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A Better Mouse Trap

In response to:

The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice from the April 15, 1976 issue

To the Editors:

Before The Patchwork Mouse [NYR, April 15] came to the bookstalls, I swore a heavy oath never to display epistolary histrionics as a response to being savaged by a reviewer. Since the resolution didn’t encompass genial disquisitions such as that of your critic, Sir Peter Medawar, I find myself free to offer what I consider an important correction on one aspect of his essay. Dr. Medawar goes out of his way to state that “Summerlin was funded both by the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and by other benefactors.” Then he offers a defense of the peer-review grant system.

In point of fact, Dr. Summerlin never obtained any grant from any major health agency; not the Damon Runyon or the American Cancer Society and not the National Cancer Institute or the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, the latter both units of NIH. Dr. Summerlin’s application to NIAID had been turned down but was up for reconsideration at the time of the mouse inking. To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Summerlin’s only benefactor was Dr. Robert Good, via allocations from the bloc grant to the Sloan Kettering Institute from the NCI. This fact is extremely important, nay crucial, to understanding why the chiefs of cancer centers have so much power in influencing the careers and research directions of their juniors. Dr. Good has reaffirmed to me and others his faith in the peer-review grant system of funding research. It must be said, however, that the size of his enormous discretionary funds from NIH permit him to temporarily spare a favored protégé the rigors of this process.

One final comment. Dr. Medawar accorded me only a single brickbat in his comments on my prose style. He might be pleased to know that he would have had occasion for many more had it not been for the devoted attention and frequently angry comments on the manuscript by my Doubleday copyreader, Georgiana Remer. An Oxon BA English, Ms. Remer would not allow the sort of sloppy writing that your reviewer would have pilloried without hesitation. She has my absolute gratitude, though my teeth are a little worn down from her ministrations.

Joseph R. Hixson

Red Hook, New York

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