I vividly remember reading Professor David Jones‘ contribution to The New Optimists for the first time when it landed on my desk. It thrilled me. I was reading the stuff of scientists . . .
He’s a world authority on muscle fatigue, the what and how of the bodily exhaustion from movement and exercise. Important to know about for athletes, sure, also for people recovering from injury or suffering from some debilitating disease — and for all of us as we age.
What was inspirational about David’s story was his realisation he’d been “wrong for thirty years”. (For a video interview with David, see here.)
In his Introduction to The New Optimists, editor Keith Richards uses David’s essay to illustrate what drives scientists:
“In his entertaining contribution, David Jones explains how his work on muscle fatigue followed a particular line of enquiry for 30 years, but ‘always with a slight nagging doubt’. Then a series of experiments revealed to him that he and his colleagues had been fundamentally wrong for all that time. Writing off 30 years work would plunge most mortals into deep denial or drive them into the arms of a convenient therapist, but David is a scientist — he became very excited!”
David Jones’s career is a living exemplar of the mathematician Ian Stewart‘s maxim, “science is the best defence we have against believing what we want to”. When evidence told David and his research team that their hypotheses were wrong, that realisation opened new areas of knowledge for everyone in the field, showing a massively more interesting and vast space to explore.
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Professor Jones’ interest in muscle fatigue started when he was working at the Postgraduate Medical Centre at Hammersmith some thirty years ago, after he’d studied Medical Biochemistry as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, and obtained a PhD from the Institute of Psychiatry in London.
Today, with Emeritus Professorships at both the University of Birmingham and Manchester Metropolitan University, his current research interests are fatigue during exercise (with applications for both improving athletic performance and helping patients with exercise intolerance) and the stimulus for muscle growth. He also has an interest in the genetic basis for differences in the response in training between subjects.