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[1/1] MiSTed: John W Campbell, The Lesson Of Thalidomide
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Joseph Nebus
2014-12-31 22:41:05 UTC
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[ OPENING CREDITS, SEASON TEN STYLE. ]

[ 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, and CROW are hotly debating; MIKE is not particularly hotly listening. ]

TOM: So I know you're wondering about the Rankin/Bass special _Twas The Night Before Christmas_, Mike.
MIKE: Pretty sure I'm not.
CROW: Obviously we all wonder how Albert Mouse could continue insisting Santa Claus doesn't exist when Santa starts refusing all letters from Junctionville, New York, when refusing letters is a prima facie case that the intended recipient exists.
MIKE: You know Pearl's scheduled a short for us to keep us busy while she screens a 'Magic Garden' marathon, right?
TOM: After all, there's a difference between a reasonable skepticism and a hard-line denialism. But the real issue is: why does Santa get so disproportionately upset about a trivial offense?
MIKE: And it's some kind of editorial from Analog Science Fiction from back when great crazy guy John W Campbell was editing?
CROW: Especially when he doesn't appear even slightly miffed, or relieved, or anything but 'well, this is normal' when he flies into Junctionville after all!
MIKE: And the Observer said it was a real downbeat one?
TOM: So we're thinking that some overly enthusiastic support elf in the mailroom noticed Albert Mouse's nasty letter and vastly overreacted.
MIKE: And Bobo glanced at it and he's been in the fetal position weeping about *that* ever since, and that was eighteen days ago?
CROW: Santa's got a massive organization, surely it has problems with people overreacting to minor slights ---

[ MOVIE SIGN. General alarm. ]

CROW: AAH! MOVIE SIGN!
TOM: WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!
MIKE: Oh, let's just go.


[ INTO THE THEATER ... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... ]


