Showing 11 - 20 of 143 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

A Lucky Life

Goldbloom, Richard

Last Updated: Nov-11-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Autobiography

Summary:

Born into a Montreal Jewish family in 1924, Richard Goldbloom was always sensitive to minorities and at ease with difference. Jewish and Christian, French and English, music, theatre, and the arts in all forms were prevalent and valued in the family home. He became a skilled pianist and a gifted storyteller. Richard trained in medicine with his father and at McGill University then specialized in pediatrics at Harvard with the famous Charles A. Janeway at Boston Children’s Hospital.

He met the vivacious, intrepid Ruth Schwartz at McGill when they both auditioned for a play. Also Jewish, she hailed from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. They married in 1945 before his studies were complete and had three children. Unlike many male physicians of his era, Richard was in awe of this tiny dynamo and attributes his happiness and success to her.

In 1967, the family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Richard became Professor of Pediatrics, Physician in Chief and director of research at the new children’s hospital. Ruth was instrumental in a wide array of philanthropic endeavors that inevitably involved her husband. She developed a remarkable museum at Pier 21, the point of arrival for generations of immigrants to Canada—a place to gather their stories and their achievements.

Many anecdotes about clinical practice and scientific innovations are told with accessible enthusiasm and gentle humor. He dispels myths, exposes hidden agendas and explains with clear examples the importance of listening to children and their parents. Underlying the entire narrative is a refreshing humility and gratitude for his “lucky life.” 

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Will Starling

Weir, Ian

Last Updated: Oct-16-2015
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In 1816 London, Napoleon has been defeated and troops have returned, including teenaged Will Starling, who survived the wars as assistant to the decent surgeon Alec Comrie. Will now serves Comrie in the city, still in strained circumstances.

Medical science has turned to the utility of anatomy, but material for research and teaching is scarce. Body-snatchers procure subjects from robbing graves—sometimes from murder—but they are not the only bad actors. Flamboyant, privileged Doctor Dionysius Atherton is trying to raise the dead by applying newly harnessed electricity to fresh cadavers.

From this ghoulish world of science and crime, young Will Starling tells his own tale, as your “Wery Umble Narrator.” Vivid scenes of wretched urban poverty, wanton cruelty, and selfless heroism march past to a grim ending.  

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

Linden, a professor of neuroscience, has written a book for a general audience on the subject of touch. A synthetic thinker, he combines insights from science, anatomy, neurophysiology, psychology, and social behavior. He argues that touch pervades much of human experience: “From consumer choice to sexual intercourse, from tool use to chronic pain to the process of healing, the genes, cells, and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience” (p. 5). Case studies of medical oddities enliven his account.

Chapter One, “The Skin is a Social Organ,” draws on a wide range of examples, from NBA players to vampire bats. Touch is especially important to the development of human newborns. Lab experiments have shown that the attitude of the toucher can influence the experience of the touched. English and American cultures are touch aversive.

Chapter Two discusses the neurophysiology of touch, the sensory nerves and the neurons that link to the spinal cord or to the brain. Lively examples include string players, 1900-era women with “underwear-shaped numbness,” and the Braille writing system for the blind. 

In Chapter Three, “The Anatomy of a Caress,” Linden explores further the tactile fibers that relay touch. “A caress communicates that you are safe,” he writes, and the C-tactile system is the main route from skin to the brain.

Chapter Four, “Sexual Touch,” moves beyond caress all the way to orgasm, detailing the roles of touch receptors and brain activity as well as the wide variety of personal and social contexts.

Chapter Five looks at nerve endings of human skin that detect chili peppers as hot and mint as cool. Vampire bats have another version that detect heat, useful for locating blood vessels on “donors.”

Chapter Six, “Pain and Emotion,” opens with Pakistani children who do not feel pain; they have a genetic mutation that influences a sodium channel in neurons. Pain itself varies with people’s emotions, experience, and expectations. Some mindfulness practices (yoga, Tai Chi, meditation) can lessen chronic pain.

Chapter Seven, “The Itchy and Scratchy Show,” discusses river blindness and shingles, among other topics.

Chapter Eight, “Illusion and Transcendence,” provides a helpful overview of sensory nerves and their connection to various parts of the brain. Some stimuli activate the “emotional-affective-cognitive portions,” while others activate “sensory-discriminative centers.” Touch, in general, often has strong social meanings but does not, for Linden, imply any supernatural dimensions.  

