Precedence or prescience?

(Much of this was written before the SJI published my article in Sep 2006)

The only honourable justification for claiming precedence of conception (ie, of imagining it before being told of it or reading of it through another author) is that it lends support to the other proposed elements of the hypothesis. Where it was prescient, then this ought to be acknowledged – or it becomes, metaphorically, like Cassandra's tears. The future (direction of understanding) may have been seen but it appears that no one will listen or believe. When something unknown is predicted and found to be supported by the evidence, this is strong support for the hypothesis. I believe that this set of ideas around Morphostasis and the structure that it accords the immune (or morphostatic) system is immensely important. Until the central tenets are understood and accepted by a majority of immunologists, the discipline will continue to fumble around, captive in the vaults of a blind alley. There appears to be continuing, resistance to allowing these ideas to receive an open airing. Many articles are published where citation of the morphostasis articles could be appropriate. It seems unlikely that all authors are completely unaware of the work. Whenever there is discussion of extant theories of what the immune system is about, Cunliffe and Morphostasis are mostly invisible. Perhaps this is because I have done no original research; but that would be a churlish, clubby response. Perhaps it is because people think that I am trying to muscle in on a bandwagon; but that ignores the difficulty I have had getting into print – and when. Perhaps it is because they still see it as far too speculative (and my style to be too naïve) to be "good science"; but, down the "retrospectoscope", it is becoming increasingly clear that – in broad principle – it was prescient. Since very few authors (or journals) will cite the work, it is left to me to emphasise here how it has regularly predicted the way perceptions are about to change. Then, using this historical precedent to extrapolate into the future, much that is still regarded as "sheer speculation" will also probably follow this historical precedent. I believe that many of the ideas are destined to become the respectable "normal science" of the future. Of course, it is important to be cautious and accept nothing without great scepticism (this scepticism is a strength in science). But, it is misguided to believe that mention of it needs to be swept under the carpet to prevent it "corrupting the youth of this land". Its track record is now far too good. The chance to rapidly apply its manipulative power has been delayed for far too long.

There is clear evidence of tacit and sideways concession that the rough concept has value. Some authors have resurrected earlier and long dormant articles that, in retrospect, made salient (and prescient) points; these seem to establish prior "precedence". However, precedence is irrelevant unless it is paraded to help fan the growing fire of an enlightening perspective that runs counter to extant and accepted perceptions (the latter having a mass action effect). It is the perspective, not any particular author, that should be handed the acclaim; and that demands perceptual readjustment. Personally, I am delighted when I find an old article that was pointing in, what I believe was, the right direction, although it was passed over when published; I have highlighted these when I have found them. I would encourage everyone to look for them and parade them, for they will bring along their own flashes of insight. Suppressing mention of new ideas – because this might be viewed as admitting their possible value is a nonsense and more akin to "religion", in its strict etymological meaning, "religare: to tie up, to tie back".

So what points of "precedence" have I proposed and what do I parade to support them?

The elements that are still "cinderellas" that warrant investigative dissection:

Recently, it has become abundantly clear that there is a stampede towards a new perspective. "Inflammation, regeneration and tissue homeostasis" have become an in vogue, integrated research arena. The PNAS changed its "Immunology" section to "Immunology and inflammation" on the 15th July 2015. There is no obvious evidence that any of this shift in attention has been influenced by my writing. Indeed, why should it be? If it is largely right (closer to the mirage of "the Truth") then there will, inevitably, prove to be multiple routes to its ultimate realisation, formulation and exposition.

However, I can savour the knowledge of having been one of the first – perhaps even the first – to realise the promise and power that a radical change in perspective could bring. That was, at fleeting instants, orgasmicly mind blowing and sufficient reward in itself.

Finally – even an inexperienced investigator would be able to quickly establish the reality that my articles and the ideas presented in them have been, effectively, "scooped"; and scooped following repeated rejections by various journals (including much damning criticism in the process). There is no justification for parading this other than to stress, "For heaven's sake, someone, take ALL of this seriously." I am sure it has many warts and much amateur naïveté but it also uncovers seams of "conceptual platinum" that are begging to be "mined". I suspect that the refusal to advertise its existence (and the subsequent gagging of my opinion) has slowed progress towards a much deeper understanding and towards an improved technological manipulation of virtually all disease.

I do not consider that it is my place to speculate about the circumstances that may have led to my contribution being eclipsed; for that would just turn into ugly pique. But, historians, philosophers and anthropologists who focus on science may, eventually, find this to be "fertile territory" for analysis.

I would have been very interested to attend this workshop (International workshop on the Danger Model). However, the fact that I have discovered it only today – 17 days before it starts – does not augur inclusion, respect or welcome. Perhaps that is appropriate.

In the same vein, Immunological Reviews plans a whole issue for November 2107 (Vol 280) on "Death, Danger and Immunity". I am pretty resigned, on the basis of past experience, to the inevitability that my papers will not feature in either the discussion or the references. We will see.

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."