[ ALL file in. ]
THE LESSON OF THALIDOMIDE
CROW: Don't take it?
TOM: Well, we're done here.
The thalidomide disaster is, of course, by no
means finished;
MIKE: We're still working out how to blame it on the pregnant women who took it.
it will continue to be a disaster at
least as long as any of the affected babies are living.
TOM: Accordingly, I am dispatching my operatives with polonium-ricin tablets.
And the lesson the human race can learn from that
thalidomide disaster should go on . . . well, really,
forever.
CROW: In practice, humanity kind of remembered it for like six months, and then was distracted by a shiny bauble.
Unfortunately, I have not seen the proper lesson
of the thalidomide results published anywhere;
TOM: That lesson being, pay attention to me, John W Campbell.
what I
have seen published has, in every case, been exactly the
wrong lesson.
CROW: People have come out of it saying, maybe there's not such a thing as telepathy.
Many thousands of years ago now, Man first
learned --- first of all animals --- the correct lesson
from being burned by fire.
TOM: 'Try not to get burned by fire.'
CROW: And humans were the *first* animal to think of that one, yeah.
MIKE: Humanity: We do some things okay, eventually.
The lesson had to do with how
you could handle fire; the other animals only learned to
fear fire.
MIKE: Although the lesser spotted vole skipped fire altogether and went right into fusion-powered lasers. Gotta give them that.
The importance of that difference is that they
are animals still --- and this is Man's world.
CROW: Or it was until Man signed a balloon mortgage on it to the red-tufted speckled jay.
The basic lesson to learn from the thalidomide
problem is, simply, that human beings were, are, and
always will be expended in the process of learning more
about the Universe we live in --- and that we'd be wiser
to acknowledge that, and accept it.
TOM: So all you people whining about poisoning babies, knock it off.
When you do true
exploration into the Unknown --- some explorers are going
to die.
CROW: And making it the explorers who had no idea they were doing the exploring or were venturing off into the unknown? That just makes it funny!
John Glenn stated very flatly that men were going
to be killed in the effort to penetrate space --- that he
was lucky, but that deaths were inevitable.
MIKE: But killing people in space travel gives us great benefits in finding new ways to kill people on the ground.
The human race just expended several thousand
babies in a battle against disease and misery;
TOM: By inflicting disease and misery on babies!
this has
happened before, and we would be most wise to recognize
quite clearly --- as clearly as Glenn recognized his
danger --- that it will most certainly happen again.
CROW: I didn't realize John Glenn was so into the needless death and misery of babies.
TOM: Never learn too much about your heroes, I guess.
And there isn't one thing we can do about it.
MIKE: Except 'try'.
Human life is not sacred; it is expendable for
cause.
CROW: So why are you expending that life?
TOM: Just cause.
CROW: Exactly right.
The Universe doesn't hold it sacred, quite
obviously; if we do, we're unrealistic --- which means
essentially, "neurotic."
CROW: Yeah, 'neurotic', that's the word to describe people who oppose needless misery and suffering.
Let's take a solid, rational look at the story of
thalidomide.
TOM: Because some of you out there are still feeling some hope or joy in your lives.
In the first place, Dr. Frances Kelsey acted in a
whimsical, arbitrary, illogical, and unscientific manner
in failing to license thalidomide for distribution in
this country.
CROW: Dames, am I right, fellas?
Her course of action --- actually, her
course of inaction --- was absolutely unjustifiable.
MIKE: Why does Germany get to have all the deformed seal-babies? It's not fair!
The fact that it was completely correct and right
has nothing whatever to do with the question of whether
or not it was logical, scientific, or justifiable.
CROW: I mean, it *was*, all three, but that's no fair.
It may
have been a case of pure "woman's intuition" working with
illogical, but magnificent accuracy.
MIKE: She should stop using her judgement and just do what the nice men from the multinational pharmaceutical company says, they thought about this a lot more than she ever could.
It may have been a
case of precognition --- of seeing the future accurately.
TOM: If that's the case, then, cool.
If either were the case, it would have been totally
unscientific, illogical, indefensible . . . and right.
MIKE: If it was precognition, then ... she didn't approve thalidomide because she saw that she wouldn't approve it? How is that better?
CROW: Analog Magazine: Where hard science fiction was born.
It might have been simply someone with a
constitutional inability to make a decision who kept
thalidomide off the market in the United States
TOM: Maybe it was kept off the market by space goats? I don't know, I'm just saying.
--- one
of the type who simply can't bring themselves to make a
definite decision.
MIKE: I think. Maybe. I don't know. Ask me later.
Such a person would have been just as helpful, in
this case, as Dr. Kelsey.
CROW: So I call on everyone to hire indecisive people.
Fundamentally, Dr. Kelsey had absolutely no
scientific reason --- no defensible justification --- for
not granting thalidomide a license.
CROW: Bet she's still kicking herself about that.
Her actions with
respect to the ethical pharmaceutical company seeking to
produce it were arbitrary, whimsical, and unjust.
TOM: What with how she made them show evidence the stuff worked or was safe or anything.
All of those statements remain one hundred per
cent true despite the fact that she saved hundreds, or
thousands, of personal tragedies by her inaction.
MIKE: Will her wanton career of heroism never stop?!
The
only circumstance under which it could be held that her
actions were logical and just are that you hold that Dr.
Kelsey had clear, reliable, dependable extrasensory
perception by which she perceived clearly and reliably
the future facts that, at the time, were not available.
TOM: Or that she was competent. But that's crazy talk.
And that is, basically, why we must acknowledge
and accept that the thalidomide type disaster will recur
so long as human beings seek to explore for a better way
of doing things.
CROW: That we may someday be able to kill John Glenn in space automatically, instead!
Study the history of thalidomide briefly: It was
synthesized first by a Swiss pharmaceutical firm.
MIKE: When you put it like that, it's amazing anyone ever had questions about it.
Tests
of the new compound were made on animals, and it was
found that thalidomide had no effects --- either positive
or negative.
CROW: Of course Switzerland would make a neutral drug.
TOM: Way to fight the stereotype, guys.
It was an "inert ingredient" so far as the
animals were concerned; the substance was abandoned in
1954.
MIKE: To be held in reserve in case we ever needed animals to feel more nothing particular.
Then the West German company, Chemie Grunenthal,
started further investigations on it.
CROW: Thinking, I guess, 'we need to get in on this chemical that's too boring for Switzerland'.
Their careful tests
also showed that it had no pharmacological effects on
animals.
TOM: I'm picturing whole flocks of German cows being stuffed full of thalidomide and looking confused about it.
The only reason they persisted was that
thalidomide had now acquired a "crucial experiment"
importance, practically.
MIKE: It was the mid-50s. We *had* to find ways to not affect animals!
According to the best
theoretical understandings, that particular type of
molecular structure should have sedative effect --- and
if thalidomide did not have any effect, the theory needed
some serious reworking.
TOM: So Germany moved on to the next step, looking for restless bunnies.
CROW: Felix Salten does not approve.
So Grunenthal tried it on human patients --- on
epileptics as a possible anticonvulsant. It did not act
as an anticonvulsant, but did act as an excellent
sleep-inducer, in human beings.
MIKE: Is it possible it just did so much nothing subjects were bored to sleep?
It gave restful,
all-night sleep without after-effects, and was remarkably
safe --- so safe it could be sold without prescription.
CROW: As long as nobody required a prescription.
It was, literally, safer than aspirin; would-be suicides
have succeeded by taking sufficiently massive quantities
of aspirin --- but would-be suicides who tried massive
doses of thalidomide simply woke up after a somewhat
prolonged sleep.
TOM: Forcing them to resort to pop rocks and Diet Coke.
It was far safer than the barbiturates;
MIKE: Far easier than teasing a rampaging horde of barbiturates into invading your castle and clonking you on the head.
CROW: That's ... oh.
Marilyn Monroe's death by barbiturates would not have
succeeded, had thalidomide replaced the barbiturates as
tranquilizer-sedatives.
MIKE: That's literally true, but doesn't say as much as he thinks it does.
The "goofball" addiction would not be able to
replace barbiturates with thalidomide; it doesn't act
that way.
TOM: Without 'goofballs' they'd have to resort to 'knuckleheads' or even 'jackanapes'.
Thalidomide, as of 1960, had proven itself to be
by far the safest, gentlest, most nearly fool-proof
sedative pharmacology had yet discovered. Even by intent,
a man couldn't hurt himself with the stuff!
CROW: Then some dinkbrain let a woman touch them.
TOM: Tch. Figures.
The situation then was that a drug which could
replace the very useful, but somewhat dangerous,
barbiturates had become available --- a drug so safe
small children could use it
MIKE: Also miniaturized adults. Just saying.
--- and so safe small
children getting into the forbidden medical cabinet
wouldn't kill themselves with it.
TOM: The kids will just have to try harder.
As of late 1960, then, Dr. Kelsey's whimsical,
