Sunday, April 26, 2020


I'm OK with that.

I watched the PBS last night and their episode on Borlaug. As when they showed The Civil War, PBS didn't manage to screw this episode up. If you haven't seen it and you like just exactly how science used to be, you could do worse. If his house had a shield, "escutcheon" I'm sure it would say in vernacular, "that other's may eat".

He stepped into the clearing at the end of the path long ago. He's looking over his shoulder and saying, "I cleared it!" He was a farmer.

And a researcher. Born roughly at the same time, one American researched food and the other researched disease and it's killing vectors.
An irascible, no-holds-barred Montana farm boy born in the midst of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, Hilleman survived diphtheria and Great Depression-era poverty to earn a PhD in microbiology and chemistry at the University of Chicago. Practical and impatient, he turned down the prestige of academia and primarily worked in industry, at the pharmaceutical company E. R. Squibb & Sons and later Merck & Co, where he led vaccine research for 25 years. 
An iconoclast who slung swear words like the proverbial sailor, Hilleman helped develop an astounding 40 vaccines: to prevent measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis A and B, and other infectious diseases. The measles vaccine alone has saved an estimated one million lives a year. “Maurice’s genius was in developing vaccines, reliably reproducing them, and [taking charge] of all pharmaceutical facets, from research to marketplace,” biographer Paul A. Offit, MD, told the British Medical Journal for Hilleman’s obituary in 2005. The New York Times later noted that researchers credit him with “saving more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century.”
When you think about it, guys in the garages here in America pretty much define the 20th century America. It's a sadness that it won't often be said in the future, "sure, I made that in my parent's garage." It may take electrons and photons, dammit.

Who knows, maybe right now she's industrially at work, making "it" in her garage. As I said, one of my neighbors in Emeryville was making in her garage and selling to The City and dreamed about making it in New York, .... and moved there. I hope she made it. Rent in Emeryville, $600/month. I don't even want to write what rent was in NYC south of Maine.


Don McCollor said...

(Don McCollor)...Another forgotten American is Norman Borlaug who grew up on an Iowa farm, became an agronomist, and in the 1970s was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for saving a billion people from starvation. Not bad for a farm boy...

HMS Defiant said...

I did not forget. I wrote about him a couple of days ago. I referred just now to a book from 1880 written just after the WAR. It made me wonder if that young farm boy actually grew up hungry. It's hard to believe now but most peasants throughout history were very hungry. Somebody else ate their crops. I watched PBS documentary a couple of days ago about him and it struck me that his whole entire life was devoted to farming. If you haven't seen it, it is well worth the hour to watch.