Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Race",before DNA, was BLOOD : literally. The hidden subtext behind penicillin's 15 year delay.

BLOOD was destiny, before DNA
The discovery of different blood types in the early 20th century allowed the science of eugenics to 'claim' a scientific basis for denying marriage between people of different colours, because it meant the mixing of their blood.

Their blood - that gooey red stuff - not Genes and not DNA.

"Blood" Eugenics has been re-written out of History

Don't let today's geneticists try and re-write history ---- the laws did not talk about genes or chromosomes ---- they said blood and they meant it.

In WWII, the great American Red Cross, won't let black blood pollute the lily pure blood of white folk even in transfusions to save a life.

No talk from the Red Cross of genes or DNA ---- blood.

The thought of sticking impure mold slime juice into white people's bloodstreams so sickened almost all middle class doctors between 1928 and what - 2028 ? , that they'd rather let their patient die than give them life-saving natural penicillin.

Don't ever forget the 6 million the Nazis killed of the Jews - or the 30 million dead from other groups as well - but give a thought to the Holocaust of people who might have lived out normal lives, if only hundreds of thousands of doctors had done with impure, dirty, crude, natural penicillin what Doctors Martin Henry Dawson and James Duhig did with it : save lives.

Penicillin didn't really start saving lives until 15 years after it was first discovered ---- using the same primitive level of technology in 1943 as was rejected in 1928 : what changed wasn't the technology but the moral character of the doctors involved : from 9-5 benchwarmer doctors and racist eugenic doctors to highly moral, driven, humanists....

Raylene Rankin, September 15th 1960 - September 30th 2012 : the voice of Cape Breton

Raylene Rankin, of the Rankin Family singing group, will always be best remembered for her soaring rendition of "Rise Again", the island's unofficial anthem, in the 1985 Cape Breton Follies.

The voice of  Hope for Capers....

It was the first time most of us outsiders first took note that something new and good was coming out of "bad news" Cape Breton.

Rise again !....

1940's ISOLATIONISTS abandoned Europe's 4Fs and America's 4Fs

1A =  53%
From 1938 till 1941, Europe's small and weak nations - its 4F states - were gobbled up one after another, while the majority of Americans sat on their hands and did frack-all.

Then in the Fall of 1940, these same Isolationists, using the excuse of preparing for an European war - a war that they were actually working all out to avoid - pushed for an abandonment of Social Medicine , in favour of War Medicine.

Translation of this hypocrisy ?

In Eugenics-speak, this meant abandoning efforts to provide medical care to both the well-to-do 1As and the poorer 4Fs, in favour of research on making the 1As into better fighters.

Rooseveltcare as unpopular then as Obamacare is today

Actually, the Isolationists had high hopes that America's 1As would never have to fight : this was all just an excuse to roll back the clock on providing care for the 47% in 1940s America.

Rooseveltcare was no more popular then among the well-to-do than Obamacare is today. (Or Romneycare was in Boston a few years ago - but that is another story altogether isn't Mitt ?)

It was this Isolationist hypocrisy that I believe pushed Martin Henry Dawson over the edge into his all out effort to rescue some American 4Fs (his equivalent of 1915's Belgians), with 4F natural - impure- penicillin,  as his rebuke to uncaring America.....

Republicans: ABORTING the 47%, before they are born, will greatly reduce the federal deficit

ABORT the 47% ???
Eugenicists , such as Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, believe in putting all their eggs and sperm in 53% of the baskets , writing off (permanently) those who are down today (but who might be up again tomorrow).

But tomorrow, some of the surviving 53% might also be down  and hence would also be written off,  in ever new rounds of 'tough love'.

Regarding 'the down and out' as permanently down is like a circular firing squad

In this numbers game, after a series of round of recessions and booms,  very few people would be left in America, period - either to pay federal taxes or simply to breath free.

If Hitler had won the war and the world, the Nazis would have had round after round of purification trials, till almost nobody would be left alive - sort of like the Russian Politburo under Stalin or what happened in the last days of the French Revolution.

Purity and perfection tests never end, never are satisfied.

Ditto for Romney and Ryan who, unknowingly, are both advocates of seeing the world through the unvarying spectacles of the K-selecting eugenicist.

The world, to the K-selecting eugenicist, is simple, predictable and static.

In their view of world ecology, the whole world is one big niche, yesterday-today-tomorrow , and their job is to find the beings that best fill that permanent niche and discard the rest.

Commensalists, such as myself, feel differently : call us r-selecting types.

We don't believe in putting our eggs and sperm in one basket.

We see the world as dynamic and unpredictable, always changing.

See it filled with many constantly changing niches that are only partially and temporally filled by many different types of beings: we welcome diversity and feel it to be the best protection possible against tomorrow's unexpected massive changes.

We are not at all surprised to learn that some "pure-blooded" aboriginal tribes were almost totally wiped out by something like childhood measles, with the only survivors being a few "half-breeds", the children of tribe members who married Europeans with built-in resistance to measles.

We prefer to think of them as displaying hybrid resilience, not half-breed decadence, and we think the hard scientific evidence to prove it is on OUR side.

Romney's soaring political rhetoric sounds so good but it is based on outmoded, incorrect, science and when it collides with physical reality, it will always crash and burn....

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Aside from VEGEMITE, what did Aussies Gray & Duhig have that Alexander Fleming totally lacked ? (Moral Fervour)

6 million might have lived
In the Fall of 1943, fifteen years after Nobel Prize winner Alexander Fleming proved that penicillin - at least his method of making penicillin - could NOT save lives, two intrepid Aussies using his very same penicillin strain and his very same methods (right down to the use of Seitz asbestos filter pads) plucked a half dozen patients from the jaws of certain death.
  Aussie "Men at Work" , under tough wartime conditions

"They came from a land down under" - working in fact in then remote Brisbane Australia , under severe wartime shortage of staff and materials, their methods displayed NO technical improvements over what Fleming and his two young assistants had managed 15 years earlier.

Unfortunately, Altruism was never Alexander Fleming's long suit...

The key difference was that they had the moral fervour ( that Fleming totally lacked) to try almost anything to save people who were certain to die in days if not hours , by pumping extraordinary amounts of impure ("crude") penicillin water into their bodies.

Even at that late stage in penicillin's development, when the whole middle class world was talking up the miracle of penicillin, most doctors would rather see a patient die, than publicly admit that they injected an impure natural substance into a human being's bloodstream.

(It, after all, was an age of eugenics, and pure breeds, families of good blood and evil half bloods , pure-blooded Indians, when 1/32 or even one drop of black blood made you legally black and when the American Red Cross would not allow the mixing of black and white blood in transfusions : pureness and blood had a quasi-scientific, almost mystical , quality in those years .)

 Nothing impure went into such a symbol of purity as human blood.

So even in late 1943, only a few doctors let the two pioneers, Duhig and Gray, inject raw penicillin juice into their patients - and even they, only when their patient seemed at death's door.

So these were not average very sick patients - they were gravely weakened patients given up for dead - so their recovery was all the more remarkable.

Penicillin's Holocaust

If Fleming had displayed any of their moral fervour in the 12 peacetime years when he had penicillin virtually to himself, an estimated six millions lives might have been saved.

Including - tragically - his own favourite brother  John in 1937 - whose pneumonia case was easily curable by even modest amounts of crude penicillin water - if only Alexander Fleming  had tried.

Instead it was left to the moral fervour of another Scot, Nova Scotian born  Martin Henry Dawson, to first put impure penicillin into a patient's bloodstream, in 1940.

Fewer doctors than you can count on your hands followed Dawson's moral fervour when it came to fighting for the right of impure - natural - penicillin's  to save lives,  in those all important  years between October 1940 and May 1944....

* They used Vegemite in the making of their penicillin juice , as a growth stimulant

If Penicillin was a Scottish DETECTIVE MURDER MYSTERY ....

Alexander FLEMING
.....Alexander Fleming would be the Scottish copper who finds the murder.

But Henry Dawson would be the Scottish copper who finds the murderer .

Henry Dawson and the cart before the horse

Martin Henry Dawson

It could be totally wrong to say that Martin Henry Dawson broke every rule in the book, during an ultimately successful effort to bring penicillin-as-we-know-it into an uncaring world.