arbitrary, and unjustified action --- or inaction ---
CROW: I can't decide which. I need someone like Dr Kelsey to tell me --- *say*!
was
keeping from the American public a drug which could
replace a definitely dangerous, definitely toxic, and
somewhat habit-forming drug, the barbiturates.
MIKE: Hey, maybe we should've had a word with the guy who okayed barbiturates?
Thalidomide had been tested again and again by
major ethical pharmaceutical houses,
TOM: And some of them it even passed!
had been approved
for nonprescription sale by government after government,
CROW: ''Well, German chemists think it's a good idea --- who are we to doubt their good will?''
and had been widely and safely used by many millions of
people all through Europe.
Dr. Kelsey was, by nit-picking and dillydallying
tactics,
TOM: Like actually reading the safety studies.
blocking the licensing of a safe, proven, and
cheap replacement for a known-to-be-somewhat-toxic drug.
MIKE: The company *said* it was perfectly safe, and they wouldn't like about a thing like that!
Logically, that position was totally
unjustifiable.
CROW: You can't go basing scientific decisions on scientific evidence! That stuff takes *years* to find.
It had all the earmarks of a petty Civil Servant
tyrant, fussing endlessly, delighting over the power
red-tape gave . . .
MIKE: ... to read medical journals for comprehension ...
At this time --- say January, 1961 --- there was
no scientific reason to doubt that thalidomide was one
hundred per cent safe, and a very successful drug.
CROW: And when were the first thalidomide-deformed babies born?
TOM: 1956, but that doesn't count, because the manufacturer said it was safe!
In early 1961, some reports of a polyneuritis
effect due to long-continued massive dosing with
thalidomide began to appear.
MIKE: Fortunately, it was easily treated by being soaked in DDT.
Its symptoms were a tingling
"leg's gone to sleep" sort of feeling in hands and feet;
CROW: Followed by a sensation of 'leg's gone to flipper'.
discontinuation of the thalidomide dosing cleared up the
cases usually, fairly promptly.
TOM: On the other hand, there's always amputation.
MIKE: Well, for up to two hands.
Be it remembered that the barbiturates, which
thalidomide sought to replace, were favorite suicide
pills, were habit forming,
MIKE: Well, not as suicide pills.
TOM: Ow.
and had plenty of not-so-good
possibilities latent in them.
CROW: Over twenty percent of all barbiturates take up candy store robbery!
Of the two, thalidomide was
far and away the safer . . . on the basis of all
available data.
TOM: On the Worp reaction.
But that slight tendency to peripheral neuritis
when overused for long periods was the only slightest
indication that thalidomide had any untoward effects.
MIKE: And mankind will never succeed in space if we don't learn to overcome peripheral neuritis so that's all the more reason to take it!
Dr. Kelsey promptly used that data as a basis for
more, and more elaborate nit-picking and inaction. She
demanded more reams of then-unobtainable data.
CROW: Like, that there be data.
Her
position was, at that time, for the first time, faintly
logical
TOM: I mean, for a *girl*.
--- slightly defensible on the basis of
scientifically acceptable data. But it would still be
rated as poor judgment and exaggerated caution.
MIKE: I bet she cried.
The
American pharmaceutical company seeking to market
thalidomide, naturally, was growing quite impatient with
the unjustifiable and indefensible,
TOM: They should've taken a tranquilizer --- *say*!
and thoroughly
illogical delaying tactics that were blocking them.
MIKE: Like this time she asked for 'a bowl of French hair', what does that even *mean*?
Neither "womanly intuition" nor "a strong hunch"
has ever been held to constitute adequate grounds for
governmental rulings,
MIKE: It's all coin tosses and rock-paper-scissors.
and precognition isn't considered
to exist.
TOM: As I told you it wouldn't be.
A German doctor was the first to suspect
thalidomide of its actual disastrous characteristic ---
CROW: Its spelling.
and it was November 15, 1961 that he first warned the
Grunenthal company that he suspected their thalidomide
preparation of being responsible for the "seal-baby"
epidemic then appearing in Germany.
CROW: To sold-out crowds!
MIKE: Well, I'm feeling worse about myself now.
At this time his data
was still too scanty for him to make a definite
statement.
TOM: As he had never been a baby himself.
His first public discussion --- "public" in
the sense that it was made to an official medical group
meeting in Germany ---
CROW: You know, the guys.
was on November 20, 1961 --- and
then he was not in a position to state that thalidomide
was responsible, but merely to say he strongly suspected
a certain drug, which he did not name.
MIKE: So he explained it in Pig Dutch.
TOM: Or as the Germans call it, 'Dutch'.
At this point in the development of the problem,
data came in very rapidly;
CROW: Atomic weight of tungsten!
MIKE: Winners of the last twelve Canadian Football League championships!
TOM: Running time of every Hanna-Barbera cartoon ever!
CROW: All this and more on Rapid Data Coming In!
within a month thalidomide's
danger was clearly recognized . . . and only then did Dr.
Kelsey's inaction on the licensing application become
absolutely defensible.
MIKE: And we'll get her for it!
That the United States was saved from this
disaster was not --- repeat not ---
TOM: Not not means yes, right?
CROW: No?
TOM: What's this mean now, then?
due to any
scientific, logical, reasonable or even justifiable
action.
CROW: It was cause of girl cooties!
It was due to those totally indefensible and
anathematized things, "a hunch" and/or "woman's
intuition."
TOM: It's not fair, they didn't even ask me!
That Dr. Kelsey's hunch was one hundred per cent
valid has nothing whatever to do with whether it was
logical;
CROW: Unless she had some reason, but that's just crazy mad-man talk.
for all I can know, she may have perfect and
reliable trans-temporal clairvoyance, so that, in 1960,
she was reading the medical reports published in late
1961, and basing her decisions very logically on that
trans-temporal data.
CROW: I can't think of any other way a woman could possibly have been right than if the laws of cause and effect don't actually hold!
The essential point is that no possible logical
method can prevent another thalidomide-like disaster.
MIKE: So you're bad people, thanking her for preventing this one!
If the Federal Drug Administration can recruit a
staff of expert crystal-ball gazers, tea-leaf readers and
Tarot-card shufflers, it might be possible for the F.D.A.
to rule correctly on all future drug licensing
applications.
TOM: Or they could employ normal drug-testing procedures.
Nothing short of genuine precognition can
prevent such disasters completely.
Let's imagine the most completely and perfectly
conservative, cautious, experimental program
CROW: And give it to NBC to rebuild their Thursday nights.
MIKE: Must-see comedies. Tch.
we can think
of that will still allow some progress in medicine.
MIKE: Or we could look up the actual FDA procedures for 1960, but that would be crazy talk.
TOM: [ As Groucho Marx ] The first part of the first step shall be known in this contract as the first part of the first step.
1. Careful and complete animal testing before any
human testing is permitted.
CROW: Oh, wait, also first we come up with a drug. So that's number zero then, OK? Or do we have to renumber everything now?
2. A two-year test period on a very limited
number of human beings so that,
TOM: Do we get to name which human beings we test on?
MIKE: Are you thinking me or are you thinking of some mildly annoying celebrity?
if there is some joker in
the deck,
TOM: Yeah, I guess I'm thinking 'both'.
MIKE: Be nice.
it will afflict only a small number of people
at worst.
CROW: Plus if it gives people superpowers we'll want it to be to a small enough group they can form a kind of family dynamic.
3. A second two-year test on a larger number of
patients --- say about ten thousand people.
TOM: The size of a small town, say. We'll hold lotteries to pick which is the lucky town, and they'll be glad for it because they can help John Glenn die in space this way.
4. Released as a prescription medication only for
another two-year period, so that close observation can be
maintained.
Sounds reasonable and conservative?
CROW: As long as I don't know the actual standards? Sure, what the heck, why not?
And yet there
are a few known instances where a substance has a
time-bomb effect so delayed that as much as fifteen years
may elapse before the deadly effect appears.
TOM: Wait, we need to test time bombs on people?
MIKE: We need to test them on time.
Beryllium
dust poisoning is one example of a time-delay bomb.
CROW: And if the time bomb works we'll be able to vanquish whole *hours*!
TOM: Finally Wednesdays will tremble before our might!
If
you inhale BeO dust, it definitely won't hurt you a bit
right away
MIKE: Apart from how it makes your face fall off, but many people go on to productive lives with no face whatsoever.
--- and cases of a fifteen-year delay have
been reported.
TOM: But they're unscientific reports so don't act on them!
Inasmuch as we now have pretty good indication
that genetic information is carried as a chemical code on
protein molecules,
TOM: If you don't know that DNA is not a protein.
CROW: The father of hard science fiction, ladies and gentlemen.
it's conceivable that a substance
might be discovered which affected only the genetic cells
of unborn babies.
MIKE: Ya think?
That one would first begin to show its
effects about eighteen years after it went into use.
TOM: If some girls want to wait to age twenty or even twenty-two before having babies they're just evil people holding up the course of science.
CROW: Wait, don't babies just need nine months to grow?
(Yes, some girls affected by the stuff would start having
babies at thirteen or so
CROW: Even twelve, if you want to sound like a creepy guy.
