“It isn’t the things people don’t know that get them in trouble. It’s what they know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain
A number of these articles are simulcast on another site. You get the original version. In many respects it is like a rough draft, but it is also that this site affords me the opportunity for more extended commentary. That other site doesn’t like me to go beyond 600 words. For those that don’t know, that ends up being the length of a typical opinion column in the local newspaper.
Even then, there have been a number of complaints about length from the readers. in some respects this is a sad commentary on our collective attention spans. If a newspaper column is too long to maintain your focus then maybe we all need to take some Ritalin and call it a day.
Earlier this week I talked about Henrietta Lacks. I did make an inadvertent mistake in the retelling of the story. She went to Johns Hopkins for testing and not the Mayo Clinic. Of course, this is a good lesson for me and others. Sometimes when we go forward based on our own memories of the story, so we can get details wrong. However, there is another lesson in there as well. That lesson is to focus on those details that are actually meaningful. In this case, the hospital in question really has very little bearing on the story. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer and they did the best they could at the time. The most important part of the story was the harvesting of cells after the fact and the fact that they did not obtain permission from the family to do that.
In the process of posting on this site, you endure the many comments that follow. Most are intelligent comments that add historical tidbits that I either didn’t mention (remember I’m lifted on space) or wasn’t aware of. Then, there is the local troll. He has popped up before usually to insult me or complain about the length of the post. He told me I got the story all wrong.
This brings to the point for today. I’ve never been sure whether this is a natural reaction or whether I am alone in this. When someone like that comes back I always go back and look at what I wrote and the sources I used for my information. Did I get it right? In the case of the hospital I did not. In the case of most of the other details I was on point.
Nobody likes “well actually” guy and that is particularly true when they correct me on a point I never made. In this case, he questions whether they were justly compensated by getting free care. Yeah, I’m sure getting a free stay to fight a disease they ultimately failed to cure is worth someone else making billions on research and development of medicines through the use of her cells. Even Johns Hopkins admits that they did not obtain the consent they should have.
So, the fact that her free care was worth the harvesting of cells is not indeed a fact. Her family is suing the company that eventually sold her cells to labs around the world. As you can see by the article, the final outcome has yet to be determined, but by virtue of the fact that they sued is an indication that her free care was just compensation is at least questionable if not insulting.
Of course, the last retort was my favorite. “The treatment was not effective bt that was the standard in those days.” I had to go back and re-read my article. I don’t remember saying anything about the treatment she received. I didn’t. However, that comes back to the original point. My gut reaction when someone questions me is to go back and check. I’m just not sure whether that is a normal reaction or whether that’s my own insecurities.
In many ways, I am envious of people that are so sure about things that are just objectively wrong. You can present them with evidence to the contrary and it just doesn’t matter. I have never been capable of doing that. Even when I know I’m right I will check and double check just to be sure. Of course, when I teach these things we go by the source we are using. So, it isn’t me teaching them anything from personal memory. So, at least there’s that. The constant questioning is either an example of humility or neurotic doubt. I just don’t know which.