The "inside agitator" gets - truly - agitated ....

It might actually be that breaking every possible rule in the book might just have been the true point of his efforts......

Dr Martin Henry Dawson and the MORAL INVENTION of 4F penicillin ---- during a 1A war (PART 1)

Thalidomide has had 9 lives...
Is it truly unfair that only Paul Gelmo initially invented Sulfa-the-(useless)-chemical, but is was Gerhard Domagk , 25 years later, who won the Nobel prize for Sulfa?

Not in the eyes of  99.9999999% of contemporary (and very grateful) observers.  Because what Domagk invented was something called Sulfa-the-lifesaving-miracle.

Though you'd never notice from our "initial discovery" obsessed journalists, many, many important things were invented several times over.

Thalidomide is a particularly spectacular example : it had already had several medical applications ( with good successes but also very severe side effects that were kept secret) before it was promoted to cure morning sickness.

We all know the results that that particular application caused.

But, believe it or not, it is still in use - for forms of leprosy in particular, - and still being investigated for its ability to inhibit some tumours: new uses still being invented for an old "initial invention" .

AZT and carbolic acid were both much later "re-invented" when they were dragged out of the medical gutter and first used for the uses we best know them for today.

We don't - but we should - most highly honor those people who first put a product to its highest use, rather than merely honoring those who first invent or discover it as a mere substance.

Those who only honor  those who initially discover or invent something are unconscious devote disciples of Auguste Comte and his dogma of Positivism.

That school of thought, if it can be called that, sometimes assumes that the mere act of discovering or inventing something will also instantly inform that inventor/discoverer as to its many self-evident uses and to its self-evident highest possible use.

Anyone else who later does put it to such uses, in this view, was merely taking advantage of information that is open to all that gaze up the substance---- and hence not worthy of any honor.

Put like that, Positivism use in this case does seem childishly ridiculous - as many unstated assumptions often are - when they are more closely examined.

Most re-inventions are of a technological nature : something long thought capable of merely reducing the pain of leprosy turns out to actually - and unexpectedly - reduce the advance of the disease. ( In this case, the drug in question is thalidomide.)

But probably the most famous medicine and science story of all time also saw a substance re-evaluated for a new use , but for moral reasons.

A doctor's moral anger drove him to break a whole bunch of rules and norms to stick the first ever needle of (dirty) penicillin in a dying patient's arm : and the patient lived.

There had never been any technological barriers to putting Alexander Fleming's penicillium juice in a needle and sticking it in a patient's arm to save their life.

Not even to sticking penicillin into someone's arm to save them from invariably fatal Subacute Bacterial Endocarditis (the dreaded SBE).

Doctors and Scientists' objections to natural (impure) systemic penicillin were only ones of an aesthetic nature

The objections had only been quasi-aesthetic : in a modern scientific age, was it worth the risk to the dignity of the medical profession, to be seen sticking something seen as mostly dirt into the human bloodstream, even if it was in a worthy attempt to save the life of someone otherwise facing immediate death?

Many doctors, faced with lots of patients dying of an invariably fatal disease, will indeed throw a kitchen sink of oddball medical treatments at them, in the hope one will stick. SBE saw many such attempts.

But from September 1928 till October 1940, no doctor in the world ever stuck penicillin in someone's arm, to see if it might save their life --- for any disease. Amazing but true.

Since 2004, I have lived and breathed and dreamt why this might be so - and why the unlikely doctor who finally did so , Martin Henry Dawson, chose to break that mental barrier.

It matters because it is only his Penicillin (Penicillin-the-natural-systemic) that the world has used since 1940 - not Alexander Fleming's Penicillin-the-synthetic-antispetic or Howard Florey's Penicillin-the-synthetic-systemic.

It is his penicillin - and his penicillin only - that we use, but it was those two who got the Nobel Prizes for penicillin.

Dawson probably backed his way into penicillin - driven by his anger over the way that the "4F" in society were so quickly abandoned at the first opportunity --- in this case, in preparing to fight a war using the best "1As" in society.

His special area of interest - Rheumatic Fever (RF) - was mostly a disease of the poor, so the well-off donors to the cause of RF were largely motivated by pure altruism.

But it had been recently replaced (by the Fall of 1940) by Polio as the number one child health "Cause" for America's well off .

Polio deaths were far ,far outnumbered by RF deaths, but polio was a disease of the well off mainly, and this was the first evidence of a now common organization : the patients (families) self-help group : mothers going to door to door to find a cure for a disease that might hit their own children.

We generally think this is a good thing, but it is also another example of a society of individuals increasingly looking out for Number One.

In 1940,mighty  America collectively looked out for itself as Number One and did not come to the aid of about a dozen of Europe's small weak nations : Czechs, Poles, Danes , Belgians etc etc.

Dawson who had gone to war to help the people of little Belgium in 1915, was in agony - too old to fight, but also too principled to just sit back.

When he arrived in the Fall of 1940 back at his employer (Columbia University Medical School), he found that the research and teaching efforts were to be dialled back in social medicine (medicine to help the poor) and put into war medicine (making the armed forces better fighters).

By sheer coincidence, his fellow researcher, German Jewish refuge (and potential internment camp alien) Dr Karl Meyer, wanted to revenge himself upon another biochemist who he felt had downplayed Meyer's successes. This biochemist was also a German Jewish refuge and potential alien in an internment camp), Ernst Chain.

Both men were not evil or naive : they simply knew the best way to be kept out of a miserable internment camp in the event of war, was to be judged very useful by their anti-semitic hosts. So they were holding nothing back to avoid an internment camp for themselves and their families.

Meyer thought he was a far better biochemist than Chain (very true !) and could more quickly and easily synthesize penicillin  than Chain (very untrue !)

Would his friend, Dawson the bacteriologist and clinician, help out by testing the resulting product ?

Dawson read up on what little there was on penicillin and noticed its unique combination of extreme non-toxicity and extreme diffusiveness could possibly be the best shot in a long time to cure SBE.

Now SBE was usually a matter for the heart specialists (an elite in every hospital) and Dawson's main job was in an arthritis out-patient clinic (at the low end of  any hospital's pecking order).

Moreover, some people had made SBE their primary lifelong research and clinical interest and Dawson had never - as far as I can tell - written or spoken on SBE.

To barge into their area of expertise would be a disaster.

I can only presume that Dawson first suggested his idea to SBE and heart experts and then to his contacts at the big Drug Companies.

Only when none responded positively and he had two dying SBE patients in front of him, did he act.

Because he felt that penicillin might save their lives, he pulled out all stops and broke all the rules and norms, to try and save their lives --- with this urgency additionally fueled by his anger at how the 4Fs of society were now being treated.

SBEs, in a month of the first ever peacetime Draft registration ( an entire nation trying to find all the 1As in society), were everyone's 4Fs of the 4Fs : about the most useless to the war effort young males imaginable.

Many medical staff felt they'd only consume precious medical attention for months and then invariably die anyway.

So, when Dawson stuck that first ever penicillin needle into an SBE's arm on that first ever peacetime Draft Registration Day, I feel sure his first finger was cocked in the air while the other four were wrapped around the needle.

"Down goes the needle - and 'up yours' !!!!! " .....

Journalists : selected from among the very stupid or just lobotomized after being hired ?

Synthetic Food is deadly !
Are bread and yogurt "synthetic" food ? Heavily processed yes - but not synthetic !

But they are claimed as such - by a few dishonest scientists and many, many, many journalists.

Meat grow in a test tube from cells is truly an amazing feat - but it is not synthetic food. Like bread and beer - it is merely a processed food : food made out of other food.

If all life on earth died but for Man, humans would soon voluntarily starve to death, rather than go on eating the synthetic 'food molecules ' we can currently make. But all the food we actually do eat and crave to eat, originated in food synthesized by other, more humble, beings.

Only Skygods deny this basic - grounded - fact of life and of food.

Is it a firm rule that all journalists must learn about the Food Chain in Grade 8 and then must forget it by Grade 9 ?