MIKE: Why ... why do you?
CROW: I forget.
. . . but not until a large
number of affected individuals had babies would the
statistical numbers become large enough for credibility
and identification.)
So even a very, very cautious five-year system
wouldn't catch all the time-bomb drugs.
MIKE: And *that's* why it's a bad idea we catch any!
And we can't run a fifty-year program like that!
CROW: Or ... twenty-two years, from what he just described, but that's close enough to fifty, right?
TOM: Hey, 22, 50, we're not talking exact numbers here, we're talking science.
If someone finds a cancer cure today, will the world wait
until our grandchildren demonstrate that it has no hidden
menace, do you think?
MIKE: Well, not if they're born with too many genetic defects to live, anyway.
CROW: That sure doesn't make me want to kill myself, Mike. Thanks.
And as to that cautious, two-year-plus-two-year
program . . . thalidomide would have been licensed with
flying colors!
TOM: Apart from the deformed babies that turned up within the first two years of its use.
Test 1 is the animal test. Thalidomide proved
completely harmless --- in fact completely ineffective!
--- to the usual laboratory animals.
CROW: We've sent them a stern note about not being visibly harmed by drugs earlier and more clearly.
(Since the blowup,
it's been found that enormous doses of thalidomide will
not make a rabbit sleep
MIKE: But a cup of cocoa and a nice bit of reading will.
. . . but will cause a pregnant
rabbit to produce abnormal young.
TOM: So it would have passed animal testing as long as nobody noticed the deformed animals.
Equally massive doses
of barbiturates don't do that; they kill the rabbit.
ALL: [ A few seconds of Elmer Fudd-style cackling before giving up with an 'ugh'. ]
It
wouldn't have indicated anything to the investigators
except that thalidomide was safer than barbiturates!
CROW: And to be fair, who could foresee humans being pregnant just because rabbits can be?
And
it has now been discovered that, for reasons so far known
only to God, thalidomide does make horses sleep! But who
uses horses as "convenient laboratory animals for testing
new drugs"?
MIKE: So how do we know thalidomide makes horses sleep?
TOM: Who looks at a drug that makes horribly deformed human babies and asks, 'What will this do for horses?'
And why should they; horses are herbivores,
with a metabolism quite a long way from Man's. Monkeys
are expensive --- and they don't really match Man.)
CROW: Unlike mankind's closest living relatives, rabbits.
Test 2 --- trying it on a small group of patients
first.
MIKE: Is that a few patients or just on patients who are very tiny?
TOM: Picturing a study on human adults each eighteen inches tall?
MIKE: Pretty much.
Now the first slight indication that thalidomide
could have some bad side-effects was that neuritis
business. It results from prolonged overuse of the drug.
TOM: Also the deformed babies, but that could just be the mothers' fault.
The doctors administering the first test-use of
the new drug would, of course, regulate it carefully.
CROW: Unlike in the real world, where they gave out two and a half million tablets to a thousand doctors while waiting for the FDA to approve selling them.
There would be no long-continued overuse under their
administration --- and therefore thalidomide wouldn't
have produced any neuritis.
TOM: As long as they didn't do anything that produced any problems there'd never be any problems turning up.
On that first, limited-sample test, there would
be an inevitable, human tendency to avoid pregnant young
women as test subjects for so experimental a drug.
CROW: Because it's only a scientific test if you avoid real-world conditions that would be messy or hard to deal with.
Result: thalidomide would have checked in as one
hundred per cent safe and effective.
MIKE: Except for rabbits.
The final two-year test was several thousand
people. On this one we don't have to guess; we've got the
statistics.
TOM: Knowing the answers as we do, we can sound smarter than the people who were asking questions.
During the time thalidomide was being considered
by the Federal Drug Administration for licensing in this
country, selected physicians in the United States were
sent supplies of the drug for experimental use.
CROW: Under the 'What the heck, like something could go wrong?' program.
Under this program, 15,904 people are known to
have taken the pills.
MIKE: But we probably should've written down who they were, somewhere.
Certainly that's a good-sized
second-level testing group for our proposed
hyper-cautious test system.
TOM: I'd like to see it bigger and less cautious, of course, but we make do with what we have.
Of those nearly 16,000 people, about 1 in 5 ---
3,272 --- were women of child-bearing age, and 207 of
them were pregnant at the time.
CROW: 86 of those listened to and enjoyed 'The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart'. This is irrelevant to my point but is interesting nevertheless.
There were no abnormal babies born, and no cases
of polyneuritis reported.
TOM: And by 'no' I mean 'seventeen', but that's close enough to 'no' for real science.
Thalidomide passed the cautious tests with flying
colors.
MIKE: Melting off the walls and pooling into a flavor of brick.
Now the abnormalities that thalidomide does cause
are some kind of misdirection of the normal growth-forces
of the foetus.
TOM: But in the future we could have limitless abnormalities!
The abnormalities are of a type that was
well known to medicine long before thalidomide came along
--- abnormal babies have been produced for all the years
the human race has existed, remember.
CROW: Heck, all things considered it's the non-deformed babies that are the real sickos.
MIKE: Yeah, after this one I'm going to my bedroom and cry.
Suppose that in our test, some women did bear
abnormal babies. Say three of them were abnormal, and
lived.
CROW: They can be an example to the rest of us!
(A goodly number of the thalidomide-distorted
babies died within hours.
MIKE: *Technically* everyone dies within hours if you count high enough.
It doesn't only affect arms and
legs; thalidomide can mix up the internal organs as
though they had been stirred with a spoon.)
TOM: Thanks, that detail doesn't make me want to kill myself.
So . . . ? So what? Aren't a certain number of
abnormal babies appearing all the time anyway?
TOM: Yeah! Well, one in four million, born like that.
And with
all this atomic-bomb testing going on . . . and this
woman was examined repeatedly by X ray during pregnancy .
CROW: Really, with how complicated life is how can we ever really blame anything for anything?
. . and remember that in the normal course of nine months
of living, she will have taken dozens of other drugs,
MIKE: Because it's the early 60s and we don't want to think about what we're pumping into our bodies.
been exposed to uncountable other environmental
influences, perhaps been in a minor automobile accident .
. .
TOM: And you know how scaring the mother will leave a permanent mark on the children, right?
Not until the drug is "tested" on literally
millions of human beings will it be possible to get
sufficiently numerous statistical samplings to be able to
get significant results.
TOM: Slightly more, in Canada.
Toss a coin three times, and it
may come heads every time. This proves coins fall
heads-up when tossed?
CROW: And even if it did, how would we know coin-tossing was causal and not merely correlated to coins coming up at all?
MIKE: It's basic logic.
Another drug was introduced for experimental
testing some years ago.
TOM: Case closed.
The physicians who got it were
told to check their experimental patients carefully for
possibilities of damage to liver, stomach and/or kidneys,
CROW: Also if the drug punched anyone in the face and ran off with their wallet.
the expected possible undesirable side-effects of the
drug. Practically no such damage was found --- the drug
was effective, and only in the very exceptional patient
TOM: The best kind! Everyone needs to be more like them.
caused sufficient liver, stomach or kidney reaction to
indicate it should be discontinued.
Only it caused blindness.
MIKE: Well, what was it supposed to do?
CROW: Risk damaging the liver, stomach, and kidneys, apparently.
MIKE: Man, the eyes are nowhere near any of those, no wonder they didn't approve it.
TOM: I hope they didn't.
The reaction was frequent and severe enough to
make the drug absolutely impossible as a medicament ---
and was totally unexpected.
CROW: Nobody saw the blindness coming --- oh, now I feel like going to my bedroom and weeping.
TOM: Yeah, this is a brutal one.
It had not caused any such
reaction in any of the experimental animals.
MIKE: In retrospect, testing exclusively on star-nosed moles may have been a mistake.
No --- the lesson of thalidomide is quite simple.
TOM: It's 'thalidomide', not 'thalidomine', however much you think you remember it the other way.
MIKE: Hey, wait, it is, isn't it?
So long as human beings hope to make progress in
control of disease and misery, some people will be lost
in the exploration of the unknown.
CROW: Don't go looking for them. There's grues there.
There is no way to prevent that. There is no
possible system of tests that can avoid it --- only
minimize the risk.
TOM: By shoving unproved drugs down millions of people's throats just in case one of them is good for something! The drugs, I mean, not the people.
We could, of course, simply stop trying new drugs
at all.
MIKE: Gotta say, it does sound like we're not very good at making them.
The animals never did try the pain and the risk
of fire. They're still animals, too.
January 1963 John W Campbell
TOM: Who died of drinking DDT in a lead-lined glass while smoking an asbestos-filtered cigarette laced with cyclamates.
CROW: And saying none of it was statistically proven.
MIKE: John Glenn, everybody. John Glenn.
TOM: Let's just get *out* of this popsicle stand.