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Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Although Dr. Helman’s untimely death did not permit a final editing by this prodigious writer, the published edition is not a book-in-progress. An Amazing Murmur of the Heart: Feeling the Patient’s Beat represents a powerful and persistent continuation of observations and themes that grew out of medical education, close observations of physicians and patients, and his studies in anthropology. All of these forge an approach to patient care that is out of the ordinary.  

As his previous writings suggest, Helman is passionate about medicine but concerned, equally about the emergence of those who fail to listen and to those who might be called techno-doctors.  While professing his appreciation of and attraction to the magic machine or computer, he is mindful of its absence of emotion and ambiguity.  “For this post-human body is one that exists mainly in abstract, immaterial form.  It is a body that has become pure information.” (p. 11)

Chapters are comprised of stories about patients and their care providers, each representing complex facets that defy precise measurement, answers and conclusions.  As Helman steadily notes, the physician must be an archeologist:

Most patients present their doctors with only the broken shards of human life—the one labeled infection, disease, suffering and pain each of these shards is only a small part of a much larger picture….the doctor will have to try and reconstruct the rest. (p.66)

In general, the chapters illustrate first an initial review of medical history, and then specific patient stories.  Of the two, the story is most important.  “Mask of Skin,” for example, begins with an overview of skin from Vesalius to the present: largest organ, stripped bare by anatomists, penetrated by disease, later scanned and X-Rayed, tattooed, re-fitted by surgeons, etc.   That said, Helman the physician-anthropologist, moves from science to specific stories about patients whose skin may cover profound experiences, psychic and otherwise, that might be overlooked by a dermatologist.   Although skin is involved in each of that chapter’s stories, the willing physician must dig deeper in his observations and caring manner to make more profound discoveries.      

In a chapter entitle “Healing and Curing” the author describes an old friend, a practitioner who provides advice about patient care that ”was not included in his medical texts”.  Patients are more than a diagnosis dressed in clothes.  Doctors must make patients “feel seen, listened to, alive”.  Always patients should be regarded as people who happen to be sick.  From his admired colleague Helman learned to be an attentive listener  to the "tiny, trivial, almost invisible things" in patient encounters and stories. To truly heal as well as cure requires the doctor to empathise with what the patient is feeling thereby requiring both an act of imagination and of the heart.  The chapter, of course, continues with with stories that illustrate the points enunciated by his colleague and accepted by his disciple. 

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Polio: An American Story

Oshinsky, David

Last Updated: Sep-16-2014
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

 In his introduction, the author summarizes the history of polio’s first appearance as an epidemic in the United States, the ensuing research, subsequent applications of new information, attempts at abatement and ultimate success in the development of preventative measures.

Embedded in the successes and failures of the research applications are the details of human interactions.  Their impact on the goal of achieving near extinction of polio in America constitutes a dramatic subplot, which the historian adroitly weaves into the work.

For the reader who has only a sketchy knowledge of this important period in medical research, this history provides details of human exchanges, conflicts and resolutions necessary to bring the scientific developments to fruition.  Central among the multiple struggles rests the basic disagreement between Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, two of the most prominent scientists working against the clock to develop the most effective and safest form of immunization.  Each new surge of the disease added to the urgency of the problem as well as to the question of the best solution.  Salk felt strongly that the immune system should be stimulated by a killed virus preparation, while Sabin was equally convinced that only the living virus could provide this need.  Each view had its own cadre of supporters and of opponents.

Funding issues also troubled those fighting the polio epidemics.  The March of Dimes is credited with raising a record $55 million in the fight against polio in early 1954, becoming the first major infectious disease battle to benefit from a concerted public awareness campaign and demonstrating the power of such volunteer driven efforts to supplement public and other private funding efforts.

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The Ghost Map

Johnson, Steven

Last Updated: Aug-23-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Parts of medical history read like detective novels.  The discovery of the source of cholera by Dr. John Snow in London in 1854 is one of those episodes.  The Ghost Map tells the story of Snow's pioneering work in what have now become standard epidemiological methods.  Tracing a cholera outbreak to a local pump in a poor section of London involved many door-to-door visits working with people who weren't always cooperative, incurring the suspicion and/or ridicule of both them and the medical professionals with whom he worked.  In the course of the story the author offers reflections on the organization of cities and on public hygiene.  Snow, an out-of-the-box thinker, also helped develop surgical anesthesia. 

