Jack Heinemann was very unfortunate to start his clean up of the world scientific literature by trying to discredit Avery et al. work on the chemical nature of genetic information. Avery´s original paper can be downloaded from http://www.nature.com/nature/dna50/archive.html. The reader must be informed that DNA components were already known and were just six: four bases, a sugar and a phosphate. This composition looked too simple to allow the storage of genetic information, known to be quite complex. Therefore, scientists were not eager to accept DNA as the primary information molecule. Moreover, using a similar model, Griffith suggested many years before Avery and his colleagues that DNA could be the molecule of life, but he knew his experiments were far from been conclusive. The reuse of the virulence factor as a model to study genetic transformation did not contribute to the immediate acceptance of Avery´s results. Avery´s paper is long and extremely detailed and the techniques and material used were new for most scientists. Finally, the results have been published in a medical journal during the Second World War, far from the headlights of the media. All these elements account for the late recognition of its importance and certainly not the lack of quality, as suggested by Heinemann (in his own words: “eight years? First sign that this is not a good paper”).
His second attempt to discredit the paper was directed to the possible presence of minute amounts of another substance, either associated to DNA or contaminating the transforming substance. Avery and his colleagues alerted the reader about this possibility, but adopted the position that DNA was the genetic messenger due to the bulk of evidences. Heinemann says this was “equivocal: second sign that this is not a good paper”. On the contrary: when the authors admitted that there was a small but very improbable chance that a contaminant was the informational molecule they followed a scientifically sound and transparent procedure.
His clumsy criticism extends to other important papers. As a scientist I can only understand Heinemann´s position as a joke and I am quite sure he is not trying to persuade anyone about his statements.