[ ALL exit. ]

[ 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW are in a line. ]

MIKE: Well, Pearl, wherever you are ... I hope you're satisfied with this heap of misery you've inflicted on us.
TOM: I think the only thing that'll rescue our mood is the lighthearted yet barbed whimsy of the Rankin/Bass universe.
CROW: _Rudolph's Shiny New Year_ is on.
MIKE: The one where our hero Rudolph is searching for the Baby New Year, which will make thousand-year-old Aeon die.
TOM: Oh good heavens.
[ CROW flops over, defeated. ]
MIKE: Happy new year, everyone, and to all ... guh.



\ | /
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----O----
/|\
/ | \
/ | \
/ | \

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc, so I'd appreciate if you didn't tell them what I've been up to all these years. The essay 'The Lesson Of Thalidomide' by John W Campbell was originally published in Analog and appeared in the archive.org resource _Collected Editorials From Analog_, https://archive.org/details/collectededitori01camp where it and much other writing can be enjoyed at your leisure. Nothing untoward or mean is meant toward John W Campbell or anyone at Analog, and I'm not irritated with archive.org or anything either. If you're feeling bad about all this, consider: the word 'bunny' seems to come from Gaelic 'bun', referring to their tails, and doesn't that make you grin some?
for all I can know, she may have perfect and
reliable trans-temporal clairvoyance, so that, in 1960,
she was reading the medical reports published in late
1961, and basing her decisions very logically on that
trans-temporal data.
--
Joseph Nebus
Math: Reading the Comics: Surely This Is It For 2014? http://wp.me/p1RYhY-Ge
Humor: Why This Mouse Situation Doesn't Need Control http://wp.me/p37lb5-GT
--------------------------------------------------------+---------------------
Justin Tyme
2015-05-22 04:15:04 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
"Joseph Nebus" wrote in message news:m81u21$9vm$***@reader1.panix.com...

[ OPENING CREDITS, SEASON TEN STYLE. ]

[ 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, and CROW are hotly debating; MIKE is
not particularly hotly listening. ]

TOM: So I know you're wondering about the Rankin/Bass special _Twas The
Night Before Christmas_, Mike.
MIKE: Pretty sure I'm not.
CROW: Obviously we all wonder how Albert Mouse could continue insisting
Santa Claus doesn't exist when Santa starts refusing all letters from
Junctionville, New York, when refusing letters is a prima facie case that
the intended recipient exists.
MIKE: You know Pearl's scheduled a short for us to keep us busy while she
screens a 'Magic Garden' marathon, right?
TOM: After all, there's a difference between a reasonable skepticism and
a hard-line denialism. But the real issue is: why does Santa get so
disproportionately upset about a trivial offense?
MIKE: And it's some kind of editorial from Analog Science Fiction from back
when great crazy guy John W Campbell was editing?
CROW: Especially when he doesn't appear even slightly miffed, or relieved,
or anything but 'well, this is normal' when he flies into Junctionville
after all!
MIKE: And the Observer said it was a real downbeat one?
TOM: So we're thinking that some overly enthusiastic support elf in the
mailroom noticed Albert Mouse's nasty letter and vastly overreacted.
MIKE: And Bobo glanced at it and he's been in the fetal position weeping
about *that* ever since, and that was eighteen days ago?
CROW: Santa's got a massive organization, surely it has problems with
people overreacting to minor slights ---

[ MOVIE SIGN. General alarm. ]

CROW: AAH! MOVIE SIGN!
TOM: WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!
MIKE: Oh, let's just go.


[ INTO THE THEATER ... 6... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... ]


