“Hey You, Get Busy” Bolted in Place

(p. D8) Most scientists rely on grants from the federal government and private foundations to finance their work. Michael W. Davidson turned to neckties.
Mr. Davidson, who died on Dec. 24 [2015] at 65, used sophisticated microscopes to create stunning, psychedelic images of crystallized substances like DNA and hormones, and he contributed to Nobel Prize-honored research about the inner workings of cells. His images were on the covers of scientific journals and, as unlikely as it might seem, on neckwear.
They found their way into men’s apparel in the early 1990s, when Mr. Davidson called Irwin Sternberg, the president of the necktie company Stonehenge Ltd., proposing a series of ties using his ultramagnified, wildly colorful images of vitamins. Mr. Sternberg, though skeptical, agreed to take a look.
“When I saw Michael’s work, I started to think I couldn’t get a designer more talented,” Mr. Sternberg said in an interview.
Stonehenge released a line of “vitamin ties” in September 1993. A year later, neckties with Mr. Davidson’s images of moon rocks were released on the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar mission. Ties with images of cocktails, beer and wine followed. Millions of ties were sold, and a slice of the profits — millions of dollars — went to charity. Mr. Davidson’s share went to his laboratory work at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
. . .
Mr. Davidson started college at Georgia Southern University, then attended Oglethorpe University in Georgia before earning a chemistry degree at Georgia State.
He arrived at Florida State in the early 1980s as a graduate student. He quit to start a business chrome-plating auto parts.
A few years later, Mr. Davidson returned to Florida State as a microscopy technician for a materials research laboratory. “He just came in and said, ‘I think there are things we can do,’ and he got hired,” said Kirby Kemper, a retired Florida State physics professor who was then associate chairman of the physics department.
To produce his work, Mr. Davidson hired an army of assistants. Some were undergraduates. Others were out of school with no credentials in the field. But the work helped propel many of them to successful jobs in academia and industry.
Eric Clark had been a nurse when Mr. Davidson hired him as an assistant in 1999. Now, as an application developer, he is continuing Mr. Davidson’s educational website and scientific illustration operations. (The molecular biology laboratory was disbanded.)
Mr. Davidson worked seven days a week, and he expected the same of the people who worked with him. On his door was a large metal sign that said, “Hey you, get busy.” MagLab officials told him to take it down. Mr. Davidson bolted it in place, and it is still there.

For the full obituary, see:
KENNETH CHANG. “Michael W. Davidson, 65, a Scientist Who Had an Artist’s Eye for Detail.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 16, 2016): D8.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JAN. 12, 2016, and has the title “Michael W. Davidson, a Success in Microscopes and Neckwear, Dies at 65.”)

Cooking Over Indoor Wood Fires Kills Millions

(p. A13) Indoor air pollution, caused mainly by cooking over wood fires indoors, is the world’s biggest cause of environmental death. It kills an estimated four million people every year, as noted by the nonprofit science news website, SciDev.Net. Getting fossil-fueled electricity and gas to them is the cheapest and quickest way to save their lives. To argue that the increasingly small risk of dangerous climate change many decades hence is something they should be more worried about is positively obscene.

For the full commentary, see:
MATT RIDLEY. “The Green Scare Problem; Raising constant alarms–about fracking, pesticides, GMO food–in the name of safety is a dangerous game.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Aug. 13, 2015): A13.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Aug. 13, 2015.)

Regulations Slow Eradication of Cancer

(p. D3) . . . the triumph of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s and then for many other tumors opened an interlocking series of dilemmas. In the clinic and the hospital, the new protocols demanded that doctors muster the courage to make their patients very sick in order to make them well. But how sick was too sick? The risks and benefits of the powerful treatments now needed careful, deliberate assessment at every stage of the disease.
Similar questions dogged those who developed, evaluated and regulated the drugs. How poisonous could these agents safely be? How assiduously should desperate patients be saved by their government from pharmaceutical risk?
Dr. DeVita stands firmly among those affirming cancer patients’ right to aggressive treatment. One particular exchange summarizes his philosophy: “Do your patients speak to you after you do this to them?” one skeptic asked him early on. “The answer is yes,” he replied, “and for a lot longer.”
The regulatory caution of the Food and Drug Administration has been a thorn in his side for decades: “I’d like to be able to say that as cancer drugs have become increasingly more complex and sophisticated, the F.D.A. has as well. But it has not.” In fact, he writes, “the rate-limiting step in eradicating cancer today is not the science but the regulatory environment we work in.”

For the full review, see:
ABIGAIL ZUGER, M.D. “An Unbowed Warrior.” The New York Times (Tues., Dec.. 1, 2015): D3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date NOV. 30, 2015, and has the title “Review: Science and Politics Collide in ‘The Death of Cancer’.”)

The book under review, is:
DeVita, Vincent T., and Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable–and How We Can Get There. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015.

