Friday, December 2, 2011

"So crazy it just might work"

Another strong effort from This American Life with all the superlatives that normally apply, but this one is of special interest to the kind of people who would read a blog called Observational Epidemiology. It describes an unlikely collaboration between a cancer researcher and a layman who claimed to have more or less invented a cure for cancer in his garage. The story lays out in painful detail how differently a scientist and a non-scientist see problems, even when they seem to be in agreement.

You can listen for free but I'd strongly recommend sending them a few bucks in appreciation.

Act One, Mr. Holland's Opus. OK, true story. A guy goes to college on a music scholarship. And then afterwards, he ends up going into science. And he becomes a cancer researcher. His name is Jon Brody. And 19 years after graduating, Jon is invited back to his old college to give a talk about his work. And the speech he gives is mainly about how important it's been in his research to think outside the box, to use an overused phrase. To think outside the box, to be ready to turn away from what's familiar and try some new idea.

And then after his speech, Jon is approached by his old orchestra teacher, a guy named Anthony Holland. And Professor Holland, to Jon's great surprise, says, "Speaking of thinking outside the box, I've actually been working on an experiment for a few years that I'd like to show you. Come look at this video. I think you'll find it very interesting." So what could Jon do? He'd just actually given a whole talk about keeping an open mind.

What resulted from this was the kind of scientific collaboration that almost never, ever happens-- a serious cancer researcher teaming up with an amateur to try to make a breakthrough. Gabriel Rhodes is a documentary filmmaker. And he's been following the story from the beginning, back when Jon watched that video.

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