[ ALL file in. ]
THE LESSON OF THALIDOMIDE
CROW: Don't take it?
TOM: Well, we're done here.
The thalidomide disaster is, of course, by no
means finished;
MIKE: We're still working out how to blame it on the pregnant women who
took it.
it will continue to be a disaster at
least as long as any of the affected babies are living.
TOM: Accordingly, I am dispatching my operatives with polonium-ricin
tablets.
And the lesson the human race can learn from that
thalidomide disaster should go on . . . well, really,
forever.
CROW: In practice, humanity kind of remembered it for like six months, and
then was distracted by a shiny bauble.
Unfortunately, I have not seen the proper lesson
of the thalidomide results published anywhere;
TOM: That lesson being, pay attention to me, John W Campbell.
what I
have seen published has, in every case, been exactly the
wrong lesson.
CROW: People have come out of it saying, maybe there's not such a thing as
telepathy.
Many thousands of years ago now, Man first
learned --- first of all animals --- the correct lesson
from being burned by fire.
TOM: 'Try not to get burned by fire.'
CROW: And humans were the *first* animal to think of that one, yeah.
MIKE: Humanity: We do some things okay, eventually.
The lesson had to do with how
you could handle fire; the other animals only learned to
fear fire.
MIKE: Although the lesser spotted vole skipped fire altogether and went
right into fusion-powered lasers. Gotta give them that.
The importance of that difference is that they
are animals still --- and this is Man's world.
CROW: Or it was until Man signed a balloon mortgage on it to the red-tufted
speckled jay.
The basic lesson to learn from the thalidomide
problem is, simply, that human beings were, are, and
always will be expended in the process of learning more
about the Universe we live in --- and that we'd be wiser
to acknowledge that, and accept it.
TOM: So all you people whining about poisoning babies, knock it off.
When you do true
exploration into the Unknown --- some explorers are going
to die.
CROW: And making it the explorers who had no idea they were doing the
exploring or were venturing off into the unknown? That just makes it funny!
John Glenn stated very flatly that men were going
to be killed in the effort to penetrate space --- that he
was lucky, but that deaths were inevitable.
MIKE: But killing people in space travel gives us great benefits in finding
new ways to kill people on the ground.
The human race just expended several thousand
babies in a battle against disease and misery;
TOM: By inflicting disease and misery on babies!
this has
happened before, and we would be most wise to recognize
quite clearly --- as clearly as Glenn recognized his
danger --- that it will most certainly happen again.
CROW: I didn't realize John Glenn was so into the needless death and misery
of babies.
TOM: Never learn too much about your heroes, I guess.
And there isn't one thing we can do about it.
MIKE: Except 'try'.
Human life is not sacred; it is expendable for
cause.
CROW: So why are you expending that life?
TOM: Just cause.
CROW: Exactly right.
The Universe doesn't hold it sacred, quite
obviously; if we do, we're unrealistic --- which means
essentially, "neurotic."
CROW: Yeah, 'neurotic', that's the word to describe people who oppose
needless misery and suffering.
Let's take a solid, rational look at the story of
thalidomide.
TOM: Because some of you out there are still feeling some hope or joy in
your lives.
In the first place, Dr. Frances Kelsey acted in a
whimsical, arbitrary, illogical, and unscientific manner
in failing to license thalidomide for distribution in
this country.
CROW: Dames, am I right, fellas?
Her course of action --- actually, her
course of inaction --- was absolutely unjustifiable.
MIKE: Why does Germany get to have all the deformed seal-babies? It's not
fair!
The fact that it was completely correct and right
has nothing whatever to do with the question of whether
or not it was logical, scientific, or justifiable.
CROW: I mean, it *was*, all three, but that's no fair.
It may
have been a case of pure "woman's intuition" working with
illogical, but magnificent accuracy.
MIKE: She should stop using her judgement and just do what the nice men
from the multinational pharmaceutical company says, they thought about this
a lot more than she ever could.
It may have been a
case of precognition --- of seeing the future accurately.
TOM: If that's the case, then, cool.
If either were the case, it would have been totally
unscientific, illogical, indefensible . . . and right.
MIKE: If it was precognition, then ... she didn't approve thalidomide
because she saw that she wouldn't approve it? How is that better?
CROW: Analog Magazine: Where hard science fiction was born.
It might have been simply someone with a
constitutional inability to make a decision who kept
thalidomide off the market in the United States
TOM: Maybe it was kept off the market by space goats? I don't know, I'm
just saying.
--- one
of the type who simply can't bring themselves to make a
definite decision.
MIKE: I think. Maybe. I don't know. Ask me later.
Such a person would have been just as helpful, in
this case, as Dr. Kelsey.
CROW: So I call on everyone to hire indecisive people.
Fundamentally, Dr. Kelsey had absolutely no
scientific reason --- no defensible justification --- for
not granting thalidomide a license.
CROW: Bet she's still kicking herself about that.
Her actions with
respect to the ethical pharmaceutical company seeking to
produce it were arbitrary, whimsical, and unjust.
TOM: What with how she made them show evidence the stuff worked or was
safe or anything.
All of those statements remain one hundred per
cent true despite the fact that she saved hundreds, or
thousands, of personal tragedies by her inaction.
MIKE: Will her wanton career of heroism never stop?!
The
only circumstance under which it could be held that her
actions were logical and just are that you hold that Dr.
Kelsey had clear, reliable, dependable extrasensory
perception by which she perceived clearly and reliably
the future facts that, at the time, were not available.
TOM: Or that she was competent. But that's crazy talk.
And that is, basically, why we must acknowledge
and accept that the thalidomide type disaster will recur
so long as human beings seek to explore for a better way
of doing things.
CROW: That we may someday be able to kill John Glenn in space
automatically, instead!
Study the history of thalidomide briefly: It was
synthesized first by a Swiss pharmaceutical firm.
MIKE: When you put it like that, it's amazing anyone ever had questions
about it.
Tests
of the new compound were made on animals, and it was
found that thalidomide had no effects --- either positive
or negative.
CROW: Of course Switzerland would make a neutral drug.
TOM: Way to fight the stereotype, guys.
It was an "inert ingredient" so far as the
animals were concerned; the substance was abandoned in
1954.
MIKE: To be held in reserve in case we ever needed animals to feel more
nothing particular.
Then the West German company, Chemie Grunenthal,
started further investigations on it.
CROW: Thinking, I guess, 'we need to get in on this chemical that's too
boring for Switzerland'.
Their careful tests
also showed that it had no pharmacological effects on
animals.
TOM: I'm picturing whole flocks of German cows being stuffed full of
thalidomide and looking confused about it.
The only reason they persisted was that
thalidomide had now acquired a "crucial experiment"
importance, practically.
MIKE: It was the mid-50s. We *had* to find ways to not affect animals!
According to the best
theoretical understandings, that particular type of
molecular structure should have sedative effect --- and
if thalidomide did not have any effect, the theory needed
some serious reworking.
TOM: So Germany moved on to the next step, looking for restless bunnies.
CROW: Felix Salten does not approve.
So Grunenthal tried it on human patients --- on
epileptics as a possible anticonvulsant. It did not act
as an anticonvulsant, but did act as an excellent
sleep-inducer, in human beings.
MIKE: Is it possible it just did so much nothing subjects were bored to
sleep?
It gave restful,
all-night sleep without after-effects, and was remarkably
safe --- so safe it could be sold without prescription.
CROW: As long as nobody required a prescription.
It was, literally, safer than aspirin; would-be suicides
have succeeded by taking sufficiently massive quantities
of aspirin --- but would-be suicides who tried massive
doses of thalidomide simply woke up after a somewhat
prolonged sleep.
TOM: Forcing them to resort to pop rocks and Diet Coke.
It was far safer than the barbiturates;
MIKE: Far easier than teasing a rampaging horde of barbiturates into
invading your castle and clonking you on the head.
CROW: That's ... oh.
Marilyn Monroe's death by barbiturates would not have
succeeded, had thalidomide replaced the barbiturates as
tranquilizer-sedatives.
MIKE: That's literally true, but doesn't say as much as he thinks it does.
The "goofball" addiction would not be able to
replace barbiturates with thalidomide; it doesn't act
that way.
TOM: Without 'goofballs' they'd have to resort to 'knuckleheads' or even
'jackanapes'.
Thalidomide, as of 1960, had proven itself to be
by far the safest, gentlest, most nearly fool-proof
sedative pharmacology had yet discovered. Even by intent,
a man couldn't hurt himself with the stuff!
CROW: Then some dinkbrain let a woman touch them.
TOM: Tch. Figures.
The situation then was that a drug which could
