The Story of 1985

Linus Pauling speaking at Oregon State University with the United Nations Bomb Test petition. 1986.

[A look back 25 years in honor of the Pauling birthday anniversary on February 28th.]

Even after a long, exhausting and prestigious career, Linus Pauling remained active and engaged throughout the latter years of his life. During the year 1985, he spent an impressive amount of time speaking and traveling around the country. Roughly four years had passed since the death of Ava Helen, and in her absence Linus kept himself busy writing papers, sharing new ideas, and defending old ones. Though he continued to make contributions to the peace movement throughout the 1980s, Pauling scaled back his activism for much of 1985 to defend a growing movement which sought to diminish the legitimacy of his nutrition advocacy.

Over the previous years, Pauling had become a strong supporter of vitamin supplements for the treatment and prevention of illness and disease. Most notable was his insistence that vitamin C could be used to significantly improve the condition of cancer patients. Ewan Cameron, a surgeon from Scotland who had been in contact with Pauling for several years, undertook a study to treat cancer patients with vitamin C. The outcome from the study, released in 1976, reported longer survival rates and a number of other positive effects in terminal cancer patients who had been administered high doses of vitamin C.

A study addressing Cameron’s results was later released by the Mayo Clinic, overseen by a professor of oncology named Charles Moertel. The study refuted conclusions from Cameron’s research, and insisted that the results from his study were not reproducible. According to Pauling and Cameron, this was largely due to Moertel’s unwillingness to correctly match the design of Cameron’s work. Though much of the scientific community was generally unreceptive to Pauling’s promotion of vitamin mega-dosing, this initial Mayo Clinic study did not fully repudiate Pauling and Cameron’s claims.

In 1985 a second study was released by the Mayo Clinic, the intention of which was to more closely replicate the conditions of Cameron’s experiment. The final results of the study countered Cameron’s claims once again, and this time the study was almost unanimously accepted by the scientific establishment. Pauling promptly denounced the second study, and spent a great deal of energy fighting the perceived conclusiveness of its findings.

Perhaps the most substantial objection issued by Pauling was that the Mayo studies were using a different framework to measure the success of vitamin C treatment. The Moertel study stopped testing when no visible tumor recession appeared, whereas a primary emphasis for Cameron’s earlier study involved measuring quality of life improvements for the patients undergoing treatment. Though tumor recession was a goal of Cameron’s study, it was not the ultimate determinant of its success.

Shortly after the release of the second Mayo study, a dip was experienced in mail-in donations to the Linus Pauling Institute of Science and Medicine. Pauling largely blamed the Mayo Clinic for these decreases, which partially explains the ferocity of his response. Even with these setbacks however, the Institute remained open, and Pauling was able to carry on with life-as-usual for the most part.

Though most of Pauling’s work during the year was focused on refuting results from the Mayo Clinic study and promoting his vitamin C agenda, he still managed to publish other material that was somewhat unrelated to the controversy. He finished his final book, How to Live Longer and Feel Better, the last of sixteen books written by Pauling. The book offers suggestions for a healthy lifestyle, touching on physical and mental practices, and appeared on the New York Times’ bestseller list when it was first published in 1986.

He also authored several articles addressing chemical bonds, quantum chemistry and crystal structure theory. Several publications involving quasicrystals were perhaps his most notable works for the year in this regard. Upon their classification as such, quasicrystals were a category of crystal that seemed to violate the prevailing crystallographic principles of the time. A number of theories were produced to explain their irregular tendencies, and Pauling formed a hypothesis that received widespread attention among his peers.

Besides his turbulent interactions with the scientific community throughout the year, Pauling was also kept busy by a number of personal affairs. His friend of over 60 years, Paul Emmett, died in April, and Pauling attended his funeral in Portland later that month.

Though the debate over vitamin C absorbed much of Pauling’s attention during the year, he still managed to travel, write, speak for peace and relax at his Big Sur ranch. If nothing else, Pauling’s impressive age and remarkable vigor provide a convincing testament to his behavior and lifestyle advocacy. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Pauling’s routine and activity would change very little.

One Response

  1. The Weekly Smörgåsbord #2…

    This week’s selection of blog posts: “A WTF Scientific Paper from Edinburgh, 1884” — A fascinating report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. “The Story of 1960” and “…

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