She became one of the thousands of scholars and researchers banished from German academe, which at the time included many of the world's most prestigious research institutions, because of Jewish ancestry or opposition to Nazi policies. Many of them ended up suffering or dying in concentration camps. Rudolf Degkwitz, Syllm's professor, was imprisoned for objecting to euthanizing children. Syllm, however, was able to reach the United States and earned her medical degree from the old Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Eventually she married a fellow physician named Samuel Mitja Rapoport, had a family, and moved back to Germany in the 1950s, where she achieved prominence in neonatology. Syllm-Rapoport, who is now 102 years old, might have remained just a doctor (if a very accomplished one) had not the present dean of the Hamburg medical school, Uwe Koch-Gromus, heard her story from a colleague of her son, Tom Rapoport, a Harvard cell biologist.
Determined to do what he could to mitigate this wrong, Koch-Gromus arranged Syllm-Rapoport's long-delayed defense. Despite failing eyesight, she brushed up on decades of developments in diphtheria research with the help of friends and the Internet. Koch-Gromus called the 45-minute oral exam given by him and two colleagues on 13 May in her Berlin living room "a very good test. Frau Rapoport has gathered notable knowledge about what's happened since then. Particularly given her age, she was brilliant."
Can bad scientific practices be fixed? Part of the problem is that no-one is incentivized to be right. Instead, scientists are incentivized to be productive and innovative. Tony Weidberg says that the particle physics community now invests great effort into intensive checking and rechecking of data prior to publication following several high-profile errors. By filtering results through independent working groups, physicists are encouraged to criticize. Good criticism is rewarded. The goal is a reliable result, and the incentives for scientists are aligned around this goal. "The good news is that science is beginning to take some of its worst failings very seriously," says Horton. "The bad news is that nobody is ready to take the first step to clean up the system."