The Albert B. Sabin Digitization Project: "Do What I Preach and Not What I Practice"

First page of letter from Dr. Sabin to Dr. Feldman, March 1951.

One of my favorite letters that I have come across so far during this project is a 1951 letter from Dr. Sabin to his colleague Dr. Harry A. Feldman. In the letter, Dr. Sabin commented on a grant application Dr. Feldman sent to the National Institutes of Health. As usual, Dr. Sabin did not hold back his opinions on what could be done to improve the application. But in his letter, he also urged Dr. Feldman to write his material up for publication. He wrote:

[I]ndicate what it is you want to test, why, how many, where from, etc. If you don’t mind my saying so, Harry, the best way to achieve that is to outline one or more papers for publication and see what data you would like to have rounded out, get that data rounded out, and I will pray to God that ultimately you will write it up for publication. I can only say that I wish you would do what I preach and not what I practice myself. If you don’t write up the work you do over the years, it is work done for your own personal benefit and does not add to the sum total of scientific knowledge.[1]

This quote particularly interesting because it made me think of the amount of material we have in the Sabin collection. Are there letters, lab notebooks, memos, or other materials in the collection that were not published during Dr. Sabin’s lifetime that could add to the “sum total of scientific knowledge” today?

Dr. Sabin himself admitted that the pressures of all of the activities he was involved in did not allow him to publish all of his research in a timely manner. For example, in 1949, Dr. Sabin wrote a letter to Lt. Commander William J. Perry regarding dengue viruses. In this letter, he wrote:

With regard to your request for any recent observations that have not as yet been published or not included in the sketchy reports to the Surgeon General, which you received recently, I should like to say that most of the work which I have done is, unfortunately, as yet unpublished. I should like to suggest that perhaps the best way for you to find out what has already been done would be by personal conference.[2]

Reading things like this make me even more excited that we will soon be publishing much of Dr. Sabin’s correspondence online, and that they will be freely available for use. There is so much potential for research in this collection. There may be letters that point to unpublished research that may prove to be valuable pieces of information for future researchers. I can’t wait to share this exciting project with everyone!

[1] Letter from Dr. Sabin to Dr. Feldman, dated 22 March 1951. Found in Series 8 — Other Diseases Researched, Sub-series — Toxoplasmosis, Box 2, Folder 6 — Feldman, Harry A., 1951.
[2] Letter from Dr. Sabin to William J. Petty, dated 30 November 1949. Found in Series 5 — Military Service, Sub-series Dengue, Box 12, Folder 8 — Extramural, 1944-1953.

In 2010, the University of Cincinnati Libraries received a $314,258 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize the correspondence and photographs of Dr. Albert B. Sabin. This digitization project has been designated a NEH “We the People” project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study, and understanding of American history and culture through the support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history and culture and that advance knowledge of the principles that define America. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.