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J^HO KILLED COCK ROBIN? CARL A. DRAGSTEDT* In view ofthe deadly question posed by the title ofthis paper, I would like to begin with the following excerpt from Dr. Treloar's treatise entitled "The Enigma ofthe Cause ofDeath": Assertions that selected diseases are the "great killers ofmankind" are common in high places. National societies promoting campaigns for funds to study those diseases contend for each death to be assigned to the disease oftheir special interest; thus will their claims for priority incharitable donation gain the desired weight provided by statistical evidence. Vital statisticians routinely respond in such ways as fall within their province to "fix the blame," or, in more formal language, to secure with scientific accuracy, from the medical profession, coroners, or others, a specification ofthe cause ofeach death. Pursuit ofthis objective is certainly laudablefrom allconventional viewpoints, but in so conforming one may becomeavictim ofhabit rather than analertpursuer ofwell reasoned objectives. . . . It is a false proposition that each death is a response to a single cause. Ofthis we are well aware. Admission of multiple causation for each death is tacit in the [death] certificate itself. We have long striven for entry ofa sequence ofcauses rather than a single cause. As a result ofthis, the selection ofone cause for tabulation purposes has itselfbecome a major problem for us, leading to muchjuggling ofterms, rules, and instructions to the distress ofthe medical profession as well as the statisticians. Efforts in recent years to solve the problems oftabulation and interpretation ofassignment ofmultiple causes represent an attack on a basic problem and clearly indicate that causation ofdeath is not considered singular. This paper deals with a different sort ofdeath, but I hope to show that there is again the same sort ofenigma as to the cause ofdeath; or, rather, that it also is an affair of multiple causation. The death referred to is the decline and cessation ofimportant creative work on the part ofa research scientist. I should repeat that statement because it may sound strange to many of you. But to the dyed-in-the-wool investigator, cessation of scientific research is a form of death. In 1835 two great chemists, J. J. Berzelius andJ. A. B. Dumas, met in Paris. According to Dumas's brother, upon entering the room where Dumas was waiting for him, this most illustrious chemist took Dumas by * Department of Pharmacology, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago, Illinois. This paper was read before The Chicago Literary Club on October 9, 1961. 364 Carl A. Dragstedt · Who Killed Cock Robin? Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Spring 1962 thehand andasked: "How oldare you?" "Thirty-five." "Well youhave a little while ofprofitable research ahead ofyou, but not too much. Beyond forty one does nothing important in the field ofchemistry." Although this arresting statement may be apocryphal, it challenged Dr. Harvey C. Lehman, professor ofpsychology at Ohio University, to make an exhaustive inquiry into the basis orjustification for Berzelius' remark. This he did by correlating the important researches ofa number ofchemists with their respective ages ofaccomplishment. A part ofhis findings are summed up in this statement: "When due allowance is made for the death rate, it is found that, collectively, the 2500 greatest ofthe world's chemists have attained their maximum production rate at ages 30 to 34 inclusive." By implication, this means that they began to die, scientifically speaking, shortly after this age, and while we know from our acquaintance with certain members ofthis club that there are notable exceptions to this rule, these exceptions are matched presumably by some very early deaths to keep the averages at these figures. While Lehman's studies were restricted to chemists, it is probable that similar findings would be obtained in other areas. As to the reasons for the decline and cessation of productive research , Lehman states: "At present we are in no position to give an adequate explanation. Undoubtedly multiple causation operates in these complex behaviors and no condition as yet discovered is likely ofitselfto be a sufficient or necessary cause." It is my hope that the detailed protocol ofa scientific death might illustrate and delineate this multiple causation hypothesis, and at the same time indicate that the cause ofsuch deaths is not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 364-376
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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