Michael White recently linked to a Cracked article about stupid legal challenges to science. The Cracked list reminded me of some of my own personal heroes of science. Frequently, "heroes" in science are people who have achieved great things, like Darwin, Einstein, Feynman, and Brenner.
My "heroes" are not "heroes" for the magnitude of their achievements, but what they have risked in the service of critical thinking. These individuals have put their livelihoods and even their very lives on the line. The official citations for the Titanium Spork of Scientific Valor follow.
Ben Goldacre, M.D., has served science through his Bad Science weekly column for The Guardian. In 2007, Matthias Rath filed a libel suit against Goldacre and The Guardian for saying that vitamins do not cure AIDS.
Instead of attempting to have the suit dismissed on freedom of speech grounds, they fought the libel charge arguing, correctly, that vitamins do not cure AIDS. In 2008, Rath withdrew his suit and is responsible for Goldacre and The Guardian's legal costs.
In March 2008, Sanal Edamaruku, president of Rationalist International, went on India TV for a discussion on Tantrik Power versus Science. On the show, Tantrik to Politicians, Pandit Surinder Sharma, claimed that he could kill anyone in three minutes using his black magic.
Edamaruku challenged Sharma to kill him with black magic. Edamaruku survived for two hours without flinching as Sharma attempted to kill him with black magic.
Sharma determined that Edamaruku required the "Black Magic of Ultimate Destruction". That night Sharma's attempt to kill Edamaruku as 300 million people turned into watch "The Great Tantra Challenge". Edamaruku survived unscathed and demonstrated to his people that the black magic of the tantriks has no power over them.
At only 8 years old, James Phipps had never been exposed to small pox or cow pox. As such, he was the perfect candidate to test Edward Jenner's theory that a cow pox inoculation protected against small pox. Phipps received the inoculation and tolerated intentional exposure to small pox without contracting the deadly disease. This success heralded the eventual demise of small pox and the rise of vaccines.
Although the experiment may not have been ethical, James Phipps risked acquiring small pox, and his life, in the service of biomedical research.
Ben Goldacre, Sanal Edamaruku, and James Phipps are some of my heroes.