Sunday, November 21, 2010

CAUTION: graphic descriptions of disease and violence below.

Excerpt from “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee, a doctor, describes watching a two-year-old leukemia patient’s condition deteriorate as another drug fails:

"The patient “turned increasingly lethargic. He developed a limp, the result of leukemia pressing down on his spinal cord. Joint aches appeared, and violent, migrating pains. Then the leukemia burst through one of the bones in his thigh, causing a fracture and unleashing a blindingly intense, indescribable pain."

Excerpt from "JOKER ONE: A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood" by Donovan Campbell.:

"The little kids stood in a tight knot on the sidewalk right next to our third vehicle, waving at us as we hopped in the Humvees, pleading for us to hand out more gifts.... Another explosion rang out, and the crowd of small children disintegrated into flame and smoke. From somewhere behind me, Marines started screaming out the worst words a platoon commander can hear: "Doc up! Doc up! Someone get a corpsman! Doc up!"I jumped out of the Humvee and looked around. I can't give specifics of the scene—I was too busy scanning the whole area and sorting out the enemy threat in my head—only a general impression, and it was of a macabre tableau from hell. The rocket had missed us. Instead it had impacted squarely in the middle of the crowd of small children. Dead and wounded little ones were draped limply all over the sidewalk, severed body parts mixing in with whole bodies, or in some cases flung even farther, into the street. Blood, always the blood, streamed onto the sidewalk and into the dirt, where it settled darkly in pools or rivulets. Across the whole scene drifted smoke and dust. The Marines jumped out of the vehicles and ran helter-skelter among the children, collecting the wounded and their body parts, applying first aid where they could. The docs were working frantically. I noticed, strangely enough, that they 'adn't bothered to put on their latex gloves."

Now for Jeremy's Soapbox:

We just don't get it. Why do we just accept cancer, heart disease and the other deadly afflictions? We just seem to seem to grin our teeth and bear it. People must not care, and here's why - because they only spend 0.2% of their wealth on finding ways to stop diseases. The US GDP is about $13tr and yet according to the OECD we spend only $26bn on health R&D i.e., 0.2%. Obviously we just don't care. Yet there are 1.5M new cancer cases per year in the US, and 500k cancer deaths. 1 in 4 of us will die of it, and a further 1 in 4 from heart disease. This absolutely dwarfs anything terrorism will ever do to us. If we make the effort research WILL stop these diseases. If people knew that themselves and their loved ones would be spared these diseases, wouldn't they want more than 0.2% of their income dedicated to it? Apparently not. Life is indeed cheap. We live for today, and don't care of tomorrow. Needed basic research is not funded, promising molecules are not synthesized and tested and clinical trials go unperformed.

As for energy research, improving and encouraging homegrown energy sources, while not eliminating international conflict, will surely lessen the pressure to go and fight foreign wars. Yet we pump trillions into stalemate conflicts while neglecting this simple way forward for both national and energy security. Again we fail to get it.

Science can cure cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and the other hellish diseases. Science can mitigate the need to fight foreign wars, increasing national security via energy independence with renewable energy. Curing dreaded diseases and achieving energy independence is possible. But it takes time and resources and the short-term nature of the financial world makes it difficult for industry to do the groundwork research needed.

Energy and health research and development should be a top priority over the next twenty years. We must make sure the world's brainiest kids go into science and receive the support and motivation they need to do their research.

Why do we casually accept Middle Eastern oil as the lifeblood of our energy economy, and
two-year olds dying in excruciating pain?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What makes a 16-year-old GIVE UP?

I gave up pronto, I did, in 1976, on a dark afternoon in the dark country, Wolverhampton, England.

I had feverishly trained at long jumping for four summers, several times a week. My run up was paced perfectly to hit the board, with two checkmarks, my hang technique was impeccable, and I had made it to the National Under-17 final.

There it all ended abruptly! There were eight of us, and I finished a solid, emphatic last, more than a foot behind the lad in seventh place, and a meter behind the winner, Gus Udo. Outclassed, depressed, I realised the talent just wasn't there. That's what makes a 16-year-old give up. I never jumped again. Not once.

Not so my training partner Tim Newenham who kept going, threw javelin at the Commonwealth Games, became National Javelin Coach then fitness coached the tennis player Tim Henman for five years (Henman's the English guy who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals four times and lost each one, thus firmly cementing the national sense of sporting futility!). Now, with pleasure I see Tim N. is javelin coaching Oliver Bradfield from my same old athletics club, and Oliver last year threw 63m, the best throw in the world for his age, and this year over 75m, breaking the UK U15 record by over two meters. Way to go Ollie and Tim!

As for Gus, well, his 7.08m winning jump in 1976 broke the championship record, and he also won the high jump. I couldn't seem to get away from him, because we both ended up at Harvard a few years later. He, however, was the revered co-captain of the Crimson track team while yours truly gave him a wide berth. Fingers burned, you see...

Oliver Bradfield, wearing that same Norfolk County athletics vest I wore 34 years ago (brings tears to one's eyes, it does :-)).