Clarifying Three Widespread Quotes

Extracted from “Linus Pauling, Chemie – Eine Einführung Die Natur der chemischen Bindung”, Das Destillat, no. 1 (Spring 1965).

When we find ourselves with a few spare moments, one of our favorite pastimes is conducting Google Blogsearch queries for the term “Linus Pauling.”  Typically we come across a few of the more recent posts that we ourselves have published, catch up with the latest news from The Linus Pauling Quartet and sometimes unearth interesting bits of information that spur new ideas for the PaulingBlog.

One does not have to search for too long, however, before finding one of three quotes that have spread rather dramatically across the internet.  One of these quotes was definitely uttered by Pauling, but is often imperfectly reproduced.  A second quote was actually published, but we have our doubts as to whether or not Pauling really did say it.  The third quote, we and others feel, is likely a fabrication.

Yes: On Having Good Ideas

Pauling delighted in recounting a specific quote on his “method” for having good ideas.  The quote shows up in many forms at various spots on the web, but is probably best recited as follows:

The best way to have good ideas is to have lots of ideas and throw away the bad ones.

The provenance of this famous quote is traced to a letter written to Pauling by a former graduate student, David Harker, in commemoration of Pauling’s sixtieth birthday.  Here’s the urtext:

Excerpt from a letter by David Harker to Linus Pauling, February 20, 1961.

Excerpt from a letter by David Harker to Linus Pauling, February 20, 1961.

Listen: Pauling recounts the circumstances of this quote:

Maybe Yes: On Cancer Research

“Everyone should know that most cancer research is largely a fraud, and that the major cancer research organizations are derelict in their duties to the people who support them.”

[October 13, 2020 update: reader Aldous Well has provided us with documentary evidence of Pauling having written a letter that contains a version of this quote. That letter is included here. The original text of this section of our blog post, which argued that Pauling might have authored the quote, is retained underneath the page break.]


[This section contains the text of our original argument on the cancer research quote.]

Google has indexed 547 static webpages that include some version of this quote, attributed to Linus Pauling.  Only one of these 547 pages includes a citation: Outrage! For Those Opposed to Animal Abuse. (Tonbridge, Kent England) 47, October/November 1986.  The staff at Animal Aid, which published this issue of Outrage!, kindly provided us with a scan of the page on which this quote appears — see the lower left-hand side:

pg. 14

Outrage! (Oct/Nov 1986): pg. 14

The first detail that pops out to us is that there is no citation provided for the quote.  It’s pretty clear too, that the quote was not given by Pauling as an exclusive to Outrage! Moreover — and most importantly — it seems unlikely to us that Pauling would paint with such a clumsy brush in recounting his feelings about cancer research.

The background to the cancer research circumstance is fascinating but too complex for us to detail here. (Evelleen Richards’ tremendous Vitamin C and Cancer: Medicine or Politics? is highly recommended for those interested in the whole story)  For our purposes, it is sufficient to say that Pauling took considerable umbrage with a series of trials conducted by the Mayo Clinic, first in 1979 and later in 1985, that purported to refute his and Ewan Cameron‘s work on the potential for treating cancer with large amounts of ascorbic acid. (A bit more background is here and here.) One of Pauling’s major complaints was that the Mayo Clinic had misrepresented its trial methods in a manner that biased the data toward its eventual conclusion.  In her book, Richards includes the text of a slide that Pauling often used in his post-Mayo lectures on vitamin C and cancer:

The Mayo article is misleading and dishonest.  It might be described as fraudulent.  It purported to be a repetition of Dr. Cameron’s study, but it was greatly different, in a way that the Mayo Clinic investigators succeeded in hiding from the readers of their paper.

Clearly Pauling was deeply upset about the Mayo trials and their conclusions — his anger on this matter is well-documented in the Pauling archive — and he obviously wasn’t against describing the Mayo work as “fraudulent.”  However, his extending that description to “most cancer research” strikes us as being out of character.  Pauling was a very clear thinker and a careful writer, and it seems to us that his feelings about cancer research, circa 1986, are more likely summed up by these extracts from his book How to Live Longer and Feel Better

Despite the great amount of money and effort expended in the study of cancer, progress during the last twenty-five years has been slow.  A significant increase in survival time after diagnosis was achieved about thirty years ago, largely through improvements in the techniques of surgery and anesthesia.  During the last twenty-five years some improvement in treatment of certain kinds of cancer has been achieved, mainly through the use of high-energy radiation and chemotherapy, but for most kinds of cancer there has been essentially no decrease in either incidence or length of time of survival after diagnosis, and it has become evident that some new ideas are needed, if greater control over this scourge is to be achieved.

Critical?  For sure.  But hardly incendiary. None of this, of course, is proof that Pauling, in a fit of pique, didn’t one day lump most cancer research under the “Fraud” heading.  Our feeling is that it is unlikely.  But even if he did, the calmer and more balanced 1986 quote is surely more indicative of his true feelings on the matter.

Probably Not: On the Importance of Minerals

“You can trace every sickness, every disease, and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”

This one shows up on roughly 1,500 web pages and is uniformly uncited.  Importantly, most of the 1,500 sites on which the text is used are attempting to sell a product. In the Spring/Summer 2003 edition of their newsletter, the Linus Pauling Institute staff directly addressed the dubious nature of these thoughts on minerals.

A statement purportedly attributed to Linus Pauling has proliferated on the Internet, often in association with the sale of mineral supplements. The alleged quote is usually akin to “You can trace every sickness, every disease, and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.” We are reasonably certain that Pauling never made such a statement for the obvious reason that it is untrue. Pauling was interested in the health effects of micronutrients, especially vitamin C, the vitamin that absorbed his interest for almost thirty years. Throughout his career, Pauling used x-ray diffraction to elucidate the molecular structure of many inorganic substances, such as minerals, and organic substances like proteins. If he had been particularly interested in the health benefits of minerals, he would have focused his research in this direction. There is no evidence in the published literature that he did so.

