Canadian Scientist Declines Award

A University of Alberta researcher refuses to accept a prestigious scientific award because he thought two of his collaborators should have also been honored.

By | March 25, 2013

Hepatitis C virusFLICKR, AJ CANN

Microbiologist and immunologist Michael Houghton of the University of Alberta was told last week (March 20) that he would receive the Canada Gairdner International Award, often called the “baby Nobel,” The Canadian Press reported. But he refused to accept the award, which comes with $100,000, because he said that Qui-Lim Choo and George Kuo, who worked with him to identify the virus at the biotechnology firm Chiron Corporation in the 1980s, also deserved the prize.

“The three of us worked closely together for almost 7 years to discover this very elusive and challenging virus using a novel approach in the field of infectious disease,” he said in an email to The Canadian Press. “Together, we then went on to develop blood tests that protected the global blood supply, to identify new drug targets that led to the development of new potent therapeutics, and to obtain the first evidence for a protective vaccine.”

John Dirks, president and scientific director of the Gairdner, told The Canadian Press that he thought his organization made the right decision in apportioning the prizes. “Obviously we're disappointed because we would have liked to have honored him,” he said.

Two American scientists, Daniel Bradley and Harvey Alter, also were announced as winners for their work on hepatitis C. Three other Gairdner awards were given to researchers for work in other areas.

Tensions can run high in the scientific community, especially when it comes to credit for discoveries. A surgeon in Los Angeles has gone as far as to sue the Nobel Assembly for failing to award him a prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in regenerative medicine. 

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Avatar of: mightythor


Posts: 83

March 25, 2013

LOL Never leave money on the table.  Take the prize and give the money to your colleagues.  I once had a senior colleague who refused co-authorship on a paper because the first author refused to include me as an author (didn't want to dilute the authorship -- that should tell you how long ago it was).  It was a  beau geste that helped me not in the slightest.

March 25, 2013

Mightythor -- I agree with your sentiment.   Giving credit to the colleagues loudly and often, and sharing the lucre with them, would have benefitted them more than refusing the prize -- and would probably have made the erstwhile winner look more "noble" to his peers.  

Avatar of: Kathy Barker

Kathy Barker

Posts: 44

March 25, 2013

Michael Houghton, I salute your integrity and sense of community and collaboration! Your colleagues are fortunate in you, for your honor is as well-developed as your scientific sense.

I hope you will receive many more honors and awards. 

(I also salute the senior colleague of mightythor, who stood up for mightythor and refused authorship for himself as well. Mightythor, I am sorry you think that gesture did not help you: it actually was a great gift, and a great example, and I'm sorry the kindness and honor meant nothing to you.)

Taking the money and distributing it would have helped colleagues, but it would do nothing to change the culture. This might.

Thanks to Kate Yandell for a terrific article.

Avatar of: madhupjoshimd


Posts: 16

March 26, 2013

he deserves the prize just for his honesty & wanting others who worked with him to also be recognized. It is difficult to find such honest individuals.


Madhup Joshi, MD

Maui, Hawaii

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