particular Belgian colonial authorities would cut off the hands of those who failed to meet their rubber quota.
> would the Congolese have had electron microscopes but for Belgian colonialism?
If their economic structure wasn't devastated by mass forced labor then yes, they might have been able to afford one. Colonialism presents no benefit to the colonized, under the British Raj "India's share of the world economy declined from 24.4% in 1700 down to 4.2% in 1950". The United States (since you mention it in your second paragraph implicitly as an example of an advanced nation) itself was founded to oppose the economic crippling that colonial rule necessitates.
The discovery was not complete at that point, but it did not begin with isolating the virus, either.
Explorer David Livingstone is credited with discovering the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Despite the multitude of accounts and documentation of the locals' Mosi-oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) prior to his arrival. But hey, according to history it seems the locals had never encountered a waterfall a mile wide and hundreds of meters deep whose plunge creates a mini eternal rainforest in the area and the plunge can be heard from a distance away out of sight of the falls themselves.
But yes, it was David Livingstone who "discovered" the falls. Oh, did I mention that from his own account, he was escorted by locals to the falls?
Surely, humankind can legitimately claim to discover a planet, even if an alien race might have done so before us.
What is maybe fair is to ask in whose name something was discovered, and how we tell these stories. We can't say Christopher Columbus discovered America for mankind, but it was news to a smaller proportion of people.
The bar is simply higher and what's being awarded and therefore incentivized is the science part (which includes communication) not simply the discovery.
People running around trying to be the first to label it in their personal diary or in a local community isn't what is being incentivized.
> The man who gets the bulk of the credit for discovering Ebola is Dr. Peter Piot. At the time, he was a young microbiologist at the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Belgium. He was the one to receive the blood samples sent by Muyembe. [...] When asked if he feels responsible for writing Muyembe out of history, Piot pauses. "I think that's a fair comment," he says. [...] Piot says at the time of that first Ebola outbreak, African scientists were simply excluded. White scientists — with a colonial mentality — parachuted in, took samples, wrote papers that were published in the West and took all of the credit.
That doesn't make the discovery less important from a Western history perspective? I guess it's about recognising which truth is being told.
"On this leg he became the first European to see the Mosi-o-Tunya ("the smoke that thunders") waterfall, which he named Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria."
It doesn't mean nobody in the world knew about that sushi restaurant before me. It means nobody in my group knew about it, nobody told me, and I found it by personal experience, and shared the information among my community.
So yes, David Livingstone discovered the falls.
We don't constantly have to try to degrade the contributions that western people made to the world just because they're white. Livingstone made huge sacrifices to push on where almost everyone else gave up and he linked together pathways of information that didn't exist before. He did the exploring; he took the risk; he should get credit _for those efforts and sacrifices_ as should the people who sent him. Its ridiculous to try to equate his achievement with the people who were simply born in the areas he explored and lived there as their default state of traditional existence.
Moreover it has consequences: "During this outbreak, Muyembe has also made a decision many thought unthinkable even a few years ago. He decided that all of the blood samples collected during this Ebola epidemic will stay in Congo. Anyone who wants to study this outbreak will have to come to his institute. American scientists, who have led the way in studying Ebola, have privately expressed frustrations. But Piot says the decision was obviously made because of how African scientists have been treated. Western scientists, he says, should get over it."
I think that when you are making the "local farmers" assumption, you are assuming that Muyembe did not had the "real" involvement in research as Piot. There is no reason to assume that.
> Piot says at the time of that first Ebola outbreak, African scientists were simply excluded. White scientists — with a colonial mentality — parachuted in, took samples, wrote papers that were published in the West and took all of the credit.
* Did Dr. Piot think of colonialism when the WHO thought that the UK and US were better equipped to handle this new discovery?
* What if a more junior doctor in Muyembe's team made the conclusion and Muyembe used his position in power to get the vial to Europe?
* Should you as a researcher/doctor hold a discovery back for a few days/weeks/years and let people die for the sake of your name being put on it?
* What constitutes a discovery in such case? Concluding it might be something different and moving it forward or doing the lab work to figure out what it is? What not both? Should the treatment be considered a discovery? Should Muyembe add the name of all the people that came before him that provided the tools/knowledge to arrive at the treatment?
