Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Some burr, some saddle

Dr Henry Dawson had never given a single solitary thought to making natural penicillin in industrial pilot plant quantities or of curing the incurable SBE with the same -- until he had had more than his fill of the overheard (and highly irritable) table talk of his colleagues, in the six critical months between May and October 1940.

As we shall see, these colleagues, some who were Dawson's senior bosses at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Centre (one of the world's top research hospitals) were fully representative of Anglo-American scientific elite throughout the entire war, in their thinking.

here cue Anne Lindbergh's "Wave of the Future"

Some of Dawson's colleagues were intent on accepting Germany's swift continental conquests, seeing no sense in wasting money and lives on trying to saving feeble democracy-weakened Britain; better to accept Hitler's conquests as a fait accompli and negotiate a carving up of spheres of influence between America in the New World and Pacific and the Nazis in Western Europe and North Africa.

Others were aghast at the idea that tiny, simple, stupid, microbes, above all the dreadful fungus slime, would be permitted to make a lifesaving medicine for injecting into the sacred temple of the human body --- a job that human chemists just had to be able to do better and cheaper. (They just had to.)

pissing contest - in the middle of a war for survival - for title of "the smartest chemists in the universe"

Still others, who had watched two dozen small nations fall under the Axis sword with great indifference, were excited about planning now for a possible future war.

For the move to war medicine - with the all the priority to helping the  fit 1As - would allow them to beat back efforts at social medicine , oriented to treating the 4Fs of society  and to treating all people to equal essential medical care, even if they couldn't pay very much or had a darker skin than the doctors and nurses treating them.

All of this, to Dawson, was symptomatic of a much larger problem : the failure of the remaining free world to form an big tent inclusive coalition to beat the much smaller Axis powers.

No to darkies, fungus slime or the 4Fs of this world

The British empire alone had a huge demographic advantage in military manpower over the combined Axis, if only London was willing to permit serious numbers of Africans and Asians into its armed forces.

But just medical science instantly rejected the offer of help from the slimy fungus to grow penicillin, so too the Allies instantly rejected offers of help from the darkie races.

So to, if Norway was reluctant to help Britain when it saw how Britain abandoned the Czechs, how could the Allies hope to rally the free world morally when the first thing it did on declaration of war was to abandon SBE patients to death by indifference ?

True inclusive coalitions meant both seeking help from anywhere and anybody and also in helping anybody from anywhere.

What made Dawson's ear so acute I can not say, but he unerringly picked the two subjects (using natural penicillin over synthetic) (fairly treating SBE patients with scarce wartime medical care) that the Allied scientific elite was determined not to bow on.

Their bolshie stubbornness made for the saddle --- Dawson's sticking to natural penicillin for SBEs became their constant burr.

Now eventually government, the military and business bowed to public disapproval and did mass produce natural penicillin and did fairly treat all 4Fs and SBEs.

But the scientific elite did not bend an inch --- dictators, commercial companies and Presidents might have to bend to the hoi polloi's disapproval,  but never scientists.

why oh why did we bomb Hiroshima instead of Stockholm ?

So right to the end of the war, penicillin scientists Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming stuck to supporting all out efforts to first seeing patented commercial synthetic penicillin before wartime mass production and for resisting wasting wartime penicillin on working class louts with 'incurable' SBE  and in fact on wasting it upon civilians in general.

They were totally wrong, morally and scientifically ---- which is why no doubt that the Swedes awarded them the Nobel prizes for the successful launch of mass produced natural-penicillin-for-all in the middle of an all out war...

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