The recent award of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine to Stanley Prusiner, a professor of neurology, virology, and biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, for his work on prions sharpened the focus on the concept of data-driven ideas in science. In contrast is the challenge to the well-accepted idea that HIV causes AIDS by Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. The two hypotheses are iconoclastic, earning their proponents the title of "renegade," yet there the similarities end. One hypothesis, the one that earned the Nobel, succeeded based on accumulated positive evidence; the other appears to have waned, for the opposite reason.

Prusiner's pursuit of an unpopular hypothesis-that a type of protein, or prion, without a nucleic acid, could transmit a disease that essentially destroys the brains of certain mammals-elegantly illustrates the cycle of inquiry at the heart...

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