Seeking the story behind the papers

I’m working on a review of the literature on idiopathic anaphylaxis (IA). It’s an odd form of archaeology, rather like reconstructing Mesopotamian mores and culture from a bunch of clay shipping receipts.

What I mean is that the real meat of the story, the love and hate, the likes and dislikes, the personalities, career decisions, and fear that bring it alive are not what got published in medical journals.

There’s a quip or saying, I forget how it goes exactly, but it’s something to the effect that the great man of science, who moved the field forward in his youth, must die before anyone else is allowed to make the next great inference or leap or discovery.

I’ve probably butchered that quote, but the point is that the people who at first light the way to new insights or discoveries can end up obstructing scientific progress — their power, influence and ego can do as much harm to progress at the end of their careers as their youthful enthusiasm and dedication once did to aid it.

And in the case of idiopathic anaphylaxis, I think that one influential man’s firmly held opinion may have created a kind of log jam for any real progress in explicating the etiology (or more likely, in my opinion, etiologies) of the condition. That’s my suspicion, anyway, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever know whether I’m insightful or merely deluded.

I’m not a doctor or a scientist. I stand outside the walls of both hospitals and universities. I don’t hear the gossip. I just read the yellowing publications. It’s fascinating, all the same.


Copyright © 2009 by Candace L. Van Auken. All rights reserved.


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I am a writer and an activist for people who are disabled by chronic illness. I also interested in issues related to the LGBTI community and to women making music.

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Posted in Idiopathic anaphylaxis, Research

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