The danger of "Danger"

forsdyke forsdyke at
Tue Jun 1 08:40:48 EST 1999


      Of late, the word "Danger" has repeatedly surfaced in the
immunology literature as some entity that will allow us to do without
self/not-self discrimination. What is really meant is that the
conventionally accepted form of self/not-self discrimination has not
sufficed to explain immunological phenomena. 

      You are crossing a field when suddenly you hear the sound of
pounding hoofs. The adrenaline begins to raise. You turn and see a bull
in full charge. Quick! Over the fence. Now I submit that both you and
the bull acted in this way because you sensed some threat (danger) and
that the sensing required a certain foreknowledge about what was "self"
(or at least a member of your own species), and what was "not-self".

            "Danger" is pure intellectual laziness. It explains nothing,
but allows plausible handwaving which suffices, it seems, to satisfy
reviewers and (more importantly) the immunologists who review the grant
applications of other immunologists. While this situation prevails, it
is,... well,... dangerous for an immunologist to become "not-self"
(non-immunologist) and venture to contemplate how "Danger" might be
detected in our bodies (professional suicide in the present peer-review

     But here in a Discussion Group, such heresies might be tolerated.
It is probable that the critical peers who review your applications are
too busy (or not sufficiently computer-literate) to come to suspect that
you might have strayed from the fold.

     So where to start? Well, for some years the notion of intracellular
self/not-self discrimination has been lurking in the shadows. Few
immunologists have been prepared to do the necessary homework to
understand;(it involves learning about entropy and the physico-chemical
state of the cytosol). The URL below might be worth a visit for those
sufficiently unworldly to stray from the well-beaten path.

Sincerely, Donald Forsdyke. Discussion Leader. Bionet.immunology

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