Indeed, while Pauling does recommend taking a mineral supplement every day as part of his “Regimen for Better Health” (How to Live Longer and Feel Better, p. 9) he specifically warns against overdoing it (p. 12), noting that

The essential minerals differ from the vitamins in that overdoses of minerals may be harmful.  Do not increase your vitamin intake by taking a large number of vitamin-mineral tablets.  Limit your mineral intake to the recommended amounts.

This from a guy who was taking 18 grams of vitamin C at the time that he was authoring How to Live Longer…

We feel reasonably confident in our research on the items discussed in this post.  However, if anyone can provide definitive proof for either the cancer research or minerals quotes, please do let us know and we’ll promise to devote a future blog post to further clarification of the matter.

8 Responses

  1. […] Clarifying Three Widespread Quotes:  three quotes attributed to Linus Pauling are scattered across the Internet.  This post investigates whether or not Pauling actually authored them. […]

  2. The War on Cancer is largely a Fraud. DNA, RNA and proteins all consist of a repeating structure of related building blocks. It is important to realize that gene mutations happen in our cells all the time (a mutation is a permanent change in the sequence of DNA). Even if you were born with healthy genes, some of them can become changed (mutated) over the course of your life. These acquired mutations cause most cases of cancer, experts say. Everyone should know that most cancer research is largely a fraud, Linus Pauling said. Linus Pauling died in 1994 from prostate cancer. By the time of his death, the medical establishment had branded Pauling a quack, because he advocated the use of high doses of vitamin C to treat many diseases. Cancers occur in all living things (iron-containing things), the Father of Oncology explains. Cancers occur when cellular iron overload chaotically affects cellular molecules and organelles (RNA, DNA, chromosomes, mitochondria, lysosomes, etc). Cancer is a disease in which iron-overloaded cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the prostate, it is called prostate cancer. When cancer starts in the lungs, it is called lung cancer. Can plants get cancer? Fungi, bacteria, viruses, and insect infestation have all been tied to plant cancers. The good news for plants, animals and humans is that personalized iron-deficiency methods can neutralize pre-cancerous cells and cancerous cells. Cancer loves iron (primary tumors always develop at body sites of excessive iron deposits). Experts, scientists and researchers love/attract money. They will lose money soon. Some people have a high risk of developing cancer because they have iron-overloaded genes. Anticancer genes (iron-deficiency genes) are enemies of cancer. Iron-deficiency anemia (IDA) is a common condition that occurs if you don’t have enough iron in your body. Low iron levels usually are due to blood loss, poor diet, or an inability to absorb enough iron from food. Milk decreases the absorption of iron. IDA (or iron deficiency) is the enemy of cancer, HIV and ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Direct intratumoral injections of iron-deficiency substances (ceramic needles) are needed when tumors/metastases cannot be removed with surgery (ceramic blades). ALS is a disease in which iron-overloaded nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord slowly die. We can beat ALS. Can bacteria lose their antibiotic resistance? Yes, antibiotic resistance traits can be lost. Bacteria need iron for growth. Iron overload increases post-transplant infection risk. Antibiotics work effectively in iron-deficient animals and humans. There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but a variety of drugs can be used in combination to control the virus, scientists/researchers say. We can beat HIV/AIDS (see Vanga’s predictions). Like all viruses, HIV (RNA virus) can replicate only inside cells. HIV cannot successfully replicate in iron-deficient persons. Personalized clinical iron-deficiency methods can neutralize HIV. How to re-create a star on Earth? Thermonuclear Sun (TS) will live in granite quarry. Nuclear artillery will initiate the work of the TS. Special artillery (located on the perimeter of granite quarry) will give (synchronously) deuterium-tritium thermonuclear fuel (deuterium, tritium, lithium deuteride, lunar helium-3) for the TS. Special artillery will create the right conditions for fusion. Vanga’s predictions: A day will come and cancer will be chained in iron; AIDS will be chained in iron; Syria will fall at the feet of the winner, but the winner will be not the one who will win; America will have bearded Leader; people will discover a new kind of energy; Lunar Helium-3 is an Energy Source; little suns will give electricity in wires; oil will stop, earth will rest; China is the world’s next Superpower-2018; cars and trains will fly, wheeled transport will die; Bulgaria is part of USSR-2025

  3. […] „Każdy powinien wiedzieć, że większość badań nad rakiem jest w dużej mierze oszustwem i że główne organizacje badawcze nad nowotworami znacząco zaniedbują swoje obowiązki wobec ludzi, którzy je wspierają.” – dr Linus Pauling […]

  4. […] deux mois avant que Franklin, Watson et Crick ne dévoilent l’hélice que nous connaissons répétait à l’envie que « le meilleur moyen d’avoir de bonnes idées c’est d’avoir beaucoup […]

  5. […] The Pauling Blog: Clarifying Three Widespread Quotes […]

  6. […] made several groundbreaking scientific discoveries during his lifetime. One day a graduate student asked him, "Dr. Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas?" In a response similar to Obama's advice, […]

  7. […] made several groundbreaking scientific discoveries during his lifetime. One day a graduate student asked him, “Dr. Pauling, how do you have so many good ideas?” In a response similar to […]

  8. As a biomedical researcher that has spent over 10,000 hours in medical literature, I like to report your team is mistaken about Pauling’s harsh (but true) quote on cancer research. This was from a letter from Pauling to Ralph Moss, PhD . Please update your “Maybe” to “Yes” .

    Click to access linus_pauling_letter.pdf

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