Using light energy, only some bacteria and all true plants actually  synthesize food from out of some basic chemical elements : carbon, hydrogen and oxygen mostly.

Actually from carbon dioxide ,water and a bit of minerals - even they can't make food from pure chemical elements.

This is because very few pure elements actually exist in nature : almost everything in the world is built up from raw natural compound molecules.

Plants do the job well enough to supply all our basic energy foods like sugar and starch, the simplest molecules we call food.

But we animals eat plants - the tender parts of them anyway, break them down into very simple molecules and then make some of them into much much bigger molecules , ie more complex food aka fat and muscles/meat.

Some of us animals must at least occasionally eat other animals as well as plants to be fully fed and to survive - humans are one of those kinds of animals.

(Some living things - bacteria and all fungi (aka mushrooms) - survive by eating the tough parts of plants and animals the rest of us can't digest . They break them down further into simple molecules and then re-build some of them into bigger molecules.)

We human animals can and do make in a factory some of the simplest foods molecules - vitamins. But only because the irrational fad for artificial vitamins supports the high cost of making them artificially.

But we do not make the vital complex molecules we need to survive - they are both too big and too uniquely shaped (ie stereoisomers) to be cheaper to manufacture rather than simply letting plants and animals do it for us on a farm.

But note well,  these are food molecules, not "food" as we conventionally understand it - ie amino molecules but not meat.

A total array of truly synthetic food molecules ,enough in variety to completely supply our body's chemical needs, can and have been made.

 But when people eat them and only them (as during an infamous 1965 space experiment), they soon resolve to starve and die rather than eat them any longer.

Our body craves solid, chewy, fibrous, tasty food - not just the chemical powders found inside them.

Yes, we can take basic elements and make the amino molecules that go into things like meat - and yes we can can make meat-like products from other food materials or from living cells - but we can't yet make,simply from chemical elements, a fully synthetic meat.

Calling synthetic amino molecules "meat" and calling meat made from living cells "synthetic" are simply lies - and scientists, even if they are restlessly seeking grants and fame, shouldn't say them.

(Big shout out to Dr Vladimir Mironov !)

But more importantly, stupid journalists shouldn't report them saying so....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

All Optimists - without exception - are Social Darwinists ; all Pessimists are Altruists

Always the OPTIMIST
Its a Fact. Its a Dogma, a Law, a Commandment you can carve in stone - by definition, all 'blue sky' optimists must be Social Darwinists. Just as, again by definition, all cautious, skeptic, 'grounded' pessimists must be altruists.

An optimist believes that there is only one simple, perfect, permanent solution to each of Life's relatively few difficulties.

Someone more skeptical and cautious sees many possible solutions  to each of Life's many and complex problems: all imperfect, impermanent and all highly contingent.

Yesterday's wild-eyed optimistic science - that of Newton, Dalton & Darwin - is still worshipped in High Schools around the world

And right now , wild-eyed cock-eyed optimism ,(aka Yesterday's Science - the science of Newton, Dalton and Darwin still worshipped in High School laboratory chapels around the world) , is killing this planet - destroying tomorrow's world for our kids and grandkids.

And we're just letting it all happen.

When there is only one possible - simple - certain - permanent - solution to every problem, what do you do with the rest - the imperfect solutions ?

Those mouchers, those useless mouths, those "unfit" ideas, those takers not makers , those 47% type ideas ?

You eliminate those ideas like an eugenicist eliminates the unfit.

But when you doubt that this or any solution will work perfectly and permanently in each and every set of circumstances, what do you do with today's less than perfect solutions ?

Like a pack rat, you preserve them for another day and another situation - you redeem them - see if they can serve the community with pride under different circumstances.

You don't write them off forever - you don't toss them aside like a used condom - you treat them them like those people who are down today, but not out - because, with a little help and sympathy, they might be up and about tomorrow.

Mitt Romney says his action plan actually consists of nothing more than free floating optimism.

Should we really be surprised then about his secret speech writing off the 47% as 'useless mouths' ?

I don't think so....

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Needed : a MORAL history of Wartime Penicillin

SBE fatal to heart valves
It is impossible to write a truthful scientific or economic history of how wartime natural penicillin production became the template for today's enormous biotechnology industry.

Not impossible to write such histories - dozens of historians have already done so.

 Just not possible to do the job --- with any faithfulness to the actual contemporary record --- through those prisms.

Penicillin History has been Whig History....

By artfully cutting and pasting bits of the contemporary primary record it is possible to recast everything, even from that day in September 1928 when Fleming first saw that funny mold in his petri dish, as moving steadily and inevitably forward to the time when billions of units of natural produced systemic penicillin daily rolled off the line at Pfizer in the early Spring of 1944 - with natural (microbe produced) antibiotics being the norm to this day.

But in fact, most of the early1940s scientific, medical and commercial establishment was stunned into silence when penicillin ended up (a) suddenly proven up as the world's best-ever systemic life-saver and (b) being produced cheaply, abundantly and reliably - and produced only thanks to microbes to boot.

The 15 years up to 1944 had seen no new scientific advances or new commercial reasons to suddenly turn to penicillin as a systemic/lifesaver or to favour its production by natural (microbial) means  ---- over the situation as Alexander Fleming had described it in his first paper of  June 1929.

The scientific and commercial arguments against natural systemic penicillin in mass production were as good in March 1944 as they had been in March 1929, 15 years earlier.

Only the moral situation had changed.

All the scientific, medical and commercial reasons were still valid against Henry Dawson for staking his life to cure invariably fatal SBE with natural systemic penicillin and against "John L" Smith of Pfizer for staking his company to help him.

But their personal moral reasons for doing so were overwhelming to these two men and so they attempted and achieved the impossible.

 And our whole world was changed for the better, forever, as a result of those two - individual - moral decisions.....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Calling his voyages "out-sourcing to India", Romney and Ryan veto any more government money to 47%er Christopher Columbus

Columbus also never paid federal taxes
For the first 15 years, (1492-1507), Columbus was thought to have merely discovered a new route to India, not the entire New World.

For first 15 years, (1928-1943), Alexander Fleming was also thought to have merely discovered another useless systemic drug, not the best known, best loved, most priceless medication ever.

Penicillin and the Americas : who would have ever thought that they shared a common fate : discovered to be one (relatively useless) thing by one person, only to re-evaluated by another person as something far more marvellous altogether ?

Well that is the danger of voting and thinking like a Republican ; thinking that the world is a static place and that everything is either always useful ("makers") and or always useless ("takers").

If Ryan and Romney were sitting on the throne in Spain in the late 1490s, they would have tossed off Columbus and his requests for more government aid for sea voyages as just another waster from the useless 47% set.

When did Columbus ever pay federal income taxes ?

But if the King of Spain had taken that modern, social darwinistic,  attitude there'd be no historical  Columbus , no America , no Romney, no Ryan and no Republican party.

And won't that be a great loss to humanity .......

Aktion 47% : saving the 4Fs in a time of the 1As , putting them back to work and paying taxes : the OTHER Manhattan project

Romneycare DEATH PANELS for the 47%
In 1941, penicillin was lying about in the gutter, part of the medical world's unfit 47%.

Also in the 1941 medical gutter were the "4Fs of the 4Fs", those young men dying of invariable fatal SBE, seen as consuming precious medical resources at a time when many in the medical elite thought that the sole medical priority should be war medicine for the fit 1As.

Think of today's Mitt Romney as 1941's Dr Romney, if you aren't getting the picture yet.

But somebody - a nobody - in Manhattan had a different idea.

He thought both "unfits" (penicillin and the SBEs) could be redeemed, pulled out of that illusionary gutter, and put back to work combatting the Nazi evil.

For the Nazi evil included not just tanks and subs but also Aktion 4T : a scheme to kill all Germans ( and later everybody) who were judged not productive enough to bother having around .

Romneycare "death panels"

 It is hard to tell just how many people would have ultimately have ended up dead in Romneycare styled "death panels",  if the demands of the war for all forms of labour hadn't intervened.

 Who knows , perhaps as many as 47%.

The nobody's plan was a sort of Aktion 4F.

It was to be a rebuttal to the Nazi Aktion T-4 .

