Thursday, February 06, 2014

Just A Post Reminder And Other Interesting Stuff

I'm writing a second part of my posts about Christina Hoff Sommers' anti-feminist arguments in the most recently recycled form.  It's taking longer than I expected, because I'm doing calculations and research (adjusts stern-librarian-glasses, stores pencil behind ear).  But it will be a good post.  In the meantime, you can read the first one.  And no, it is not too long.

That was the reminder.  Here is the stuff.  I had a breakdown or breakthrough yesterday, and suddenly asked myself what would happen if I started writing popular stuff, if I didn't subconsciously pick post titles which guarantee that nobody wants to read the posts (Just A Post Reminder And Other Stuff), if I wrote about the rumor that certain kinds of financial executives might be either eliminated or committing suicide within a short period of time, or if I wrote about the possible affair between Wendi Deng (Rupert Murdoch's third wife) and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.  What would happen then?

A bowl of chocolate ice-cream cured me of that (though I think I could do the kind of writing that is required).  And then I immediately asked myself why Rupert Murdoch's three wives vs. Wendi Deng's one husband plus perhaps a few lovers are treated differently in the Vanity Fair article, especially as we don't know how many mistresses Murdoch might have had.  And then off I went in the usual boring direction.

Here's an example of a story which I do want to write more about, but can't, without the kind of research for which I have neither the time nor the expertise*.  The story asks whether Dr. Marthe Gautier was given adequate credit for her role in the discovery of trisomy 21:

The woman is Dr. Marthe Gautier, now 88 years old.  In 1956 she was a young physician, returning to Paris from a year's study of pediatric cardiology at Harvard.  She was given a clinical/teaching position at a local hospital, with no funds for research.  The Head of the Pediatric Unit, Raymond Turpin, was interested in mongolism (as Down syndrome was then called); years earlier he had proposed that it might be caused by a chromosome abnormality.  Human cytogenetics was not well understood, but a big breakthrough came this same year, when the true chromosome number was finally established as 46 (not 48).  When Turpin complained that nobody was investigating his hypothesis, Gautier proposed that she take this problem on, since her Harvard training had introduced her to both cell culture and histology.  Turpin agreed to provide a tissue sample from a patient.

For this work she was given a disused laboratory with a fridge, a centrifuge, and a poor quality microscope, but no funding.  And of course she still had her other responsibilities.  But she was keen and resourcefull, so she took out a personal loan to buy glassware, kept a live cockerel as a source of serum, and used her own blood when she needed human serum.

By the end of 1957 she had everything working with normal human cells, and could clearly distinguish the 46 chromosomes.  So she asked Prof. Turpin for the patient sample.  After 6 months wait it arrived, and she quickly was able to prepare slides showing that it had not 46 but 47 chromosomes, with three copies of chromosome 21.  But her microscope was very poor, and she could not take the photographs of her slides that a publication would need.

All this time Prof. Turpin had never visited her lab, but she'd had frequent visits from a protege of his, Jerome Lejeune.  When she showed Lejeune her discovery, he offered to take the slides to another laboratory where they could be photographed.  She never saw the slides again, but the photographs appeared in Montreal two months later (August 1958), where Lejeune announced to the International Conference of Human Genetics in Montreal that he had discovered the cause of Down syndrome!  Lejeune and Turpin quickly wrote up 'their' discovery, with Gautier as middle author, but Gautier only learned about this publication the day before it appeared in print.
*To judge all this properly requires reading the arguments from both sides but it also probably requires an ability to understand what Gautier was doing in her work and how that fits into the wider picture.