replace the very useful, but somewhat dangerous,
barbiturates had become available --- a drug so safe
small children could use it
MIKE: Also miniaturized adults. Just saying.
--- and so safe small
children getting into the forbidden medical cabinet
wouldn't kill themselves with it.
TOM: The kids will just have to try harder.
As of late 1960, then, Dr. Kelsey's whimsical,
arbitrary, and unjustified action --- or inaction ---
CROW: I can't decide which. I need someone like Dr Kelsey to tell me ---
*say*!
was
keeping from the American public a drug which could
replace a definitely dangerous, definitely toxic, and
somewhat habit-forming drug, the barbiturates.
MIKE: Hey, maybe we should've had a word with the guy who okayed
barbiturates?
Thalidomide had been tested again and again by
major ethical pharmaceutical houses,
TOM: And some of them it even passed!
had been approved
for nonprescription sale by government after government,
CROW: ''Well, German chemists think it's a good idea --- who are we to
doubt their good will?''
and had been widely and safely used by many millions of
people all through Europe.
Dr. Kelsey was, by nit-picking and dillydallying
tactics,
TOM: Like actually reading the safety studies.
blocking the licensing of a safe, proven, and
cheap replacement for a known-to-be-somewhat-toxic drug.
MIKE: The company *said* it was perfectly safe, and they wouldn't like
about a thing like that!
Logically, that position was totally
unjustifiable.
CROW: You can't go basing scientific decisions on scientific evidence!
That stuff takes *years* to find.
It had all the earmarks of a petty Civil Servant
tyrant, fussing endlessly, delighting over the power
red-tape gave . . .
MIKE: ... to read medical journals for comprehension ...
At this time --- say January, 1961 --- there was
no scientific reason to doubt that thalidomide was one
hundred per cent safe, and a very successful drug.
CROW: And when were the first thalidomide-deformed babies born?
TOM: 1956, but that doesn't count, because the manufacturer said it was
safe!
In early 1961, some reports of a polyneuritis
effect due to long-continued massive dosing with
thalidomide began to appear.
MIKE: Fortunately, it was easily treated by being soaked in DDT.
Its symptoms were a tingling
"leg's gone to sleep" sort of feeling in hands and feet;
CROW: Followed by a sensation of 'leg's gone to flipper'.
discontinuation of the thalidomide dosing cleared up the
cases usually, fairly promptly.
TOM: On the other hand, there's always amputation.
MIKE: Well, for up to two hands.
Be it remembered that the barbiturates, which
thalidomide sought to replace, were favorite suicide
pills, were habit forming,
MIKE: Well, not as suicide pills.
TOM: Ow.
and had plenty of not-so-good
possibilities latent in them.
CROW: Over twenty percent of all barbiturates take up candy store robbery!
Of the two, thalidomide was
far and away the safer . . . on the basis of all
available data.
TOM: On the Worp reaction.
But that slight tendency to peripheral neuritis
when overused for long periods was the only slightest
indication that thalidomide had any untoward effects.
MIKE: And mankind will never succeed in space if we don't learn to overcome
peripheral neuritis so that's all the more reason to take it!
Dr. Kelsey promptly used that data as a basis for
more, and more elaborate nit-picking and inaction. She
demanded more reams of then-unobtainable data.
CROW: Like, that there be data.
Her
position was, at that time, for the first time, faintly
logical
TOM: I mean, for a *girl*.
--- slightly defensible on the basis of
scientifically acceptable data. But it would still be
rated as poor judgment and exaggerated caution.
MIKE: I bet she cried.
The
American pharmaceutical company seeking to market
thalidomide, naturally, was growing quite impatient with
the unjustifiable and indefensible,
TOM: They should've taken a tranquilizer --- *say*!
and thoroughly
illogical delaying tactics that were blocking them.
MIKE: Like this time she asked for 'a bowl of French hair', what does that
even *mean*?
Neither "womanly intuition" nor "a strong hunch"
has ever been held to constitute adequate grounds for
governmental rulings,
MIKE: It's all coin tosses and rock-paper-scissors.
and precognition isn't considered
to exist.
TOM: As I told you it wouldn't be.
A German doctor was the first to suspect
thalidomide of its actual disastrous characteristic ---
CROW: Its spelling.
and it was November 15, 1961 that he first warned the
Grunenthal company that he suspected their thalidomide
preparation of being responsible for the "seal-baby"
epidemic then appearing in Germany.
CROW: To sold-out crowds!
MIKE: Well, I'm feeling worse about myself now.
At this time his data
was still too scanty for him to make a definite
statement.
TOM: As he had never been a baby himself.
His first public discussion --- "public" in
the sense that it was made to an official medical group
meeting in Germany ---
CROW: You know, the guys.
was on November 20, 1961 --- and
then he was not in a position to state that thalidomide
was responsible, but merely to say he strongly suspected
a certain drug, which he did not name.
MIKE: So he explained it in Pig Dutch.
TOM: Or as the Germans call it, 'Dutch'.
At this point in the development of the problem,
data came in very rapidly;
CROW: Atomic weight of tungsten!
MIKE: Winners of the last twelve Canadian Football League championships!
TOM: Running time of every Hanna-Barbera cartoon ever!
CROW: All this and more on Rapid Data Coming In!
within a month thalidomide's
danger was clearly recognized . . . and only then did Dr.
Kelsey's inaction on the licensing application become
absolutely defensible.
MIKE: And we'll get her for it!
That the United States was saved from this
disaster was not --- repeat not ---
TOM: Not not means yes, right?
CROW: No?
TOM: What's this mean now, then?
due to any
scientific, logical, reasonable or even justifiable
action.
CROW: It was cause of girl cooties!
It was due to those totally indefensible and
anathematized things, "a hunch" and/or "woman's
intuition."
TOM: It's not fair, they didn't even ask me!
That Dr. Kelsey's hunch was one hundred per cent
valid has nothing whatever to do with whether it was
logical;
CROW: Unless she had some reason, but that's just crazy mad-man talk.
for all I can know, she may have perfect and
reliable trans-temporal clairvoyance, so that, in 1960,
she was reading the medical reports published in late
1961, and basing her decisions very logically on that
trans-temporal data.
CROW: I can't think of any other way a woman could possibly have been right
than if the laws of cause and effect don't actually hold!
The essential point is that no possible logical
method can prevent another thalidomide-like disaster.
MIKE: So you're bad people, thanking her for preventing this one!
If the Federal Drug Administration can recruit a
staff of expert crystal-ball gazers, tea-leaf readers and
Tarot-card shufflers, it might be possible for the F.D.A.
to rule correctly on all future drug licensing
applications.
TOM: Or they could employ normal drug-testing procedures.
Nothing short of genuine precognition can
prevent such disasters completely.
Let's imagine the most completely and perfectly
conservative, cautious, experimental program
CROW: And give it to NBC to rebuild their Thursday nights.
MIKE: Must-see comedies. Tch.
we can think
of that will still allow some progress in medicine.
MIKE: Or we could look up the actual FDA procedures for 1960, but that
would be crazy talk.
TOM: [ As Groucho Marx ] The first part of the first step shall be known
in this contract as the first part of the first step.
1. Careful and complete animal testing before any
human testing is permitted.
CROW: Oh, wait, also first we come up with a drug. So that's number zero
then, OK? Or do we have to renumber everything now?
2. A two-year test period on a very limited
number of human beings so that,
TOM: Do we get to name which human beings we test on?
MIKE: Are you thinking me or are you thinking of some mildly annoying
celebrity?
if there is some joker in
the deck,
TOM: Yeah, I guess I'm thinking 'both'.
MIKE: Be nice.
it will afflict only a small number of people
at worst.
CROW: Plus if it gives people superpowers we'll want it to be to a small
enough group they can form a kind of family dynamic.
3. A second two-year test on a larger number of
patients --- say about ten thousand people.
TOM: The size of a small town, say. We'll hold lotteries to pick which
is the lucky town, and they'll be glad for it because they can help John
Glenn die in space this way.
4. Released as a prescription medication only for
another two-year period, so that close observation can be
maintained.
Sounds reasonable and conservative?
CROW: As long as I don't know the actual standards? Sure, what the heck,
why not?
And yet there
are a few known instances where a substance has a
time-bomb effect so delayed that as much as fifteen years
may elapse before the deadly effect appears.
TOM: Wait, we need to test time bombs on people?
MIKE: We need to test them on time.
Beryllium
dust poisoning is one example of a time-delay bomb.
CROW: And if the time bomb works we'll be able to vanquish whole *hours*!
TOM: Finally Wednesdays will tremble before our might!
If
you inhale BeO dust, it definitely won't hurt you a bit
right away
MIKE: Apart from how it makes your face fall off, but many people go on to
productive lives with no face whatsoever.
--- and cases of a fifteen-year delay have
been reported.
