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Obituaries

Richard Lacey: microbiologist who came under fire for claiming a link between mad cow disease and variant CJD in humans

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1078 (Published 12 March 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l1078

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. John Illman
  1. London, UK
  1. john{at}jicmedia.org
Photo credit: UPPA/PHOTOSHOT

Richard Lacey was the dissident University of Leeds medical microbiologist who was ridiculed in 1990 for suggesting a possible link between the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD).

Vindicated in 1996, Lacey stands out as one of the most controversial figures in British medicine over the past 50 years. He was acclaimed as brave, fearless, and totally principled and as one of the few academics who did not weigh his career prospects against his beliefs. He was also denounced as a panic monger with a penchant for worst case scenarios based more on guesswork than solid science.

Lacey’s supporters included his former colleague Stephen Dealler, who said: “Sometimes we need people to stand up and say what other scientists—and government—would rather not be true.”

“Unfit for human consumption”

Lacey hit back at his critics in the early 1990s with the polemics Unfit for Human Consumption, Hard to Swallow, and Mad Cow Disease. Unusually, if not uniquely, for an academic, he …

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