Scientists as superheroes?

1: On April 12, 1955, a team of scientists declared Jonas Salk’s vaccine against polio, a disease which killed thousands each year, paralyzed President Franklin Roosevelt, and sent many children into iron lungs, had been proven safe.  

“People observed moments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew factory whistles, fired salutes, . . . took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or convoked fervid assemblies therein, drank toasts, hugged children, attended church, smiled at strangers, and forgave enemies,” Richard Carter states in Steven Pinker‘s Enlightenment Now.  

New York City proposed honoring Jonas with a ticker-tape parade, which he politely declined.

2: “When I was a boy,” writes Steven, “a popular literary genre for children was the heroic biography of a medical pioneer such as Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Frederick Banting, Charles Best, William Osler, or Alexander Fleming.”

How much thought have we given lately to Karl Landsteiner? Steven asks.  

“Karl who? He only saved a billion lives by his discovery of blood groups,” he writes.

What about Abel Wolman and Linn Enslow who discovered chlorination of water, saving an estimated 177 million lives?  

Or William Foege who’s smallpox eradication strategy has saved 131 million lives?  What about Maurice Hilleman who’s discovery of eight vaccines saved an estimated 129 million lives?  Or John Enders and the measles vaccine which has saved 120 million lives?

Researchers have identified one hundred or so scientists who collectively have saved more than five billion lives.  So far.

3: “Of course hero stories don’t do justice to the way science is really done,” writes Steven.  “Scientists stand on the shoulders of giants, collaborate in teams, toil in obscurity, and aggregate ideas across worldwide webs.”

Steven’s point?  We take so much for granted in our modern world.  

“Whether it’s the scientists or the science that is ignored, the neglect of the discoveries that transformed life for the better is an indictment of our appreciation of the modern human condition,” Steven states.

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  Take a moment to be grateful for the advances in medical care and resulting increase in human life.     

Action:  Share this information with a friend or colleague.

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