And a rebuttal as well as to his own 1A eugenically obsessed colleagues, like Dr Foster Kennedy who suggested killing the unfit young in that same year, 1941, to a wide round of applause.

Think of it as "the other wartime Manhattan Project" : saving the 4Fs of the 4Fs at the very height of an all out obsession with 1As.

Think of it, perhaps, as the most profound rebuttal to everything Hitler stood for : it said, even in war, we Allies care ( or should care) about the least of the these, as well as the wise and the mighty.

So that nobody - Dr Martin Henry Dawson - put penicillin to work and soon his medical notes happily recorded that many of his SBE  patients had indeed gotten up from their deathbeds and had gone back to work , paying taxes.

Hitler preferred killing people with such diseases outright ( see Martin Bader for an example) while the American medical elite in the 1940s and the American political elite in the 2010s, prefers to let them die quietly offstage, by neglect. The outcome is broadly the same.

Morally, it is only a short slippery slide from a fundraiser in Boca Raton to the death camps at Auschwitz....

DRUGS and Romney's 47% : AZT, Penicillin and Sulfa once didn't pay federal income tax either

AZT once part of the 47%
In a dynamic - Democratic - world, one minute you're down, not paying any federal tax, the next minute you're paying millions. But in a static - Republican - world : when you are down, you're out - for all time.

Roughly 47% of all of our most famous, best-loved, life-saving drugs were written off as "useless" when first discovered.

In the lexicon of Ryan, Romney and Republicans everywhere : they were part of the "unfit" 47% - well past caring about.

So Sulfa, penicillin and AZT were labelled as "useless" for 30 , 15 and 20 years respectively.

But then some kindly souls picked them up out of the medical gutter and gave them second chance, a second chance to do good and save lives.

AZT, Penicillin, Sulfa later saved the lives of those who earlier wrote them off as "useless" : poetic justice

But revealing once again that God has an infinite sense of irony, He - in his spirit of forgiveness - later permitted those "unfit" miracle-inducing medications to be used to save the lives of Romney, Ryan and all the rest of those church-going Republicans.

 All the people who had earlier failed so demonstratively to obey God's command to show mercy to the "unfit" : there is a lesson here - maybe even a sermon (!) : something about how the weak and the useless are sent to humble the mighty and the wise, maybe ...

AZT, Penicillin,Sulfa : Mr Romney, 47% of life-saving drugs were once written off as "useless"

Romney "latinoing-up" for votes
Asking who invented AZT, like asking who invented Penicillin or Sulfa drugs, is entirely missing the really important point : which is "who exactly first discovered their life saving qualities?"

The people who first discovered Penicillin and AZT and Sulfa (and Carbolic Acid et al) did not in fact discover and prove-up their uniquely tremendous life-saving qualities : that credit belongs to other people.

Many famous drugs once part of Romney's "unfit" 47%

And there is a current lesson here : not a medical one - but a political one - because this ties in very closely indeed to the 2012 American Presidential election.

Many famous drugs, as well as many unfortunate American citizens, can fit---temporarily --- into Mitt Romney's 47%.

One minute a drug is down and not paying any federal income tax (and so is written off for all time by Romney and Ryan) ---- the next minute it is up --- up in the lineup to get a Nobel from the King of Sweden and wondering how it is going to tax-shelter all the billions it is making.

Some very famous drugs were discovered twice : once as a useless chemical and only later as a marvellous life saver.

Fairness demands (even if  if the black and white simplicity of contemporary journalism does not) that the credit for them be shared.

Shared between those who discovered or invented the original substance and with those who (much) later decided to try it out to save lives in unexpected applications - often against the opposition of their more cautious colleagues.

Pause from thinking of Romney's strange new Latino tan - please - to honor the memory of Jerome Horwitz who died, unnoticed and unhonored, on September 6th of this year.

In 1964, Horwitz came up with a promising theory of drug therapy that he thought might help conquer cancer. He and his colleagues synthesized "almost but not quite perfect" analogues of a common building block used by life in creating DNA.

Horwitz hoped these drugs (AZT being by far the best known) would act as a Trojan horse and confuse cancer cells into using it to try and build new DNA.

The effort would falter and then the cancer cells would cease to multiply - effectively halting the cancer growth in its tracks.

Unfortunately AZT failed to work - in cancer cells - and Horwitz put it on the shelves - unpatented.

But not before publishing his FAILURE in the open public literature.

In the success-oriented world of Science (rather like the stock market) it takes courage for a scientist to admit failure and for a journal editor to publish that admission of failure : kudos to both for doing so.

Cut to 20 years later, AIDS is in full blown attack and every smart pharma company is in hot pursuit of finding a cure.

A traditional and time tested method is "brute force science" : mindlessly try every known chemical against the HIV virus, on the off chance that one will work, despite roomfuls of Nobel Prize winners standing around whining "that it won't work /don't bother".

Ten thousand (relatively un-expensive, very unimaginative) experiments later, sometimes something totally unexpected and totally wonderful happens.

As it did for Burroughs Wellcome . They patented AZT when the results showed it slowed HIV , AIDS was seemingly repelled - at least among those who could afford their patented marvel - and they made billions in profits.

Horwitz got none of that money and little of the acclaim that AZT garnered.

But he will get someday get wide acclaim - sadly only now that he is dead - because his line of research is indeed working on a broad front against many viruses, not just against HIV.

And successes against viruses (outside of vaccines and Mom's advice of lots of bed rest and lots of fluids)  are rare enough to cheer to the rafters.

So why is Horwitz ,the discoverer that AZT doesn't cure cancer, ignored and why is Michael Heidelberger, the discoverer that Sulfa don't save lives, also ignored? When Fleming ,the discoverer that penicillin won't save lives, is among the best known, best loved scientists of all time.

Why mostly because popular journalism is not in fact Rocket Science or Brain Surgery. It is not particularly rational or scientific or sophisticated: its priority is to tell uncomplicated - simple - compelling stories while remaining willing to use the facts ----- but only if they fit that simple narrative.

Alexander Fleming, Paul Gelmo, Jerome Horwitz do all deserve some fame for penicillin, Sulfa drugs and AZT : but so do Martin Henry Dawson, Gerhard Domagk and the nameless boffins at Burroughs Wellcome ---- the guys who first used those useless inventions to save useful lives.

Naturally, as a patient and not a chemist, I am profoundly biased : I honor much more those who save lives then those who merely invent or discover chemicals.

Don't you wish your average journalist started thinking more like a patient and less like a chemist when they appropriate honor ?

After all their readers are almost certainly likely to be patients sometimes in their lives but very few will ever be chemists.

And don't you wish Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would ponder the "down and then up" life stories of Sulfa, penicillin and AZT before they write off the human 47% for all time ?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blue sky optimistic or cautious & grounded : Nature or Nurture stronger ?

nature or nurture ??
We are all born leaning to either being (a) basically optimistic about the new and the unknown or (b) leaning to being cautious and skeptical towards them : that's Nature talking - our genetic and epigenetic mix. But can our upbringing (and later our own adult life circumstances) restrain or encourage those innate tendencies --- ie does Nuture also play a big part ?

I certainly think so.

The life circumstances of your parents and relatives, of your neighbours and of your local community, of your race or religion, of your class, gender, regional geography  --- all feed into how you think a particular set of circumstances that potentially will affect many people - will actually end up impacting YOU.

So talk of an impending recession might mean for some the thought that cutting a week or two out of their annual stay at their time-share condo in Florida might just to be prudent.

Or it might mean that when lay-offs come at the mill as a result of the recession - and you just know they will come despite what the President says,that you - as the most recently hired employee - and as a black woman - will almost certainly be laid off before your other 'brothers and sisters' in the Local.

Or news of a new free trade deal with the South East Asia trading block might mean wonderful wealth opportunities for your investment firm - or it could mean your electrical wiring assembly job will be soon be out-sourced to another hungry woman -  in some Cambodian "factory" that likes to surround its employees with barbed wire.

But on the other hand, some investment bankers might still be sceptical of financial deals in the farthest parts of the Far East - still feeling that too much local "who-you-know" and "who-you-bribe" is the rules of the game to make them eager to put their clients' money there.

