Unless you're Isaac Newton, scientific advances are usually the product of many minds working together in mutual, friendly collaboration. Unfortunately, even geniuses can get bogged down in petty arguments, and we would probably all be flying to work on rocket motorcycles by now if history's greatest geniuses hadn't spent their entire careers arguing over who had the biggest Bunsen burner.
7The Fight Over Who Discovered HIV
What Their Feud Cost Us:
Years of AIDS research.
AIDS was first discovered in 1981, prompting a race to find the virus that caused it. We'd like to be able to say that the appeal was in saving a lot of lives, but it probably also had a lot to do with the fact that whoever found it stood to become as famous and wealthy as a scientist can get, all walking around the lab in a pimp hat and fat gold chains.
Working around the clock, a French research team identified the HIV virus in 1983, but they weren't absolutely certain about their discovery, so they decided to send their samples to an American team for a second opinion. The Americans didn't return the phone call for a full year, after which point they declared that they had mysteriously discovered HIV.
America: Stealing Europe's diseases since 1776.
What followed were years of debates and arguments between the two research teams that continued until 1987, when Ronald Reagan and Jacques Chirac finally decided to step in and force the teams to share the credit for the discovery so that we could go on and actually start doing something about, you know, curing AIDS.
It would probably have been to our benefit to have been able to start treating HIV before it spread around the globe and became one of the worst pandemics ever known to mankind.
"What's that now?"
Besides slowing down work on a viable blood test and seriously slowing down research on a potential vaccine, the debate over who discovered HIV also resulted in confusion among the general population.
Not knowing who to believe, the public put the whole AIDS issue in the collective "too hard to understand" basket and went right on engaging in outrageous, risky sex with strangers until somebody definitively told them to stop. The issue was such a scientific clusterfuck that even today there are confused researchers out there still trying to find out what really causes AIDS, because the research surrounding HIV is all laced with subtle anti-French insults.
"This can't be a French sample. It's not surrendering enough."