Showing 31 - 40 of 202 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science"

Doctor Pascal

Zola, Emile

Last Updated: Aug-09-2010

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Doctor Pascal practiced medicine for twelve years. He now lives off his investments and has devoted his life to research on heredity. He has a giant armoire filled with his findings, including files on each of his family members. His mother, Madame Rougon, worries about her son. She had expected him to become a famous doctor. Instead, he accumulates possibly scandalous files about his family.

Madama Rougon tries to enlist Clotilde, Doctor Pascal’s niece, into her cause. Clotilde lives with her uncle and is loyal to him, but she sometimes fears that her uncle is tampering with God’s plans. One day, Clotilde gives in to Madame Rougon’s pleadings and gives her the key to the armoire. Dr. Pascal surprises them rifling through his work. He feels as if his family has betrayed him.

Clotilde repents, but when a Capuchin preacher comes to town, she again changes her mind and tries once more to destroy the files. Pascal once again catches her and to regain her trust tells her all about his project. She is half-convinced and promises to think it over.

She is also considering a marriage proposal from Dr. Ramond, whom she consults when Pascal falls ill. Pascal is afraid he is going mad, but he recovers, having received a serum Ramond invented. At this point, Pascal realizes he is in love with Clotilde, but so as not to interfere in her young life, he presses her to marry Ramond. She admits she can’t for she loves Pascal.

They become lovers, but Clotilde is called away to her ill brother in Paris. She returns home when she discovers that she is pregnant, but Pascal dies two hours before her arrival. Before his death, he had completed his files, but M. Rougon and his old servant Martine burn them.

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Annotated by:
Schilling, Carol

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Extraordinary Measures, based on events in the life of John Crowley and his family, dramatizes the father's quest to find a cure for Pompe disease, a relatively rare genetic condition that afflicts two of his three children.  The quest brings into play three powerful, often competing human motives:  a father's love for his children, a scientist's pursuit of knowledge and recognition, and a corporation's mandate for profits.  Crowley (Brendan Fraser), an energetic marketing executive, and his wife Aileen (Keri Russell) are told that their children Megan (Meredith Droeger), age eight, and Patrick (Diego Velazquez), age six, have reached the upper limits of their life expectancies.

When Megan, an affectionate, playful, and clear-sighted child, is rushed to the hospital with symptomatic heart and respiratory failure, a young physician empathically encourages the parents to think of their only daughter's immanent death as a "blessing" that will end her suffering.  However, Megan survives.  "So I guess you could say we dodged that blessing," Crowley echoes back to the doctor.  Seeing Megan's will to live reinforces John's wish to make her well, and he abruptly abandons his promising career to find a medical researcher who can reverse Pompe's effects. 

Immersing himself in medical journals and websites, John discovers the intriguing research of Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford).  A cranky, renegade scientist who thinks to the beat of rock music blasting from a boom box, Stonehill has developed a cutting-edge theory about correcting the enzyme deficiency in the cells of people with Pompe, which gradually weakens skeletal, respiratory, and heart muscles.  However, to produce a treatment derived from his theory, he needs more funding.  John immediately creates a fund to support Pompe research, and he and Stonehill form a mutually exasperating partnership.  They lock horns with each other, venture capitalists, and finally a large genomic research corporation, Zymagen.

Despite the scientist's abrasive ways, Zymagen gives Stonehill a lab and creates employment for Crowley.  However, the two confront the company's culture of rigorous competition among its scientists and its focus on profit margins that ignore the fates of individual children.  When the Zymagen scientists develop a promising therapy, they decide to offer the treatment only to infants, who are most likely to experience benefits.  Disqualifying Crowley's children from the promising trials, this decision, combined with Crowley's obvious conflict of interest, creates the film's final obstacle.  Stonehill and the executives uncharacteristically collaborate to overcome it. 

This ending might seem implausibly neat, but it's consistent with the film's mostly evenhanded approach to the dilemmas of pursuing treatments for orphan diseases.  Toward the end, we witness even Crowley, albeit uncomfortably, reaching beyond his fatherly motives for the Pompe project and turning his argument for bringing the treatment to market from children to profits.  The longer the patients live, John assures the executives, the more treatments Zymagen will sell.  The film leaves space for viewers to ask to what extent Crowley's argument creates a fair compromise or opens an ethical quandary.  In a closing narration, the film moves beyond the fictionalized characters and plot to the real Crowley children and a tempered victory.  Yes, the Pompe treatment stopped the progression of the disease and improved Megan's and Patrick's hearts.  But it has not cured the Crowley children, and almost certainly it won't.   The treatments do, however, show more success when taken at the onset of symptoms.      

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Mendel's Dwarf

Mawer, Simon

Last Updated: Jun-15-2010
Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel interweaves facts about the history of genetics with compelling fictional characters and plots in two connected stories. The primary story traces the life and work of the fictional Benedict Lambert, brilliant 20th Century geneticist, and an achondroplastic dwarf; his research is to discover the gene mutation which has caused his condition. He is also the great-great-great nephew of Gregor Mendel.

