Ambition, ‘failure’ and the laboratory: Birmingham as a centre of twentieth-century British scientific psychiatry

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@article{8bb77315b1d641e493f744fc0fe98ba9,
title = "Ambition, {\textquoteleft}failure{\textquoteright} and the laboratory: Birmingham as a centre of twentieth-century British scientific psychiatry",
abstract = "This article will reveal how local scientific determination and ambition, in the face of rejection by funders, navigated a path to success and to influence in national policy and international medicine. It will demonstrate that Birmingham, England{\textquoteright}s {\textquoteleft}second city{\textquoteright}, was the key centre for cutting-edge biological psychiatry in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. The ambitions of Frederick Mott – doyen of biochemistry, neuropathology and neuropsychiatry, until now celebrated as a London figure – to revolutionize psychiatric treatment through science, chimed with those of the City and University of Birmingham{\textquoteright}s Joint Board of Research for Mental Diseases. Under Mott{\textquoteright}s direction, shaped by place and inter-professional working, the board{\textquoteright}s collaborators included psychiatrist Thomas Chivers Graves and world-renowned physiologist J.S. Haldane. However, starved of external money and therefore fresh ideas, as well as oversight, the {\textquoteleft}groupthink{\textquoteright} that emerged created the classic UK focal sepsis theory which, it was widely believed, would yield a cure for mental illness – a cure that never materialized. By tracing the venture{\textquoteright}s growth, accomplishments and contemporary potential for biochemical, bacterial and therapeutic discoveries – as well as its links with scientist and key government adviser Solly Zuckerman – this article illustrates how {\textquoteleft}failure{\textquoteright} and its ahistorical assessment fundamentally obscure past importance, neglect the early promise offered by later unsuccessful science, and can even hide questionable research.",
keywords = "science, failure, asylum, biological psychiatry, neuropathology, focal sepsis, Sir Frederick Mott, J. S. Haldane, Thomas Chivers Graves, Frank Pickworth, Solly Zuckerman, University of Birmingham, Hollymoor, biochemical, endocrine, metabolic, bacterial",
author = "Rebecca Wynter",
year = "2021",
month = mar,
doi = "10.1017/S0007087421000017",
language = "English",
volume = "54",
pages = "19--40",
journal = "The British Journal for the History of Science",
issn = "0007-0874",
publisher = "Cambridge University Press",
number = "1",

}

RIS

TY - JOUR

T1 - Ambition, ‘failure’ and the laboratory

T2 - Birmingham as a centre of twentieth-century British scientific psychiatry

AU - Wynter, Rebecca

PY - 2021/3

Y1 - 2021/3

N2 - This article will reveal how local scientific determination and ambition, in the face of rejection by funders, navigated a path to success and to influence in national policy and international medicine. It will demonstrate that Birmingham, England’s ‘second city’, was the key centre for cutting-edge biological psychiatry in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. The ambitions of Frederick Mott – doyen of biochemistry, neuropathology and neuropsychiatry, until now celebrated as a London figure – to revolutionize psychiatric treatment through science, chimed with those of the City and University of Birmingham’s Joint Board of Research for Mental Diseases. Under Mott’s direction, shaped by place and inter-professional working, the board’s collaborators included psychiatrist Thomas Chivers Graves and world-renowned physiologist J.S. Haldane. However, starved of external money and therefore fresh ideas, as well as oversight, the ‘groupthink’ that emerged created the classic UK focal sepsis theory which, it was widely believed, would yield a cure for mental illness – a cure that never materialized. By tracing the venture’s growth, accomplishments and contemporary potential for biochemical, bacterial and therapeutic discoveries – as well as its links with scientist and key government adviser Solly Zuckerman – this article illustrates how ‘failure’ and its ahistorical assessment fundamentally obscure past importance, neglect the early promise offered by later unsuccessful science, and can even hide questionable research.

AB - This article will reveal how local scientific determination and ambition, in the face of rejection by funders, navigated a path to success and to influence in national policy and international medicine. It will demonstrate that Birmingham, England’s ‘second city’, was the key centre for cutting-edge biological psychiatry in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. The ambitions of Frederick Mott – doyen of biochemistry, neuropathology and neuropsychiatry, until now celebrated as a London figure – to revolutionize psychiatric treatment through science, chimed with those of the City and University of Birmingham’s Joint Board of Research for Mental Diseases. Under Mott’s direction, shaped by place and inter-professional working, the board’s collaborators included psychiatrist Thomas Chivers Graves and world-renowned physiologist J.S. Haldane. However, starved of external money and therefore fresh ideas, as well as oversight, the ‘groupthink’ that emerged created the classic UK focal sepsis theory which, it was widely believed, would yield a cure for mental illness – a cure that never materialized. By tracing the venture’s growth, accomplishments and contemporary potential for biochemical, bacterial and therapeutic discoveries – as well as its links with scientist and key government adviser Solly Zuckerman – this article illustrates how ‘failure’ and its ahistorical assessment fundamentally obscure past importance, neglect the early promise offered by later unsuccessful science, and can even hide questionable research.

KW - science, failure, asylum, biological psychiatry, neuropathology, focal sepsis, Sir Frederick Mott, J. S. Haldane, Thomas Chivers Graves, Frank Pickworth, Solly Zuckerman, University of Birmingham, Hollymoor, biochemical, endocrine, metabolic, bacterial

U2 - 10.1017/S0007087421000017

DO - 10.1017/S0007087421000017

M3 - Article

VL - 54

SP - 19

EP - 40

JO - The British Journal for the History of Science

JF - The British Journal for the History of Science

SN - 0007-0874

IS - 1

ER -