Anti-GMO Chipotle No Longer Wears Health Halo

(p. A13) . . . if you need an anecdote for how the year unfolded for the anti-GMO movement, look no further than Chipotle. Last spring the fast food company announced with great fanfare that it would take GMO ingredients off its menu. It was all downhill after that. As was quickly pointed out, Chipotle wasn’t being fully truthful, since its soft drinks and cheese contain genetically modified ingredients, and its meat comes from animals fed genetically modified grains. A lawsuit filed in California, which is pending, accused Chipotle of false advertising and deceptive marketing.
Then cases of food-borne illnesses hit Chipotle locations across the country. Supporters of traditional agriculture, who have felt maligned by the burrito company, started keeping a tally of the number of people sickened by Chipotle’s food (ongoing, but more than 300) versus the number sickened by GMOs (zero). As the year winds to a close, the company that once wore the restaurant industry’s health halo is apologizing, preparing for lawsuits, recentralizing its vegetable preparation and cutting locally sourced ingredients.

For the full commentary, see:
JULIE KELLY. “The March of Genetic Food Progress; ‘Farmaceuticals’ and other GM products are slowly being approved, despite political scare campaigns.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Dec. 30, 2015): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 29, 2015.)

In Poor Province, Chinese Communists Spend Over $400,000 Building Giant Golden Statue of Mao, Starver of Millions of the Proletariat

(p. B1) ZHUSHIGANG, China — Just two days after images of a giant gold-colored statue of Mao in the bare fields of Henan Province spread across the Internet, the statue was gone — torn down apparently on the orders of embarrassed local officials.
Villagers said demolition teams arrived on Thursday morning [January 7, 2016], and by Friday morning [January 8, 2016], only a pile of rubble remained.
The 120-foot-tall statue, which local media reports said cost $465,000, had been under construction for months and was nearing completion when it began to attract attention.
Some commenters on social media denounced the extravagance of the colossus in a poor, rural part of China, where the money might have been better spent on education or health care.
. . .
Others pointed out the historical irony of erecting the statue in one of the provinces worst hit by the famine caused by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward.
. . .
Statues of Mao, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, were once ubiquitous in China, and many survive. President Xi Jinping has often praised Mao as a model for China today, saying Mao’s era was one when officials were selfless and honest.
But some of his policies were disastrous, including the forced agricultural collectivization and industrialization of the Great Leap Forward, which historians blame for a famine in which tens of millions of people died.

For the full story, see:
DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW. “An Outcry Helps Topple a Mao Statue 120 Feet Tall.” The New York Times (Sat., JAN. 9, 2016): A4.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed dates, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 8, 2016, and has the title “Golden Mao Statue in China, Nearly Finished, Is Brought Down by Criticism.”)

Private Start-Ups Pursue Fusion Approaches Ignored by Government

(p. B5) Fusion reactions release no carbon dioxide. Their fuel, derived from water, is abundant. Compared with contemporary nuclear reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms apart, a fusion plant would produce little radioactive waste.
The possibilities have attracted Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. He has invested in General Fusion, a start-up in British Columbia, through Bezos Expeditions, the firm that manages his venture capital investments. Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, is betting on another fusion company, Tri Alpha Energy, based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., an hour south of Los Angeles, through his venture arm, Vulcan Capital.
Peter Thiel — the co-founder of PayPal, who once lamented the superficiality of the technology sector by saying, “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters” — has invested in a third fusion start-up, Helion Energy, based near Seattle, through Mithril Capital Management.
Government money fueled a surge in fusion research in the 1970s, but the fusion budget was cut nearly in half over the next decade. Federal research narrowed on what scientists saw as the most promising prototype — a machine called a tokamak, which uses magnets to contain and fuse a spinning, doughnut-shape cloud of hydrogen.
Today’s start-ups are trying to perfect some of the ideas that the government left by the wayside.
After earning his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine, in the mid-1990s, Michl Binderbauer had trouble securing federal funds to research an alternative approach to fusion that the American government briefly explored — one that adds the element boron into the hydrogen fuel. The advantage of the mixture is that the reaction does not fling off neutrons that, like shrapnel, can wear down machine parts and make them radioactive.
Mr. Binderbauer, along with his Ph.D. adviser, Norman Rostoker, founded Tri Alpha Energy, eventually raising money from the venture capital arms of Mr. Allen and the Rockefeller family. The company has raised over $200 million.

For the full story, see:
DINO GRANDONI. “Start-Ups Take on Challenge of Fusion.” The New York Times (Mon., OCT. 26, 2015): B1 & B5.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 25, 2015, and has the title “Start-Ups Take On Challenge of Nuclear Fusion.”)

Madison Revised Notes to Aid Jefferson’s Attack on Hamilton

C-SPAN Book TV today played an extended interview with Mary Sarah Bilder about her book on James Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention. Madison revised his notes to share with Jefferson, who had not been present during the convention. Chernow, in his biography of Hamilton, reports how Jefferson criticized Hamilton for aristocratic tendencies. What is most surprising about Bilder’s comments is that Madison had made comments at the convention similar to Hamilton’s discussing whether there might be merits to monarchy. But in his revision of the notes, he deleted those comments before passing the notes to Jefferson, presumably as part of his desire to ally himself more closely with Jefferson and to join in Jefferson’s vilification of Hamilton.
This is not an earth-shattering finding, but it adds support to Chernow’s defense of Hamilton. Jefferson was the slave-holding aristocrat in practice, while Hamilton opposed slavery, and Hamilton’s intellectual speculations on the best form of government were not notably monarchist within the context of the time.

The book discussed on C-SPAN, was:
Bilder, Mary Sarah. Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.

The Chernow book I mention above, is:
Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.