The life and genetic work of Gregor Mendel comprise the second story. Intersecting with Gregor Mendel's 19th Century scientific experiments to artificially fertilize pea plants is Lambert's affair with married librarian Jean Piercey. When Jean becomes pregnant, she decides on termination after learning from Benedict that there is "a fifty-fifty change of ending up like me . . . a second Benedict, another squat and crumpled creature betrayed by mutation and the courtly dance of chromosomes . . . " (180).

By the novel's end, Mendel's work has been published, and dismissed; Benedict Lambert has discovered the location of the gene mutation which causes achondroplastic dwarfism, publishes the results in Nature, and is asked to make a presentation on "the New Eugenics". Jean regrets the abortion, and wants Benedict's child, but a ?normal" one. In an attempt to help Jean in her quest, Benedict uses his genetic knowledge, his laboratory privileges, and his sperm without the knowledge or consent of Jean's husband.

In the lab with eight of Jean's fertilized embryos Lambert must decide: "Four of the embryos are proto-Benedicts, proto-dwarf; the other four are, for want of a better word normal. How should he choose?" The results of this scientific and personal act of fertilization are unexpected and tragic.

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Summary:

Some 40 years after a ceasefire that ended the Cylon wars, the 12 human colonies across the galaxy have been lulled into a state of calm complacence.  This is abruptly interrupted by a Cylon attack that annihilates billions of humans, leaving only 50,000 survivors in a small fleet of ships, led by the one remaining ship from the Colonial Fleet, the Battlestar Galactica.  Fleeing the Cylons, they set out to find the legendary 13th Colony: Earth.

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Love in the Ruins

Percy, Walker

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

First published in 1971 and subtitled, The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, the novel is a satire of the limits of technology, the medicalization of the human spirit, and the trivializing tendencies of 20th century medical science. Dr. Tom More is an "impaired" psychiatrist: an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a half-hearted clinician. He develops the lapsometer, a kind of stethoscope of the human spirit with which he plans to cure humankind’s spiritual illnesses. Living daily with the contempt of his colleagues, he tries to prove himself and runs into all kinds of mischief, allowing the author to spoof the ills of medicine as it is practiced today.

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Suburban Shaman

Helman, Cecil

Last Updated: Feb-22-2010
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Because this lucid, rich, and incisive book has not, as yet, been published in the United States, it has not acquired the readership it deserves. For those teaching Medical Humanities or those interested in broader or more global stories and perspectives about physician training, practice, and experiences, Helman’s most recent publication should be considered.

Part One (“Setting Out”) begins in South Africa where Helman’s family, comprised of a dozen doctors, has lived for generations and where his own medical studies occurred. As a child, he accompanied his father on rounds while other children spent holidays at the beach. Before long he discovered how hospitals, during the madness of Apartheid, were to “some extent a distorted mirror-image of the world outside” (3). Appalled by the differences in care and treatment, the keenly aware young man kept notes. His vivid observations of the harsh context of social injustices provide an unequivocal, eloquent, and disturbing critique of medicine then and there. His acute observations of physician behaviors and indigent populations in the city and in the bush contribute, as readers discover in later chapters, to the author’s expanded and compelling interests in cultural anthropology.

Part Two (“The Family Doctor”) leads to London. “After all the heat and light and space of Africa, London—with its low leaden sky and constant drizzle—was like living inside a Tupperware box, one stored deep inside a refrigerator” (47). In the 60s Helman’s migration required an adjustment to a world of technology and order, where as a family practitioner, he had become, in fact, a suburban shaman. In any society, patients wanted “relief from discomfort, relief from anxiety, a relationship of compassion and care, some explanation of what has gone wrong, and why, and a sense of order or meaning imposed on the apparent chaos of their personal suffering to help them make sense of it and to cope with it” (xvi).

Gradually Helman saw connections between the role of family physician and traditional healer: both involved an understanding of “not only a body’s internal equilibrium but also the equilibrium of the patient’s relationships with the world he or she lives in and how treatment should aim not only to treat the diseased organ but also to restore the patient’s life that equilibrium of relationships” (xvii). His encounters with patients and the stories they reveal suggest how important these often overlooked connections are and why they ought to be included in medical training and practice.

By the time readers reach Part Three ("States of the Art”), the author has moved into broader realms of thinking, in which medicine and illnesses are examined anthropologically. After 27 years of clinical practice Helman’s white coat and stethoscope are placed on a hook. Now, as a credentialed anthropologist at University College London, his larger lens allows for sustained scrutiny of the complexities, ambiguities, and nuances in such chapters as “Grand Rounds,” “Hospitals,” “Placebos,” “Third Worlds.” Helman’s range of experiences, multi-disciplinary training, intellectual conclusions, and abundant common sense argues for techno-doctors to learn from holistic practitioners. Whether devastating or humorous, the critiques reflect not just care provision but shared human capacities: the insights are thoughtful and fresh and very worthwhile.