And some at the local factory might see Far East trade simply means more places to sell their firm's tractors and hence more production hours and more overtime for them.

They figure ,"Hey wiring electrical assemblies might seem easy and might even go to Cambodia eventually, but its actually much more difficult to do the job correctly - the first time - than it looks."

"For 50 years, we here in North America have learned to make the assemblies right, so that they keep working even in tough conditions."

"Cambodia could face a hell of a learning curve ,what with angry unhappy customers unable to get their tractors onto the field in a very short plowing season because the ignition won't start. We'll survive - for a few more years - I'm sure of it."

We all fit on a continum between extreme optimism and extreme skepticism, varying somewhat on an issue to issue basis, but deep down I feel that Nurture, not Nature, is usually most powerful in determining our most likely position, in advance, on any issue.

WE don't know our future - but we do know our past - if it has generally been consistently good or bad that will powerfully color how we see our future.

As Mitt Romney learned to his doom this week, the hard working optimistic poor and the hard working optimistic rich both might be hard working, both be optimistic, but because one is rich and the other is poor, they still bring very different sets of expectations to every new situation.

I think this is how most of us intuitively decide whether we prefer the First or the Second Law of Thermodynamics's take on basic reality : we bring many lifetimes of experiences (ours and our various sub-cultures) to the decision.

As to whether Reality is simple and certain or complex and chaotic, NUTURE far out weighs Nature when we come to make our individual assessment

If Life (our parents/community/race/economic class et al) has taught us its an uncertain world out there and rarely does it go our way - we will be pessimistic and inclined to see Reality as funnelled through the Second Law's insights.

But if Life has been good for us, our parents and almost everyone down at the Country Club, we'll see the First Law as a bang-on way of looking at the world.

Victorian sentimentalism might then be seen  as the work of people who are up today, but who have been down before and easily see themselves as being down again : empathy for the downthrodden comes easy when you have - literally - already walked a mile in shoes very much like theirs.

And Victorian Social Darwinism comes easily when you have had a lifetime of being told the only rich people are people who earned their way to the top by sheer hard work .

"If they can do it ,so can anyone, and if you can't  - or won't - do so,  then Nature should throw you to the wolves --- for the betterment of our species."

Without knowing how their individual genomes propelled them to being basically pessimistic or optimistic in nature, I am willing to stake my life on the assumption that almost all white protestant upper class professional victorian males in Manchester England saw the 1870s -1910s technological revolution much more positively than did almost all colored female peasants in Western Africa.

Nuture, (aka our past life experience) I argue, is by far the most powerful force upon how we view Reality : whether as simple and controllable or as powerful and chaotic.....

Thursday, September 20, 2012

19th century simplified REALITY but 20th century "complexed it up" again ....

photo of actual ATOMS
At the beginning of the 19th century, most people saw Reality as made up of literally millions of different kinds of objects : from all the species and types of animals to all the different kinds of minerals and rocks to all the different types of weather events.

By the end of the 19th century, they all knew that all of Reality was fundamentally simple : made up of no more than about 80 different, elemental, building blocks called atoms of elements.

19th century : reality complex and unstable at macro level, stable and eternal at atomic micro level.

The surface complexity and instability of wood rotting to humus and rocks eroding to clay was merely an illusion - Reality, at the basic level was simple and stable.

These relatively few elements and atoms were permanent and eternal and universal : they couldn't be created or destroyed - merely arranged and re-arranged in an endless variety of patterns to create all the old world that Nature created and all the coming new world that Man's mind could invent.

Chemistry became the new Queen of Science and chemists saw their job as stripping Reality down into 80 (100% pure) basic building blocks and reassembling those blocks in interesting new ways.

Nature's attempts, they said, often failed because her "pure compounds" really ended up as "impure mixtures".

But under Man's command, purity was real, desirably and obtainable.

Purity became the chemists' - and the Age of Modernity's - Holy grail.

This thought became a basic meme of High School and undergraduate education by the 1890s (and is still with us 125 years later).

But ironically, cutting edge science began to feel it simply wasn't true by those same 1890s , a feeling that grew ever stronger among researchers in the basic sciences as the 20th century played itself out.

But their new knowledge failed to make it inside the door of the high school Chem Lab and still hasn't - and the resulting cognitive break between what we are taught and what is true is literally killing our planet.

We still act like we can easily control Reality for fun and profit ; Climate Change suggests we can't.

High School teachers, whether they know it or not - accept it or not - are killing us all.

On Earth, post Peak Oil, we may feel that Matter (all the soil and rock of this solid planet) is abundant and Energy is scarce, but in the total universe, the reverse is true.

Day to day ordinary matter is actually very scarce and most of the Universe seems to consist of ordinary energy, dark energy and dark matter.

Only under a relatively rare set of conditions does some of that energy become the stable atoms of  80 or so stable elements we know of on Earth.

20th century: Reality unstable at micro level, is most stable in appearance, at the macro level.

Underneath the elements ( which turn out to be composites or mixtures not at all elemental : think isotopic mixtures), are hundreds and hundreds of weird building blocks that may only exist under unbelievably extreme conditions and even then only for a trillionth of a second.

Reality, at the fundamental level turns out to be anything but simple and stable.

Even Earth's semingly stable elements are not in fact stable - while some will outlast the expected life time of the Universe , others are quite willing to break up into smaller more stable atoms and elements (think of uranium).

Day to day Iron is ever ready to rust away at the drop of a hat, but as an element, it is very reluctant to break up via natural radioactivity and so is the most stable of all the elements.

It is plunk in the middle of the periodic table in effect : too big to be easily mashed into a bigger element, too small to easily break apart into smaller elements.

So purity is absolute only as a mental construct ---- nothing in the world is 100% pure for very long : even those bars of metal in vacuum in Paris that represent the mass of a kilogram are no longer pure - they have seen some of their atoms spontaneously self destruct into smaller atoms and a bit of loose energy ; ie they now weigh LESS than a kilogram !

Purity and stability fundamentally are blue sky scientific illusions ; all matter and energy is in a state of constant eternal flux - down at the level of the basic building blocks of atoms and elements.

Surprisingly, as ordinary non-scientists, ie for the bulk of us, stability is best found away from basic science of the chemists and found instead in the geologists' lumps of minerals we see everywhere .

True they will eventually become soil and wash into the sea - but not in our's or our great great grandchildren's lifetimes.

At the macro level, we don't see a big piece of a mineral as slowly but steadily changing into something else at the individual atom (micro) level and we can enjoy thinking of it as stable enough for us and our purposes ---- to use as a building material for a 'permanent' monument for example.

Reality, under the Second Law of thermodynamics, turns out to be stable and simple at the macro level but unstable and chaotic at the fundamental building block level - a surprising and total reverse of what the First Law of thermodynamics taught the 19th century chemists .....

What Romney forgets about the resourceful "r-selected" 47%

r-selected SURVIVORS
The best article, by far,  on Romney's "47%" remarks - and I have read over one hundred of them - is by Ezra Klein,  in , working off a riff first developed by poverty researchers, Banerjee and Duflo, in their book, Poor Economics.

This article - once filtered through the language of my blog (ie once converted in SVEse) - says that the poor instinctively use cautious "grounded" science to survive, while the rich delude themselves by thinking "blue sky" science really makes sense.

The rich do not take responsibility for their basic daily lives  - instead they pay other people to look after them - but the poor do make many decisions and do take responsibility for their daily lives.

In fact, the poor must make so many tough decisions every hour of every day that they wind up so "cognitively exhausted" that they can't begin to think of future plans --- an area where the cocooned rich excel.

"My child is sick and we both work at low paying jobs - one of us stay home and lose pay to look after child - but then how to get the extra money to buy the antibiotics the child really needs to get better, when we will actually have less take-home pay this week ?"

"Money on fertilizer to improve my soil for a better crop in the Fall or spend it on food now so I can have the strength to plow what quality of soil I have now ?"

Being poor makes you resourceful and flexible, just to survive - makes you r-selected in practise.

It also makes you r-selected in philosophy : you see Reality as constantly presenting you with unexpected surprises, most of them unpleasant, so it is best to travel light and stay flexible as to what you'll must do to survive.

