Wanted: Mom for Neanderthal &
The Lecture That Shook the World
You may be convinced that science can’t pack heat, but it does and how. In part because new discoveries are inherently frightening, and often such fears are well founded. Also, it may sound stereotypical, but scientists are not really the most socially skillful people around.
Cases in point: a geneticist has announced that a woman could, potentially, give birth to a Neanderthal, a species that evolution selected out thousands of years ago. And you wouldn’t believe how a physiologist demonstrated publicly his erectile dysfunction therapy.
There’s no need for alarm, though. We’re not about to pile on the work of these incredibly gifted individuals, just because they wouldn’t know who the Kardashian are. Many members of the not-so-bright but sociable cognizant crowd like us spend a great deal of time trying to forget them too.
Still, in a profession where trial and error is essential for success, even if it takes decades if not centuries, some blatant examples of vexing lack of social awareness have already had their day in the sun. Thus at least theoretically, they wouldn’t need to be repeated ad nauseum as they do.
What those two examples above demonstrate, however, is that many of the very shining examples of human intellect can’t, well, pay attention for too long. Or that when Desperate Housewives is on, they’re simply peeping through some microscope, finding out how our world will change in the next millennium.
THE ITALIAN SCAPEGOATS
To underline this point, and add yet another layer of caution to the proceedings, take the L’Aquila earthquake, that struck Italy’s region of Abruzzo, in 2009. The country’s deadliest quake since 1980 killed 297 people and left hundreds of injured, besides causing the usual misery and widespread material destruction.
So, what did the Italian government under flamboyant billionaire Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi do? Persecuted seven seismologists at the Commission for Forecast and Prevention of Major Risks, of course. Acting as if earthquake prediction is an exact science, the government decided they were guilty of missing the signs and is still trying to send them to jail.
So much for science being a tool for understanding the wonders of nature, and scientists being the ushers of progress, eh? Protests naturally ensued, and chances are that no one will be put away. Why should they? Now, about Berlusconi, we’re not so sure. He’s beaten the rap a few times and, as we speak, is in line to retake the helm of Italy again, believe it or not.
SEARCH FOR ‘ADVENTUROUS’ WOMAN
The scientific credentials of Harvard University Genetics Professor George Church are impeccable; after all, he’s a pioneer in synthetic biology, and was among the select group of scientists that got the Human Genome Project off the ground. The project has mapped the human DNA, and is still in its infancy relative to its potential for curing diseases.
His social skills, however, not so much. In an interview with the German tabloid Der Spiegel the other week, the good doctor (as in Ph.D) said it’d be possible, in theory, to reconstruct the Neanderthal genetic code, using samples from found fossilized remains. Such DNA could then be placed into stem cells from a human embryo and then implanted in the uterus.
Somehow, the story picked up speed around the world, along with references to the movie Jurassic Park, and gave the idea that he was somehow declaring that he was on the hunt for an ‘adventurous’ woman, to complete the enterprise. It may have been, in fact, the abandoned use of that word what did he in.
The result is that Church has been under the unforgiven glare of the global media, and was forced to use that notorious ‘taken out of context’ sobriquet, when explaining his words, why he couldn’t possibly have meant to say what everybody and their grannies now are sure to think that he did. A mess, no doubt.
HE FOUND THE CURE, AND SHOWED IT
Even more clumsy, and potentially career-ending, was what happened in 1983, during a Urodynamics Society conference in Las Vegas. That’s when respected physiologist G.S. Brindley first announced his research with injections of papaverine to induce penile erection, in what was the world’s first effective therapy for ED.
And that’s when Prof. Brindley almost compromised the seriousness of his research and ended his career in the process. Thank goodness that a lecture titled ‘Vaso-Active Therapy for Erectile Dysfunction’ was not really capable of attracting the attention of anyone but a group of regarded urologists, with only a professional interest in the subject of the event.
After several minutes of exposure of his research and how he came to using papaverine, aided by a slide presentation and other proofs of its effectiveness, Prof. Brindley told the audience that he’d injected himself with papaverine in his hotel room prior to coming to his presentation, and proceed to loosen his pants to show the results.
According to Laurence Klotz, who was there and wrote about the stunner, the professor seemed bent on making sure that everyone would see what he had er accomplished. Somehow, not convinced that that had happened, he then did the unthinkable: he dropped his pants, revealing a full erection, to complete silence from the audience. That’s when some would add the hyperbole about a pin dropping, but we won’t.
That was not all, writes Klotz, who couldn’t believe what he heard next: ‘I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence’. That said, Prof. Brindley wandered off from the podium and approached the front row of the audience, ‘pants at his knees.’ Of course, there were hysterical screaming and he immediately returned to the stage.
He went on and published the results of his experiments six months later. Nowadays, treatment of ED is common and effective, in no small thanks to the professor’s work and diligence. But for those who joined the medical profession for its deceiving placidity and aversion to scandal, the 1983 lecture was the one to put all others to shame, even though it was pretty shameless on its own.