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Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Doctor Hanray, a PhD physicist, is an old man, apparently ill with radiation sickness, who visits his ancestral home in the present, or near past (post WWII and post atomic bomb development and detonation). He has to obtain permission from the guards who have turned his small village into a "reservation" in order to visit his parents' graves. He is greeted with military brusqueness at first until they realize who he is and then treat him with honor as one of the developers of the atomic bomb, an honor that makes him "wince" (his word) internally whenever this fact is mentioned.

While looking around and trying to get his childhood bearings, despite the absence of landmarks with all the new building and destruction of the old, Dr. Hanray spots a young lad - age 14 - coming up the road. It is he as his younger self. The younger Dr. Hanray takes him home where he meets his mother and physician father. He wishes to convince his younger self not to go into science, as his father says is his wish, clearly in order to sway the future development of the atomic bomb. He is met with a cold reception - but civil - by his mother, father and younger self until Doxy, their dog, comes in and recognizes the identity of Dr. Hanray elder with the boy. Doxy's warmth turns the mood around but in the end Dr. Hanray is unsuccessful in dissuading the boy and he leaves only to wake up on the ground outside his deserted home.    

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My Name is Mary Sutter

Oliveira, Robin

Last Updated: Feb-12-2012
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mary Sutter has been trained as a midwife by her widowed mother, and has demonstrated an unusual aptitude.  She is an eager learner, but her deepest desire is to be a surgeon.  No medical school will take her, however.  As reports reach her home town of Albany of the escalation toward civil war around Washington DC, and in the wake of a disappointment in love,  she decides to board a train and offer her services to Dorothea Dix as a nurse.  Though Miss Dix refuses her on the grounds of her youth, Mary finds her way into apprenticeship with a surgeon who, as the numbers of injured climb, needs all the hands he can get.  Slowly and grudgingly, he comes to accept her as a competent assistant and, eventually, to teach her as a respected apprentice, and the remarkable companion she has become to him.  She learns surgery in the most grueling circumstances possible, amputating shattered limbs of young men, many of whom die anyway of infection or water-borne diseases.  In the course of her sojourn in Washington she meets John Hay and, through him, President Lincoln, whose compassionate attention she manages to direct to the dire need for medical supplies.  Two men love her not only for her intelligence and courage, but for the passion she brings to the hard-won skill that, though it cannot save her brother from the respiratory illness that is rampant in the camps, or her sister from a disastrous childbirth, saves many lives and makes a wider way for women of her generation who find themselves called to medicine. 

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA is the biography of the scientist whose research James Watson and Francis Crick needed to elucidate the structure of the DNA molecule.  Even though the discovery has had profound implications for modern medicine, Franklin's contribution to it almost remained obscure.

In 1968 Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) became visible to the world beyond a small circle of scientists when Watson published The Double Helix (1968), his "personal account" of puzzling out DNA.  If not for Watson's self-incriminating candor about stealing glances at Franklin's research, we might not know how crucial her lucid x-ray diffractions of hydrated DNA were to him and Francis Crick.  However, the account that indirectly acknowledged Franklin's contribution to their work represented her in a patronizing caricature.  Since ovarian cancer took her life a decade before Watson's memoir appeared, others have been left to respond to his version of the DNA story and representation of his female colleague.  Among Franklin's defenders, Brenda Maddox offers the most complete and insightful restoration of the scientist, her research, and her life. 

Maddox's biography draws from not only the many scientific archives and personal papers of scientists Franklin worked with in England, Europe, and America, but also from previously undisclosed letters written by Franklin, her friends, and her family.  Maddox also interviewed Franklin's relatives.  Doing so allowed her to position Franklin's life within the history of her close, extended Anglo-Jewish family, generations of wealthy London publishers and bankers who experienced discrimination.  This history does more than belie some of Watson's hasty assumptions about Franklin's background.  It creates a biography of a complex woman who negotiated biases as a citizen and a scientist.     