By contrast, the upper middle class white protestant male of the 1840s and the 1940s (and probably the 2040s as well) was totally cocooned in a support system.

The efforts of his wife and servants meet his basic physical needs .

His parents' wealth and connections along with his expensive professional education all came together with his ethnicity, religion and gender to ensure his formal and informal privileged status when it came to his chances of entering  the"gated occupational communities" like Med School or the Military Academy that were the stepping stones to success.

His take on Reality is likely to be K-selected : I am totally fit to totally fill Nature's biggest single niche : Planet Earth. The world is Man's oyster, it is my oyster : Reality is, underneath its false surface complexity, basically simple, repetitive, stable and above all, ultimately controllable by Man.

Romney told the now infamous Florida audience exactly the same Big Self-Lie that Charles Darwin told himself in his unpublished autobiography : I inherited nothing ( says son of  automobile industry CEO and governor of the world's leading automotive industry state) - anything I have, I earned it the old fashioned way.

By contrast, Darwin's most exhaustive biographer, Janet Browne, details how Darwin's doting father lavished microscopes on his child, just as toys, each which cost far more than the annual income of a working class family.

Family wealth made Darwin the excellent amateur scientist he became.

It gave him lots of time and energy for his hobby because he already had a secure daily living without work. Wealth gave him plenty of  space and equipment for his experiments as well as giving him an excellent scientific education with the scientifically powerful.

Above all, it gave him the means to control his scientific image - worldwide - from his rural sick bed ,via the new postal service system.

Again Darwin could afford to spend, just on stamps, more than what a family full of industrial workers earned all year ,working themselves to exhaustion from dawn to dusk.

The ungrateful Charles Darwin - a really nasty piece of goods - dissed his doting father in his autobiography and claimed his success all came from his own efforts.

I don't like Darwin and I don't think I like Romney - I simply don't like those who are so selfish and so self-centered that they have no insight into how they got to where they are.

Yes, both men are clever and are hard working - but their rise to the very top was also engineered by their standing on the shoulders of giants --- their parents......

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

As a EUGENICIST, Romney exceeds even Hitler , who never thought 47% of Germans were 'unfit'

the UNFIT vote democrat
Social Darwinism - the Ayn Rand variety - has dominated the world's headlines this week as the GOP president-in-waiting, Mitt Romney, defined his take on the world in a secret video : half of us pay federal income taxes and are the makers, Nature's 'fit'.

The other half of us pay no federal taxes and are the takers, the moochers, the dependents,the self-defined victims, Nature's 'unfit.'

Victorian 'culture wars' re-emerge into 21st century presidential election

Out in the real world, before Victorians brought in sentimental campaigns to protect children, slaves, women and animals, these 'unfit' would die a short and natural death.

But now soft-headed (Democrat) governments have kept this half of us alive artificially   --- under Romney all this would change.

But some years, perhaps even Romney fits into these 'unfit'  ---as in some years he too may have paid no taxes.

I don't know this for a fact admittably, but I am hardly alone in strongly suspecting it, if only from his most electorally costly decision: the decision NOT to reveal his past income tax returns.

But there is another view of Darwin and Herbert Spencer that doesn't throw out their baby with the bathwater: it is this that "the fittest will survive".

OOOOOOH !!! Did I say a bad thing ?

I don't think so and here is why:

'Fit' or 'fittest' : what's the difference ?

A tiny jockey doesn't seem particularly 'fit' versus a football quarterback but try to 'fit' that quarterback on the backside of a horse in a horserace and we begin to see that while the term 'fit' (and hence un-fit) is static, permanent and eternal, the term 'fittest' is highly contingent and varies from time to time and place to place.

In a world of the First Law (of thermodynamics), the fit will survive : it is stable and permanent and static.

But if the world is better described by the Second Law (of thermodynamics) and is is in constant and dynamic and chaotic change, then sometimes and somewhere , the small and the small eaters (those frequently judged unfit) will actually often do much better than the big and big eater.

Fantasy says that "God is on the side of the battalions of the biggest eaters", but the Earth's long history, grounded in ancient dead giant dinosaur bones and huge healthy present day populations of tiny bacteria, suggests otherwise.

Blue Sky fantasy or Grounded reality : no guess as to which world Mr Romney drinks the Kool-Aid in.....

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If Alexander Fleming had to publish today : would systemic natural Penicillin have languished for 15 years ?

Worth more than GOLD
Most of today's biggest , most influential, most sought after scientific and medical journals demand that any article author(s) agree in advance to post all their notes and data (good and bad) online, before the journal will publish their concentrated (and usually upbeat) thesis in the article itself.

If this is done while the research project is ongoing, it is called "OPEN NOTEBOOK SCIENCE" , but some variant of it is increasing felt essential for fully credible research in highly contested areas of science. (And what area of science isn't ?)

So if Alexander Fleming's famous June 1929 article on penicillin was published today, he and his colleagues' note books would also have to have been online.

In Fleming's mind, he just had to leave in his private notebooks (aka : "massage the data") all the awkward evidence on penicillin's abject failure as a systemic.

He felt that revealing it would have diminished any serious attention being paid to penicillin's considerable - if more modest - possibilities as an antiseptic (if synthesized) and as an useful clearing agent when working with specimens of the 'flu' bacteria (sic).

Medicine's biggest ever boo-boo ?

This dismal "evidence" remained in his private notebooks and he never referred to them in his lifetime because (a) until 1943 he believed his original assumptions were still correct (b) after 1943 and until his death in 1955,  he lacked the guts to admitting he had made one of medicine's biggest ever boo-boos.

But if his notebooks had been nakedly exposed, some readers might have felt Fleming was right - his "in vitro" assumption against natural penicillin as a systemic lifesaver was fully correct.

 But some other readers might have asked, "why don't we get a definitive answer ; let's test the theory "in vivo" , in an actual patient (human or animal) ?"

Because if in 1929 some researchers had seen from Fleming's notebooks that he hadn't undertaken these vital "protection tests" and decided to make good this obvious shortfall, by 1930 penicillin might have been saving lives, not gathering dust in some British curio museum.....

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sulfa's Alexander Fleming : Paul Gelmo, winner of 1939 medical Nobel for discovery of Sulfa

Sulfa the MIRACLE drug
Alas Paul Gelmo , discoverer of Sulfa, is not likely to ever be as famous as Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin and it is a mystery worth investigating to ask why not.

(And in truth Paul Gelmo did not win the 1939 Nobel in Medicine for his discovery. Gerhard Domagk, the actual winner, deserved his Nobel for sulfa about as much as Ernst Chain did his Nobel for penicillin --- which is to say "still in doubt".)

Gelmo invented cum discovered  sulfanilamide in 1908 as part of his PhD in organic chemistry, doing what Germans of his generation did best : churn out endless synthetic variants of dyes.

It had no known uses, although 11 years later it was found to have some anti-bacterial quantities by American biochemist Michael Heidelberger.

Voices off, unheard  : the cries of the dying

But Heidelberger didn't feel any moral urgency to push to have it tested clinically, to see it it might actually save lives.

(Heidelberger, a later colleague of Martin Henry Dawson , similarly declined to assist Dawson in the development of penicillin - thus missing on the ground floor action of the century's two biggest lifesavers.

Cry not for Michael - he outlived Gelmo and Dawson and died showered in laurels, apparently for never uttering an unconventional thought over his long, long life : an all around, don't-rock-the-boat, team player.)

Domagk did two things with Gelmo's sulfa , one good one bad.

The good thing is that he did what Ernst Chain did ,but which Fleming refused to do : he tested the substance at hand "in living creatures ("in vivo") despite it have failed earlier test tube tests ( "in vitro tests").

Once inside animals, surprise, surprise, it did work and it did fight off the deadliest of infections.

The bad thing he did is that he went along with his employer, I G Farben, when it delayed telling the world about this life-saving drug (the only one available at the time, mark you) for years, while it sought to invent a patentable analog of it.

Neither I G Faben or Domagk felt any moral urgency to put the drug they did have at hand on the market at once, profitably-patentable or not.

