"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Sharp Pain in the Gut

No, this is not about Harriet Miers. I thought we could all use a break from that disaster.

The first Nobel Prize of 2005, for Physiology and Medicine, was announced this morning. It was awarded to Drs. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, both of Australia, for their discovery in 1982 that peptic ulcers are caused by the previously unidentified bacterium Helicobacter pylori.

Unlike Nobel Prizes in physics or chemistry or, God forbid, the Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics, the winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine have usually done something that has directly, identifiably, and promptly improved the quality of life of many, many people. This is undeniably true of this year's prizewinners. Before the discovery of this infectious agent, people with ulcerating lesions of the duodenum were told that their malady was the result of stress and a difficult personality, and were told to calm down and eat bland food for the rest of their lives. Their untreated infections caused not only pain, but various cancers of the stomach and esophagus. The modern treatment for peptic ulcer is a round of inexpensive antibiotics, which is effective in virtually 100% of infections.

Drs. Warren and Marshall were treated with extreme skepticism by the medical establishment when their theory was first proposed. Conventional medical wisdom had held, since the dawn of the germ theory of disease, that infectious agents could not survive in the harshly acidic environment of the human stomach. Because there were no suitable animal patients on which to experiment (and even today, no animal other than humans has been shown to harbor H. pylori), Marshall infected himself with a culture-grown colony of Helicobacter, made himself gravely ill, and proved the hypothesis. In the wake of this discovery, the role of infectious agents in a number of other chronic conditions, including heart disease, has been looked at anew.

Science has ever developed thus -- a couple of guys get an idea, everyone else tells them they're insane, they keep working at it, they take some risks, they absorb some insults, and in the end they wipe the eyes of their former detractors. Assumptions are made to be challenged, not blindly accepted, even if they have been held for a hundred years or more.

I'm sure you get my (continental) drift.

3 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"Science has ever developed thus -- a couple of guys get an idea, everyone else tells them they're insane, they keep working at it, they take some risks, they absorb some insults, and in the end they wipe the eyes of their former detractors. Assumptions are made to be challenged, not blindly accepted, even if they have been held for a hundred years or more."

Sort of, there certainly are plenty of these stories but it's not accurate to protray this as the way science always advances. In fact the vast vast majority of scientific advancement are incremental steps. The true revolutions are rare and certainly welcome.

However assuming you are trying to support ID the problem of course is that scientific revolutions require that the revolution be scientific in the first place. Had Warren and Marshall claimed stomach cancer was caused by intelligent zygote dieties from neptune that were undetectable and yet amazingly puissant they wouldn't be elligible for the Nobel prize in medicine.

Intelligent design has never been and can never be a science for the simple reason that it's main idea is fundamentally untestable. Claims of irreducible complexity are quite simply false and have been shown as such since the days when the exact same argyument was made about the structure of the eye.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Kathy,
The bigger picture is that whenever a conventional orthodoxy is challenged, the conventional get upset.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

And the neat thing about science is that if you have convincing evidence, you overturn the orthodoxy.

Considering that the IDers have given up trying to find that evidence and instead are focused on using rhetoric and religion to convince local school boards, I'd say that day is a long way off.