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“Just now his hobby is catching flies. He has at present such a quantity that I have had myself to expostulate.”

Today, we might wonder why a medical doctor is allowing his patient to catch large amounts of flies. However, the germ theory of disease was relatively new; in 1876, Robert Koch demonstrated the link between anthrax and the anthrax bacillus. In 1882, Koch identified the bacillus that causes tuberculosis. He received a Nobel Prize for that work over twenty years later, in 1905.

Houseflies and blowflies were definitely seen as a nuisance when Renfield was building up his miniature menagerie. However, as the Nobel committee demonstrated many times, there is usually a lag between when a discovery is made, and when it is widely accepted by scientists. It takes even longer for behaviours to change. The flies that annoyed Seward were not widely viewed as a source of disease until around 1910, when "Swat the Fly" campaigns were seen in several North American cities.

Most Significant

Point of clarification: the first Nobel prizes were awarded in 1901. However, recent Nobels definitely follow a pattern of recognizing discoveries and advances made decades earlier, perhaps to avoid the pitfall of making a bad award.


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