Peter Medawar

Banquet speech

Peter Medawar’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1960

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

There are really no words adequate to this magnificent and moving occasion – or no words that come easily to someone who has been suddenly transported from an ivory tower to a golden palace – but two things I must try to say.

You have just been told that science grows like an organism. You have been told that, if we today see further than our predecessors, it is only because we stand on their shoulders. But this is an occasion on which I should prefer to remember, not the giants upon whose shoulders we stood, but the friends with whom we stood arm in arm. Let me therefore pay tribute to two men who began as my students but who soon became close and dear colleagues in so much of my work: Rupert Billingham and Leslie Brent. And let me also pay tribute to a man whose great synoptic grasp of the fundamental problems of biology has at all times illumined all our thinking: Sir Macfarlane Burnet.

It is a sign of the times that the Nobel award for the advancement of the medical sciences should yet again come to someone who is not medically qualified. (Here I speak only for myself: Sir Macfarlane is indeed a doctor of medicine, though I should be very sorry to receive medical treatment from him.) It is also a sign of the times – though our brothers of physics and chemistry may smile to hear me say so – that biology is now a science in which theories can be devised: theories which lead to predictions and predictions which sometimes turn out to be correct. These facts confirm me in a belief I hold most passionately – that biology is the heir of all the sciences.

Your Majesty, a man who claims to be almost speechless must not put too great a strain on the credulity of his audience. On Sir Macfarlane’s behalf as well as my own let me only say – what any man can always find words to say – thank you for the incomparable honour you have bestowed upon us.

Prior to the speech, B. Lindblad, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: “Dr. Burnet and Dr. Medawar, in your discovery of immunity produced in the embryonic stage and of actively acquired tolerance you have found a new biological law, opening up new vistas in experimental biology. The phenomenon of immunological tolerance which you have discovered will most certainly be of direct practical importance for the treatment of various kinds of injuries and diseases.”

From Les Prix Nobel en 1960, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1961

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1960

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