Friday, June 01, 2012

My Most Interesting Cab Ride.


There was a new guy on the science-geek panel this time around.

And because we went right down to the wire deep within the bowels of the basement bunker yesterday afternoon, he and I both rushed out of the hotel to get a cab together to make sure we didn't miss our flights home.

It was a most interesting ride out to the airport.

Turns out the guy is both a practicing neurologist who sees patients with degenerative brain diseases and a lab-rat, basic scientist-type person like myself.

Which is really, really impressive on a whole lot of levels.

Because it is very, very difficult to do both.

If only just because of the time crunch.

Not to mention the double-dose of 10,000 hour training (or more) it takes to become even reasonably proficient in both realms.

So, anyway....After we got through all the hows and whats and wherefores, I asked him the really big question.

Which is 'why'.

Why does he work so hard to do both?

The answer I got was most unexpected. And it was not delivered with an ounce of self-bravado, piety or self-promotion.

"Well," he said. "My patients are still dying. And I know that any new treatments that will really help them aren't going to come from the clinic."

In other words, in this guys opinion, it is basic research that generates the discoveries that matter.

I was flummoxed.

A little while later, something kind of bizarre happened in the Ottawa airport on a Thursday evening...When they started the pre-board for all the gold-star, uber-elite, super-duper-elite and just plain elite, but still special, people who get to go on first, that group was actually bigger than the rest of the passengers, combined....To his great credit, one former Lotuslandian MP of note didn't push and shove with the rest of the politicos to get to the front of that super-special line...



kootcoot said...

Interesting Ross, it resonates with my own personal experience.

I came out of high school, a really good high school as a hard science geek planning on majoring in Chemistry or Physics but was extremely disappointed with the instruction at UCSB in that field. My Chem 1A prof seemed to be on another planet speaking to aliens in an alien language and the lectures were completely unrelated to the lab sections. I remember one midterm where I didn't answer a single question completely and with a score of 35 out of 200, got a B on the exam, because of the curve - a few more bits of questions, and a couple more points and I would have had an A on that exam.

Spring semester of freshman year I took Psychology 1A, for majors, I always took the "real" course to satisfy my outside of field requirements instead of the 101 course for non-majors, because as a regent's scholar I was encouraged to not declare my major for the first year or two and wanted to be prepared if I chose the new field as a major.

Long story short, I wound up with my prof for the course being the current president of the American Assoc. of Experimental Psychology and was seduced into studying behavior as a science. He and his wife also on faculty had written the recently published text for the course. Humanities and social subjects had been poorly presented in my scientifically superb high school (So Cal at the height of the Cold War) and suddenly I found history, English and arts fascinating.

Eventually though I concluded that if I wanted to solve the problems and answer the questions I had that Experimental Psych as being done at that time was more of a psuedo-science and I would have to also go to med school like the guy you shared the cab with and since at the time I also wanted to pursue human behavior in a meaningful manner. Since I also wanted to play guitar and spend time outside surfing or in the mountains I didn't figure I had the time to do it all and chose to go another path entirely.

karen said...

That is interesting. I have gone back to school at midlife to study psychology. A few part-time courses into an arts degree I read "A General Theory of Love," by Thomas, Amini, and Lannon, and Gabor Mate's books. Now I am backing up and taking sciences and working toward a neuroscience degree, for the same reason as your new acquaintance. I think the science is crucial.

RossK said...

Thanks koot and karen--

Interesting points.

Please understand, I was not attempting to slag neurology or clinicians in any field in any way whatsoevr.

And neither was my fellow occupant in the cab.

Instead, he was just making the point that really new ideas for therapies do not come from tweaking treatments that are already available in the clinic. Instead, they grow out of the data generated by basic scientists mucking about in the lab trying to find out how things really work.

The thing is, basic scientists like myself are pretty lousy at explaining this, especially to the public and politicians. Thus, when this guy laid it out in his simple and powerful way, it really did floor me.