The actual dye that Domagk was originally charged with testing consisted of two separate molecules ( one of them sulfa) loosely bonded together to form a beautiful ruby-red dye---- a totally new dye and hence very patentable.

Ie potentially very profitable as a dye - but not as a drug.

This was because "in vitro", bonded together inside a test tube, the two molecule "patentable" ensemble did nothing medically.

 But once in a living body,"in vivo", the body's enzymes quickly cleaved the bonds between the two molecules and the sulfa portion - once on its own, quickly brought bacteria growth to a stop.

Sulfa could and did save tens of millions of lives.

 But as sulfa was now Public Domain (PD) 25 years after its original discovery, it would make no real money (only worldwide gratitude and acclaim) for I G Faben, and so they stalled releasing this life-saving miracle.

But as they never could find an analogue for sulfa , I G Faben finally and reluctantly released the original 2 molecule dye without telling anyone that it cleaved apart in living bodies and the active ingredient was a dirt cheap, abundant (and PD) byproduct of many dyeing operations.

Domagk-the-hero has to be forever tainted for his part in this delay.

Fleming also never tested his penicillin in a living being with a disease - he just did "in vitro" testing that told him that penicillin killed bacteria slower than it was secreted out of the body - thus to the never-one-to-waste-a-motion Fleming it seemed so useless as a systemic that it was not even worth testing "in vivo".

He felt no moral urgency in "just double checking" his hunch.

When Howard Florey - pushed hard by Chain - did finally test penicillin almost 12 years after it had been first discovered , he found it did kill artificial infections inside animals - it did work , "in vivo" !

But while he was an editor of the journal that Fleming's original 1929 article appeared in and so could have demanded Fleming do the "in vivo" tests to double check Fleming's hunch, he never did so.

That he did so only 12 years later - and this when pushed hard by Chain - hardly displays any moral urgency on his part to test this potential life-saver.

Sulfa and penicillin - successes "in vivo", failures "in vitro".

Like I G Faben , though not because it could be profitably patentable as a result, Fleming and Florey put all their priorities to see penicillin made synthetically before it was given mass distribution.

Martin Henry Dawson was all alone in believing that natural penicillin was perfectly acceptable to be mass produced and put to work right away, because people all around were dying daily without it.

Dawson thus invented a moral reason why natural penicillin should be mass produced "today - if not sooner".

It was this 'moral urgency' that Dawson alone brought to its invention, that finally led to the development of mass produced life-saving systemic penicillin.

 A moral urgency that Fleming, Florey,Heidelberger and I G Faben all so obviously lacked.....

"Little Belgium" : Floor "G" Columbia Presbyterian Hospital , Oct 16th 1940 - Feb 4th 1945

On October 16th 1940, the first day of registration for America's WWII Draft, Belgium was well past defending from the Boche.

Like Czechoslavia, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Luxenbourg and Norway, Belgium was one of many small nations of Europe that had already fallen to Nazi Germany, without America so much as putting up a squeak.

WWII was not like WWI - if the Great War had been dominated by Victoria sentimentalism - WWII was Victorian social darwinism's war : a cold, hard-faced, ruthless war.

No "poor bleeding Belgium" this time - no "poor bleeding Poland" either.

Belgium was not an area of vital political or economic interest to America and so 'sentiment be damned' : America was not about to waste money and lives defending the small and the weak on the basis of mere humanitarian sentiment : 'we're living in the Modern Age, not the Victorian Era'.

But Dr Martin Henry Dawson had earlier felt much differently.

As a very young man, he abandoned his promising university career to join up the same day (October 16th 1915) that he first read in the North American newspapers that Edith Cavell had been executed for aiding the Belgians.

That meant that today marked his 25th year in Medicine, because he had initially joined up for a year in the medical corps, despite being a non-medical student.

Then, later, as first an infantryman and then as an artilleryman, he had spent most of the rest of the war in and out of hospital because he had twice been seriously wounded and won the Military Cross with Citation for bravery for his efforts while wounded.

Now, giving up his established career and family in still neutral America to get a Canadian Medical Corps desk job in England (as a middle aged/ middlingly healthy bacteriologist that was all he could hope for) didn't seem to be much in the way of help for Belgium and all the other small poor weak people being stomped upon by the Mighty and the Powerful .

Besides, the poor and the weak here at home in America were once again be stomped upon by the Mighty and Powerful of their own nation using the pending threat of war as an excuse to do so.

"We can't afford to waste scarce medical resources on Nature's 4Fs : eugenics teaches us that we need to preserve our best and that means our 1A fighting men".

So the few timid attempts at what was then called Social Medicine were halted and the money re-directed into War Medicine : research on the unique problems and diseases of fighting a modern world-wide war.

Social Medicine had its origins in the ferment around the Great Depression and the New Deal .

It combined directing more money on traditional public health measures aimed at the poorest citizens together with discussions on how best to ensure working class and middle class people had insurance against major medical emergencies.

All the powerful - from the AMA leadership on down - saw this as a giant intellectual threat to individualism and unfettered business enterprise.

The universities, then Republican Party hotbeds, led the charge against Social Medicine : and Columbia University-Presbyterian Hospital loyally signed up in the Fall of 1940 : directing its School of Medicine to put more teaching dollars into War Medicine courses without offering any new dollars to pay for it.

Guess what was hinted could be usefully cut,  to pay for the new courses ?

So the dawn of October 16th 1940 and all eyes of the media were on Columbia University's two campuses on Manhattan.

Columbia  was widely seen as a bellweather on whether American students, who had earlier talked about refusing to fight anymore wars, would obey their elders and register for the Draft.

To ensure all did, the university closed the two campuses and cancelled all classes for the day. Almost all the students and professors of young enough age, did indeed march off obediently to register before the lights and motion cameras of the newsreel crews.

(Including undergrad Jack Kerouac, who took time off from hefting big mysterious blocks of something or other for Fermi and Szilard's Atomic Pile in the basement of the Physics building.)

On October 16th 1940 and until the Actual Belgium's total liberation on February 4th 1945, Floor G became a defacto "Little Belgium"

But in Dawson's tiny team on Floor G of the Presbyterian building , no member had to go register : two (Hobby and Chaffee) were the right age and health, but as women were not valued as potential draftees.

Karl Meyer, like Dawson, was a Great War veteran but was now overage : Dawson was not only overage, his war wounds made him even more unattractive, even as a potential volunteer recruit.

The team's two patients (Aronson and Alston) were young men of the right age, so had to be registered in theory , despite being universally regarded as terminally ill.

I think that the draft officials might well have regarded it as a waste of time and needlessly cruel to register the two clearly dying boys , only to send 4F notices to their grieving parents two months later.

But I suspect Dawson would have urged the draft officials to register the two lads, because he believed that hope - along with his untried penicillin - was the best possible cure for their "invariably fatal" SBE.

"Register the boys - please - because I intend to have them up and in fighting trim in no time !"

(Those would have to be words for the boys' ears only, because no army ever knowingly took anyone with damaged heart valves , "cured" or not.)

SBEs, to be brutally frank, were the world's 4Fs of the 4Fs, probably the first victims of any rollback of Social Medicine .

To start their cure on the very day that North America's eyes were all focussed on War medicine's much touted 1As , had to be Dawson's silent rebuke to a nation and a medical community eager to overlook the poor and weak , in Poland, in Belgium and at home.

Morever, Dawson was rebuking Big Pharma's focus on the big as well, because they saw no reason to help Dawson and his foolish crusade to inject crude natural penicillin into humans.

So his medicine was not made in any huge factory by man-made techniques, but produced by billions of tiny fungus factories at the bottom of a handful of flasks in Dawson's own lab.

Verily, the weak and the foolish would have to come to the aid of the small and the weak, if the Mighty and the Wise were unwilling.

So it was on Day One of the start of the Age of Antibiotics.

And as Dawson abruptly lifted the needle into the air before sinking it gently along the skin of the boys' arm, the Italian in us might have seen it as a medical "up yours !".

And looking back from almost 75 years later, would we be so wrong.....