* Should Eyder Peralta (writer of the post) and NPR (an American news company) be seeing as anti-colonialist?
* Do country X attribute their success in part to other countries who gave them aid to get infrastructure, training , goods & services they need?
But Dr. Piot himself he intentionally left out the pepole who provided him with the evidence to make his claims, who themselves made the claims he was merely confirming.
A researcher is looking for a famous wreck and locate local fishermen who says they know where it is. They go there, find the wreck, write about it in a journal, and then it get forgotten. A new researcher goes and look for the same wreck and again goes to local fishermen who points the researcher to the wreck, a book get written and the wreck get named after the now official discoverer.
My professional experience is that people not caring about external attention and credit is the default. And people seeking that external validation and/or press attention don't care about getting the boundaries right, they care about getting as many sales or as much adulation as possible. There is a parallel within organizations: either management knows how to reward people without them making sure their name is on things, or they don't and people try to get their name on everything regardless of their contribution.
And that's just the groundwork before we get to the fact the press rarely operates at a level above functional illiteracy for anything that takes domain knowledge.
>He describes how angry that made him and Dr. Stefaan Pattyn, the man running the lab at the time, who died in 2008.
The Belgian scientist Dr. Peter Piot comes across as a truly despicable character. By working with Ebola in a lab that was not equipped to handle such a deadly virus, he put thousands of people’s lives at risk. And the only reason he did it was for ego and career advancement. As mentioned in the article, the scientists at the CDC identified the virus around the same time as he did, so there was absolutely no benefit to anyone by him working with the virus except for his career.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christiaan_Barnard#First_human.... I've been told that in particular, the USA was not keen of giving someone outside of the US recognition for the first heart transplant. And somewhat ironically, Chris Barnard's brother that was part of the team, Marius, did not get recognition (but that may have been due to his less extravagant personality). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marius_Barnard_(surgeon)
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penis_transplant From what I understand, the US was again hesitant to cede to South Africa, instead stressing the first "penis and scrotum" transplant.
But you know what is actually toxic national pride? This:
> "He decided that all of the blood samples collected during this Ebola epidemic will stay in Congo. Anyone who wants to study this outbreak will have to come to his institute. ... But Piot says the decision was obviously made because of how African scientists have been treated. "
Hindering scientific progress that could help his very own people out of spite and revenge!
And yeah, chances are that if a white doctor had made the same discovery, they would have been credited with the discovery.
Which article did you read? Because the article linked in above explicitly provides the views from Peter Piot who admits he wrote out the African researcher and by the way, admits to racism. People with bias or prejudice often have difficulty seeing data that contradicts their desired view point. It is nice to see that Peter was able to get past his prejudice, better late than never.
When asked if he feels responsible for writing Muyembe out of history, Piot pauses.
"I think that's a fair comment," he says. "But my book was not an attempt to write the history of Ebola, but more my personal experience."
Piot says at the time of that first Ebola outbreak, African scientists were simply excluded. White scientists — with a colonial mentality — parachuted in, took samples, wrote papers that were published in the West and took all of the credit.
> [The article] explicitly provides the views from Peter Piot who admits he wrote out the African researcher and by the way, admits to racism.
A strict reading of the article would reveal that Piot never admits to racism (on his part) and admits to no attempt to "write out Muyembe".
Piot accuses others of being racist (those same others he admitted to harboring resentment for) but without evidence his claims are as valid as Muyembe.
I mean really... how are you going to accuse TWO PEOPLE of racism when you lack the ability to read four sentences.
please reread because I believe you've misread the sentences.
> Peter Piot who admits he wrote out the African researcher.
> Peter Piot who admits to racism.
"I think that's a fair comment," he says
what was your comprehension of those sentences?
> my book was not an attempt to write the history of Ebola
Calling an accusation "fair" is not the same as admitting the accusation is correct.
It may be fair for the police to suspect you of a crime if you were in the area and match the description. But if you didn't commit the crime then the accusation is not correct.
Disagreed. Context is key in this.