The biography is divided into three parts.  The first narrates the story of Franklin's childhood, rigorous education, and successful career before accepting the fateful research post at King's College, London.  She's known for thinking skeptically and working mathematically.  Yet early on she showed an aptitude for three-dimensional thinking and for understanding crystalline structures.   As an undergraduate at Cambridge she speculated about a "'Geometrical basis for inheritance'" (56).

The second section concentrates on the 27 months at King's when she worked uneasily with Maurice Wilkins, who showed her revelatory x-rays of DNA to Watson.   This balanced account of a controversial episode in the history of science offers evidence that Franklin was close to drawing the same conclusion about the structure of DNA that Watson and Crick rushed into print.  This section also accessibly explains the molecular biology of her day and the painstaking physical and intellectual intricacies of making and interpreting x-rays of crystalline molecules. 

The third section reminds us that Franklin had a very productive, though short career after leaving DNA to others.  She directed research programs for the study of plant viruses, and she investigated the polio virus shortly before she died.  Respected scientists, including Crick, praised her research.   Many, unlike Wilkins, liked working with her.  More than 40 years after viewing what's known as Franklin's Photograph 51, Watson publicly acknowledged that seeing it "'was the key event'" in understanding the geometry of DNA (316).  (See the note on Photo 51 below.)        

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Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This is a huge and wonderful book about cancer, the collection of diseases that sickens people all over the globe and kills many of them. An epigraph to the book states, “A quarter of all American deaths, and about 15 percent of all deaths worldwide, will be attributed to cancer,” but the book also describes medical advances that now heal, prevent, or palliate most forms of cancer.

Mukherjee, a cancer physician and researcher, has several strong themes. He sees cancer as an affliction with a long history, a story worthy of a biography; indeed recent discoveries show it to be rooted in our genes (although external factors such as viruses, asbestos, and tobacco smoke can cause genetic disruption). The story of cancer implies a surrounding triangle, the stories of sick people, treating physicians, and biological researchers, all of which Mukherjee artfully weaves across 472 pages. Cancer has Rohrschach blot qualities: depending on time, place, and role in life, humans have perceived different attributes of cancer. As the book ends, however, there is a coalescence of scientific understanding that is satisfying—although there is certainly more to be learned and we are all still vulnerable to genetic errors and, of course, we are intractably mortal.

Another strand is the nature of stories themselves, their twists and turns, presumed early solutions, and personal and social values embedded in them. Mukherjee threads throughout the book the case of a contemporary kindergarten teacher, Carla Reed, who has a leukemia. He bookends his text with ancient Persian Queen Atossa with (presumably) breast cancer. Reed, healed by the end of the book, was Mukherjee’s patient; Atossa was described by Herodotus: both suffered emotional turmoil because of their disease.  Mukherjee understands the affective dimensions of disease for patients and caregivers alike; literature represents these in various ways, and he quotes in his chapter epigraphs and in his prose many writers who describe human experience deeply: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Susan Sontag, Charles Dickens, Thomas Mann, William Carlos Williams, Carlo Levi, and Italo Calvino, to name a few.

The primary story, however, is the interplay of cancer and a large cast of observers, investigators, doctors, scientists, activists, and government officials. Sidney Farber and Mary Lasker dominate the first 100 pages with their two-decade war against cancer. While surgery—historically dramatic and disfiguring—had been a mainstay for treatment of cancer, Farber pursued a biochemical route, which elaborated into chemotherapy, the second major approach of the late 20th century.

Mukherjee also explains ancient views, Hippocrates’, Galen’s humors, Vasealius’ anatomy, Hunter’s stages, Lister’s antisepsis, and Röntgen’s X-rays, which became the third major approach. By 1980, however, the American “War on Cancer” had not been won.

Further advances in cellular biology and genetics would be needed to make targeted molecular therapy possible.  Mukherjee tells this complicated story clearly and engagingly, showing the human investigators to be personable and dogged in their pursuits.  

Another important approach is prevention. The biostatistical work of Doll and Hill, for example, showed the links between tobacco and lung cancer. Screening, such as Pap smears and mammograms, also saved lives, but the basic cellular understanding still eluded investigators.

The final 150 pages explain the search for and discovery of genetic factors, specifically oncogenes. Harold Varmus and J. Michael Bishop were the leaders, winning a Nobel Prize in 1989. Bert Vogelstein, Judah Folkman, Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan took the work further, opening the doors for such drugs as Herceptin, Gleevec, and Avastin. 

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