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thermodynamics laws for laypeople (the Entropy of War)

First Law : Fool's GOLD !
I am frequently called upon to explain the two main laws of thermodynamics that are my two lead characters in SVE and I generally try to explain them in a pared down sort of way.

 I begin by saying that the First law deals exclusively with the quantity of mass and energy in the universe : that quantity can never get bigger or smaller --- it can merely change its state ( ie character).

By contrast, the Second law deals exclusively in quality not quantity : it says that the quality (ie the character) of mass and energy becomes steadily less useful (to K-selected creatures like humans) as parts of it become more and more widely dispersed.

"Useful" for giant K-selected beings like humanity, is really code for "concentrated" : being giant in size and hunger and few in number, one molecule of sucrose every few miles along a trail won't keep us alive.

(Thus the concept of "lack of physical concentration as an biological limiting factor" is anathema to classical economists ,who have bathed exclusively in the Kool-aid of the First Law of Thermodynamics.)

Tell us, about ALL the gold in seawater...

Glad you asked, because 'Gold molecules in seawater 'is the classic 'dividing' example.

 People of the First law always proudly *deny* that we can be running out of gold - 'gosh, the amount in the oceans alone will last us folks for, oh say, billions of years at least.'

True, predictably sigh the folks of the Second law sardonically : only too true - if we but had the trillions of trillions in dollars needed to recover those molecules of gold scattered ocean wide!

But bacteria, being widely dispersed themselves (and thus being the ultimate in r-selected lifeforms) can profitably recover those widely dispersed gold molecules : they may only need a few dozen atoms of gold to make enough copies of a vital enzyme to survive and reproduce.

We humans demonstrate the superiority of the fundamental second law to the  derived first law every time we go to war.

The embodied energy in the artillery shell and gunpowder used to propel it along and blow it up, along with the embodied energy in the building it destroys , will never cease to exist as a quantity.

But as a quality, we can never usefully use them ever again : the energy has gone off to heat up the air and ultimately the Universe.

And the tiny fragments of shell body? They are now widely scattered and rusting in the soil. The building fragments have been used as rubble to fill holes in the ground.

That ,my friends, is a very uniquely human form of entropy : a wide - and useless - dispersing of once-usefully concentrated energy and matter.....

K-selection dominates history, First Law of Thermodynamics claims

Triumph of the K-selected ?
Nothing buttressed Victorian England's famous optimism and self-confidence more than that the fact that they understood the First Law of Thermodynamics far too well (and didn't understand or accept the Second Law of Thermodynamics at all !)

That First Law implies just one thing : that Reality is, on the whole and in the long term, simple, predictable and stable.

In other words, Reality is generally at or approaching Equilibrium.

In such conditions it seemed only natural that "the K-selected of all the K-selected", Man, would totally dominate "the niche of all niches",the Universe, a niche so vast that growth and expansion of man's domain was effectively infinite.

The K or the r : who has dominated history ?

Victorians didn't use the term "K-selected" but they knew, used and believed in the concept.

Bigger is better, might is right, law of the jungle, God is on the side of the bigger battalions.

 Never ending -ever upward - progress of ever bigger and more complex beings.

Bigger cities, bigger empires, bigger companies, bigger profits : ever onward and upwards : a tumour with "room to grow" (as if cancer chose to mate with Ontario premier Bill Davis).

But some Victorians - more sentimentalists than social darwinians, chose (consciously or unconsciously) to focus on the more fundamental of the two laws of thermodynamics : the Second Law.

And it portrayed a Universe of constant, but uncertain, change : progress yes, but downwards.

A niche that steadily was getting smaller over time, with beings constantly forced to adjust to less and less incoming "useful" resources of matter and energy.

Who was right ?

Have K-selected giants dominated the world's history of life over the last 4 billion years ?

Or have tiny nimble r-selected survivors successfully endured whatever reality has thrown at them , for the last 4 billion years ?

Dinosaurs or bacteria : who has been around the longest, dominated more habitats, had more individual unique members, had the greater biomass .

The K or the r ?

Put it like that to the libertarian think tanks of Washington and even they, they of the intellect a mile wide and an inch deep, even they squirm in embarrassed silence ....

Death of "K and r selection" : for PhDs and Punksters alike, popularity is anathema

Memes are like indie bands
Nothing kills a good scientific metaphor  more stone dead than having it taken up by the detested "civilians".

Supposedly grown-up male scientists tend to act just like not-yet-grown-up male scientists : nothing kills the young male science student's interest in some obscure punk indie band faster than if  the rest of humanity also decides to like it.

Panarchy reigns....or should reign

I still think that "K and r selection" is a highly useful metaphor (and am glad that people much smarter than me, like Buzz Hollings and Brian Walker agree in its continuing value as a scientific metaphor in discussing Panarchy concepts.)

Yes, in stable statutory and economic environments, big K-selected organisms like Canada's Bell Aliant can totally dominate the Canadian media niche.

But, equally, in time of turmoil (say a drastic change in the artificial CRTC rules that restrain true competition) , nimble little r-selected media businesses might pick up the pieces when Bell fall apart.

Except that, unlike in Nature, Bell is usually judged "too big to fail" by the libertarians (sic) that dominate our government, universities and media and so remains bloated but alive, held aloft by nothing more - or less - than trillions of taxpayers' and consumers' dollars .....

Monday, September 10, 2012

Nova Scotian-born Dr Henry Dawson and the "Invention" of systemic - natural - penicillin

The "Invention" of systemic - natural - penicillin

Discovery vs Invention
Many substances were "discovered" many years (sometimes centuries) before they were (re) "invented" as having a highly useful medical effect.

It is only since Aug 1945 (and the ascendancy of Physics over Chemistry as the Queen of Science) that we have devoted all our adulation to "discovery" , rather than "invention" in medicine.

Carbolic acid and sulfa's both had early dates of discovery (versus their much later first medical use) .

Alexander Fleming is - wrongly - credited with discovering the penicillin we have used since 1940 - but what did he actually do ?

 Fleming in fact thought his penicillin would be useful as a sort of "Plan B" antiseptic -- and only if pure and synthetic.

Howard Florey - ten years later - thought his penicillin would be a useful "Plan B" back-up systemic to Sulfa -- but again, only if pure and synthetic.

By contrast, right from the start and until his death, Martin Henry Dawson thought that natural (even if impure) systemic penicillin would be the "Plan A" choice to cure the incurable, to save the unsavable --- starting with those dying of invariable fatal SBE.

Only two people in New York worked with penicillin in 1940, despite a war (with millions soon to be dying of infections) raging the world over.

 One doctor published a conventional article in JBC, reminding bacteriologists how useful crude penicillin could be as an agent to clear common throat bacteria from suspected specimens of influenza bacteria.

That was about all that penicillin was in (semi-) common use for, in 1940. Just as carbolic acid had its various non-clinical uses in the days before Lister "re-invented" it as a life-saver.

The other doctor, Dawson,  saw crude penicillin as the most likely cure for SBE.

NOT because it was a super-killer of bacteria, but for some less sexy but rather more "useful" characteristics: it combined nearly-limitless non-toxicity with an extraordinary diffusion ability.

He could thickly saturate the blood stream with penicillin without killing the patient, and hope some would still diffuse in past the thick vegetations (bio-films) of SBE, as that saturated blood rushed past the diseased heart valves at breakneck speed.

Some modern SBE patients have needed as much as a kilo of pure penicillin over many months - that's 1.67 BILLION units of penicillin - but have beaten the disease.

Still while penicillin - and only penicillin - could save an SBE in the 1940s, SBE was a prodigious user of then very scarce penicillin, so Dawson also had to morally kick start ("invent") an entire "natural penicillin" industry into existence, to deliver the amount of penicillin needed for his SBE patients.

(As a by-product, the rest of the world soon got as much penicillin as anyone could need - so much so it was soon feed to cattle as a growth stimulator, partly to absorb some of the production.)

I say his "invention" was by moral argument, because the scientific and commercial consensus then was that only synthetic (patentable) penicillin could do the trick.

But only when Dawson morally convinced the head of Pfizer, John l Smith, to take a very great financial risk and go against the consensus of his industry, did the miracle of penicillin really begin to happen....