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The Woman Who Can't Forget

Price, Jill

Last Updated: Feb-12-2010
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This memoir, written with the help of Bart Davis, was published two years after the publication of a study that documented Price's "hyperthymestic syndrome"--the exceptional comprehensive memory of the details of daily life that dates back to her early adolescence.  Price tells of the relief and fascination she felt in working with researchers at U.C. Irvine to arrive at a diagnosis of her rare, and in some ways unprecedented, condition.  The narrative includes both her own account of the testing she underwent for purposes of diagnosis and brain mapping, and her story of growing up with an exceptional, and in some ways burdensome capacity to remember with detailed accuracy everything that happened, by date, including vivid replication of the emotions and sense experiences of the remembered moment.  Her story includes a particularly thoughtful chapter on losing her husband suddenly and the role of memory in mourning.

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Somatic Fictions

Vrettos, Athena

Last Updated: Feb-11-2010
Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Treatise

Summary:

This scholarly study examines "what it meant to ’talk of diseases’ in the second half of the nineteenth century" (2) and how discourses of health and illness were a vehicle for exploring individual and social identities, including gendered, racialized, and national identities. Narratives of physical illness are not simply artifacts of Victorian medical culture, Vrettos argues, but offer examples of the pervasive "master narratives" that shaped Victorian middle-class culture.

Individual chapters focus on the ill female body as an expressive text with variable legibility (and on nurses as privileged readers of ill bodies); "nervous illness" and the role of narrative in reconstructing the self; "neuromimesis" or neurotic imitation of disease; and the "politics of fitness and its relation to imperialist ideology." Vrettos discusses fictional works by Louisa May Alcott, (Hospital Sketches; see this database) Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot (Middlemarch; see this database), H. Rider Haggard, Henry James, Bram Stoker, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

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The Year of Release

Guista, Michael

Last Updated: Jan-21-2010
Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A college professor who suffers from Tourette's disorder deals with two challenging students in his English 101 class. Having spent years in therapy, Professor Jorge is now fairly content with his life in spite of the frequent vocal and motor tics that he labors to suppress. Allen Ramsey is the freshman prodigy who induces Jorge to reassess the implications of his existence. Anna is an undergraduate who is preoccupied with death. She has a crush on Jorge and leaves a suicide note in his office box.

One day Allen is late for class because he has a seizure. His seizures increase in frequency, but Allen doesn't mind them. He relishes them. Allen acknowledges that "It's as though I can smell my thoughts" during a seizure and "the world just changes" (170). Jorge finds Allen on the campus ground in a postictal state. He summons an ambulance, and Allen is admitted to the hospital.

When Allen returns to class weeks later, he is no longer the same person. With the use of medication and possibly surgery, doctors have abolished his seizures along with his former personality. Allen receives an "Incomplete" grade for the class. The semester's experience has Jorge lamenting Allen's shocking transformation, attempting to convince Anna of life's worth, and mulling the magnitude of his words.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This great literate novel is the tale of Hans Castorp, the "delicate child of life" whom we first meet at age 23, ambivalently embarking on a career as a ship-building engineer in his home city of Hamburg, Germany. Before beginning his professional work, however, he journeys on what is intended to be a vacation and a pro forma visit to see his tubercular cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, at a sanatorium in the mountain town of Davos, Switzerland. Yet as the train pursues its course through the alpine scenery, Hans and the reader become aware that this is no ordinary journey. The impressionable Hans is transported away from the life and obligations he has known, to the rarefied mountain environment and insular community of the sanatorium.

At first uneasy, he soon becomes fascinated with and drawn to the routine established for the "consumptives" and to the social scene which flourishes there. Ordinary life seems increasingly unreal to him; his perceptions are heightened and he becomes aware of his physical, spiritual, and emotional vulnerability, as well as of his own sexuality. He is greatly attracted to one of the patients, a married woman of Slavic background, Madame Clavdia Chauchat. She reminds him of a schoolboy to whom he had been strangely drawn as a child. The turmoil brought on by this romantic obsession seems even to be reflected in his physical state, which is unstable and feverish.

As his intended stay of three weeks nears its close, the director of the sanatorium advises Hans to stay on to recuperate from a heavy cold, which appears to reveal an underlying case of tuberculosis. Hans is almost relieved at this news, for it provides him with a reason for remaining near Madame Chauchat as well as the opportunity to continue intriguing, profound discussions and cogitation about illness, life, time, death, religion and world view initiated by another patient, Herr Settembrini.

Settembrini is an Italian man of letters and humanist who believes that reason and the intellect must and will prevail, in daily life as well as in world affairs. He is contemptuous of the foolish flirtations and empty talk in which most of the sanatorium inhabitants indulge, and warns Hans repeatedly of the dangers inherent in cutting off all ties to real life and responsibility.

Nevertheless, Hans remains at the sanatorium for seven years, freeing himself from the constraints and conventions of life "in the flatlands" and instead engaging in a prolonged "questioning of the universe." This questioning includes a critical flirtation with death, stunningly described in the chapter, "Snow." Hans does not return home until the outbreak of World War I, in which he fights and survives.

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