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THE RESEARCH SCIENTIST IN MODERN FICTION fAY TEPPERMAN, M.D.* If an apology is needed for discussing research scientists and fiction, it can be dispensed with quickly. The subject ofresearch scientists, their importance in thenational defense effort, and whether ornotRussiahas found a way ofproducing more ofthem than we can are all things ofthe greatest topical interest. All kinds of educators, scientists, philosophers, and ordinary taxpayers appear to be writing to the newspapers in very large numbers with a bewildering variety ofrigidly held opinions on how we can beat the Communists in the egghead production race. The implication is strong that people who do research are a commodity, part of the gross national product, and that we can increase their numbers simply by feeding more raw material into one end of an assembly line. Furthermore, when they emerge from the other end, factory fresh, there is no doubt that they will work on missiles, weapons, space travel, cancer cures, and all the rest with great industry and effectiveness. This will make the Russians look extremely silly, the uncommitted nations ofthe world will gasp in admiration at our achievements, and we will have struck another crashing blow for the Free World! It should be unnecessary to point out that the research scientist has made substantia] contributions to the remarkable advances in medicine that have taken place in the past half-century and more. Although many of us, in ourjuvenile Walter Mitty fantasies, saw ourselves in the role ofpracticing physician ministering to the sick patient, it should have dawned on us as we progressed through medical school that many of the most effective things the practicing physician can do for his patient had their beginnings in laboratory investigations. Many of these investigations were made by * Professor of Experimental Medicine, Department ofPharmacology, State University ofNew York, Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse, New York. This paper was presented at a meeting ofthe Syracuse History ofMedicine Society, May 12, 1959. The author is grateful to Harcourt, Brace and Company for permission to quote from Arrowsmith and to Charles Scribner's Sons for permission to quote from The Search. 547 physicists, chemists, biologists, microbiologists, and others who did not deliberately set out to aid the physician in caring for his patient but were simply gratifying their personal curiosity about some infinitesimally small facet of the universe. Sometimes such people are pleasantly astonished when something they do turns out to have practical value. But how can I presume to discussfiction in a history society? It sounds like a downright frivolous thing to do, but I don't think it is. Fiction and history are not as readily distinguishable from each other as one might imagine. Some works which purport to be history are transparently full offiction; witness the historian who develops a theory ofhistory and then proceeds to write a history ofthe world, full ofwild flights offancy, that neatly substantiates his theory. Fiction, poetry, and the drama are often historically revealing about the attitudes and points ofview of men and are, in a broad sense, part of man's historical record. A work of fiction often tells us moreabouthow it felt to live through a particular experience than the best documented historical account can tell. The best fiction and the best history contain fragments ofthe truth. Ifyou want to study the strategy, tactics, and logistics ofNapoleon's Russian campaign, you read military textbooks on the subject. Ifyou want to know what it was like to live through the campaign, you read War and Peace. Can you say that one is more true than the other? Possibly, then, we may find a few picrograms oftruth in the portraits ofresearch scientists painted by four novelists during the past forty years. Even ifwe don't, it should be entertaining to discover what the novelists think ofindividual investigators, their aspirations, their human limitations, their disappointments, their moments of high exhilaration, and their failures. Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley Tucked away in a remote neuronal circuit in my brain was the recollection ofa Huxley novel I had read thirty years ago in which a scientist plays a prominent role. So I feread Antic Hay and I rediscovered Shearwater, the physiologist. In order to understand...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 547-559
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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