lp18 A's affidavit

The following in an affidavit written and signed by A on April 6, 1971, while he was a graduate student working in my laboratory.


The following is a reproduction, as well as I can recollect, of a conversation I had with a Professor of Molecular Biology who had just delivered a lecture to my first-year graduate class in Biophysical Chemistry.

The lecture was an introduction to diffusion across membranes, eventually working up to a derivation of the Hodgkin-Katz-Goldman equation. At the outset, the Professor stated that there were two schools of thought in Biology today-the membrane theory, to which the overwhelming majority of Biologists subscribe, and the association-induction hypothesis of Ling, championed by a small but vocal minority. The lecture was very careful to state precisely the assumptions of both theories and went on to say that in this course only the membrane theory would be considered. The neglect of the minority view in the course, he went on, was for two reasons-that it was believed by a small fraction of Biologists and that it had been disproved by the experiments of Hodgkin and Keynes, which showed that diffusion of potassium in muscle fibers was about as fast as that in free solution. Ling, he said, would necessarily predict very slow diffusion because of the assumption that potassium is bound in the cell. It was on this point that I went to talk with him after class, and the short conversation we had is reproduced below.

PROF. (Looking expectantly at the approaching me):

Yes, what can I do for you?


I'd like to say something about your dismissal of Ling's theory on the grounds of "near normal" diffusion. This is not, in fact, a valid critique of the theory, although it is an intuitive one. Adsorption of ions does not necessarily imply slow diffusion of the ions; there are many systems known (for example, glass) where ions are known to be bound but where diffusion is actually faster than ...

PROF. (With obvious irritation):

Oh, Ling does his experiments one way and everyone else does them another. The conditions are different, so you can't compare anything. Besides, look, this is a business like any other, and you have to protect your security. You know, if I consider Ling I'll hear repercussions, and my position is threatened. So, I won't consider Ling - I have a wife and children. You'll see, why, even now I can't get most of my stuff published, but I do have an article coming out next month...

More may have been said, but I don't remember any of it, I was so amazed at what I had just heard. For me, the conversation ended there, and I went away deeply brooding on the professoring business.

DATE: (written) April 6, 1971 (Signed) A (real name withheld by G.L.)

Note added by GL.

While A correctly pointed out that slow diffusion does not necessarily accompany adsorption (as clearly pointed out in "A Physical Theory of the Living State, 1962, Figure 11.33 on page 336, but in greater details in Ling 1969, Intern. Rev. Cytol vol 26, pp,32-34); nonetheless, Ling and Ochsenfeld later did demonstrate an eight-fold slow-down of diffusion of potassium ion in living frog muscle cells---a finding which would be difficult to reconcile with the thesis that potassium ions in living cells are free, as in the membrane-pump theory. For more details, see linked page lp7(1) on "K+ Ion Mobility".

It is sad that while the data appeared to support the membrane pump theory, this mobility was talked about everywhere. However, when eventually it turned out that the mobility of K+ is in fact much slower, nobody talks about K+ mobility any more. The University of Pennsylvania professor was candid enough to tell why. But corruption is like a contagious disease; it spreads. For the great irony see linked page lp6b for the chilling and sad sequel to this dramatic episode.