Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Postwar science as TV High School : a-bomb 'jocks' vs penicillium slime 'losers'

When I was very little (and very little for my age) I was always the new kid kid in town.

'Cause we moved around a lot, back then in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Bullied a bit.

For perhaps these reasons, I found the science talk of that time always left me very puzzled.

I don't just mean science talk in school, I mean science talk everywhere --- ads, news, literally everywhere - including science fiction books and sci fi movies as well.

Mostly science talk was was all about the big and about Man - big science run by big important men in big governments and big armies and big factories in big important countries.

Science as the topdog and Science as the TV high school jock set among nations, institutions and individuals.

But when it came to life-saving antibiotics for disease-prone little kids (a subject obviously hitting close to home for me) science was always about digging up dark jungle mud, scrapping smelly slime off basement walls or dipping into the effluent laden water at the mouth of sewer outfalls.

Antibiotics, we were told, were not man-made, not synthetic, but made by tiny invisible little microbes.

And judging by where these microbes hung out, I could clearly see even then that these marvellous lifesavers were from the TV high schools' loser side of the tracks - greasers and trailer trash.

There was one more puzzling thing about these antibiotics - they all came out of the Second World War and as far as I could see, were about the old good thing to ever come out of the awful war.

We didn't talk much back then - none of us - about the advanced civilization that produced the Auschwitz medical experiments, but we had all heard and seen - in TV sci fi serials and movies, if nowhere else - what the A-bomb could do to the human body.

And we all much preferred antibiotics like penicillin, big needle and all, to the A-bomb.

And we found it hard to marry together just how any civilization could produce both such a killer bomb and such a lifesaver pill, all out of the same horrible war ....

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