TOM: But they're unscientific reports so don't act on them!
Inasmuch as we now have pretty good indication
that genetic information is carried as a chemical code on
protein molecules,
TOM: If you don't know that DNA is not a protein.
CROW: The father of hard science fiction, ladies and gentlemen.
it's conceivable that a substance
might be discovered which affected only the genetic cells
of unborn babies.
MIKE: Ya think?
That one would first begin to show its
effects about eighteen years after it went into use.
TOM: If some girls want to wait to age twenty or even twenty-two before
having babies they're just evil people holding up the course of science.
CROW: Wait, don't babies just need nine months to grow?
(Yes, some girls affected by the stuff would start having
babies at thirteen or so
CROW: Even twelve, if you want to sound like a creepy guy.
MIKE: Why ... why do you?
CROW: I forget.
. . . but not until a large
number of affected individuals had babies would the
statistical numbers become large enough for credibility
and identification.)
So even a very, very cautious five-year system
wouldn't catch all the time-bomb drugs.
MIKE: And *that's* why it's a bad idea we catch any!
And we can't run a fifty-year program like that!
CROW: Or ... twenty-two years, from what he just described, but that's
close enough to fifty, right?
TOM: Hey, 22, 50, we're not talking exact numbers here, we're talking
science.
If someone finds a cancer cure today, will the world wait
until our grandchildren demonstrate that it has no hidden
menace, do you think?
MIKE: Well, not if they're born with too many genetic defects to live,
anyway.
CROW: That sure doesn't make me want to kill myself, Mike. Thanks.
And as to that cautious, two-year-plus-two-year
program . . . thalidomide would have been licensed with
flying colors!
TOM: Apart from the deformed babies that turned up within the first two
years of its use.
Test 1 is the animal test. Thalidomide proved
completely harmless --- in fact completely ineffective!
--- to the usual laboratory animals.
CROW: We've sent them a stern note about not being visibly harmed by drugs
earlier and more clearly.
(Since the blowup,
it's been found that enormous doses of thalidomide will
not make a rabbit sleep
MIKE: But a cup of cocoa and a nice bit of reading will.
. . . but will cause a pregnant
rabbit to produce abnormal young.
TOM: So it would have passed animal testing as long as nobody noticed the
deformed animals.
Equally massive doses
of barbiturates don't do that; they kill the rabbit.
ALL: [ A few seconds of Elmer Fudd-style cackling before giving up with
an 'ugh'. ]
It
wouldn't have indicated anything to the investigators
except that thalidomide was safer than barbiturates!
CROW: And to be fair, who could foresee humans being pregnant just because
rabbits can be?
And
it has now been discovered that, for reasons so far known
only to God, thalidomide does make horses sleep! But who
uses horses as "convenient laboratory animals for testing
new drugs"?
MIKE: So how do we know thalidomide makes horses sleep?
TOM: Who looks at a drug that makes horribly deformed human babies and
asks, 'What will this do for horses?'
And why should they; horses are herbivores,
with a metabolism quite a long way from Man's. Monkeys
are expensive --- and they don't really match Man.)
CROW: Unlike mankind's closest living relatives, rabbits.
Test 2 --- trying it on a small group of patients
first.
MIKE: Is that a few patients or just on patients who are very tiny?
TOM: Picturing a study on human adults each eighteen inches tall?
MIKE: Pretty much.
Now the first slight indication that thalidomide
could have some bad side-effects was that neuritis
business. It results from prolonged overuse of the drug.
TOM: Also the deformed babies, but that could just be the mothers' fault.
The doctors administering the first test-use of
the new drug would, of course, regulate it carefully.
CROW: Unlike in the real world, where they gave out two and a half million
tablets to a thousand doctors while waiting for the FDA to approve selling
them.
There would be no long-continued overuse under their
administration --- and therefore thalidomide wouldn't
have produced any neuritis.
TOM: As long as they didn't do anything that produced any problems
there'd never be any problems turning up.
On that first, limited-sample test, there would
be an inevitable, human tendency to avoid pregnant young
women as test subjects for so experimental a drug.
CROW: Because it's only a scientific test if you avoid real-world
conditions that would be messy or hard to deal with.
Result: thalidomide would have checked in as one
hundred per cent safe and effective.
MIKE: Except for rabbits.
The final two-year test was several thousand
people. On this one we don't have to guess; we've got the
statistics.
TOM: Knowing the answers as we do, we can sound smarter than the people
who were asking questions.
During the time thalidomide was being considered
by the Federal Drug Administration for licensing in this
country, selected physicians in the United States were
sent supplies of the drug for experimental use.
CROW: Under the 'What the heck, like something could go wrong?' program.
Under this program, 15,904 people are known to
have taken the pills.
MIKE: But we probably should've written down who they were, somewhere.
Certainly that's a good-sized
second-level testing group for our proposed
hyper-cautious test system.
TOM: I'd like to see it bigger and less cautious, of course, but we make
do with what we have.
Of those nearly 16,000 people, about 1 in 5 ---
3,272 --- were women of child-bearing age, and 207 of
them were pregnant at the time.
CROW: 86 of those listened to and enjoyed 'The Button-Down Mind of Bob
Newhart'. This is irrelevant to my point but is interesting nevertheless.
There were no abnormal babies born, and no cases
of polyneuritis reported.
TOM: And by 'no' I mean 'seventeen', but that's close enough to 'no' for
real science.
Thalidomide passed the cautious tests with flying
colors.
MIKE: Melting off the walls and pooling into a flavor of brick.
Now the abnormalities that thalidomide does cause
are some kind of misdirection of the normal growth-forces
of the foetus.
TOM: But in the future we could have limitless abnormalities!
The abnormalities are of a type that was
well known to medicine long before thalidomide came along
--- abnormal babies have been produced for all the years
the human race has existed, remember.
CROW: Heck, all things considered it's the non-deformed babies that are the
real sickos.
MIKE: Yeah, after this one I'm going to my bedroom and cry.
Suppose that in our test, some women did bear
abnormal babies. Say three of them were abnormal, and
lived.
CROW: They can be an example to the rest of us!
(A goodly number of the thalidomide-distorted
babies died within hours.
MIKE: *Technically* everyone dies within hours if you count high enough.
It doesn't only affect arms and
legs; thalidomide can mix up the internal organs as
though they had been stirred with a spoon.)
TOM: Thanks, that detail doesn't make me want to kill myself.
So . . . ? So what? Aren't a certain number of
abnormal babies appearing all the time anyway?
TOM: Yeah! Well, one in four million, born like that.
And with
all this atomic-bomb testing going on . . . and this
woman was examined repeatedly by X ray during pregnancy .
CROW: Really, with how complicated life is how can we ever really blame
anything for anything?
. . and remember that in the normal course of nine months
of living, she will have taken dozens of other drugs,
MIKE: Because it's the early 60s and we don't want to think about what
we're pumping into our bodies.
been exposed to uncountable other environmental
influences, perhaps been in a minor automobile accident .
. .
TOM: And you know how scaring the mother will leave a permanent mark on
the children, right?
Not until the drug is "tested" on literally
millions of human beings will it be possible to get
sufficiently numerous statistical samplings to be able to
get significant results.
TOM: Slightly more, in Canada.
Toss a coin three times, and it
may come heads every time. This proves coins fall
heads-up when tossed?
CROW: And even if it did, how would we know coin-tossing was causal and not
merely correlated to coins coming up at all?
MIKE: It's basic logic.
Another drug was introduced for experimental
testing some years ago.
TOM: Case closed.
The physicians who got it were
told to check their experimental patients carefully for
possibilities of damage to liver, stomach and/or kidneys,
CROW: Also if the drug punched anyone in the face and ran off with their
wallet.
the expected possible undesirable side-effects of the
drug. Practically no such damage was found --- the drug
was effective, and only in the very exceptional patient
TOM: The best kind! Everyone needs to be more like them.
caused sufficient liver, stomach or kidney reaction to
indicate it should be discontinued.
Only it caused blindness.
MIKE: Well, what was it supposed to do?
CROW: Risk damaging the liver, stomach, and kidneys, apparently.
MIKE: Man, the eyes are nowhere near any of those, no wonder they didn't
approve it.
TOM: I hope they didn't.
The reaction was frequent and severe enough to
make the drug absolutely impossible as a medicament ---
and was totally unexpected.
CROW: Nobody saw the blindness coming --- oh, now I feel like going to my
bedroom and weeping.
TOM: Yeah, this is a brutal one.
It had not caused any such
reaction in any of the experimental animals.
MIKE: In retrospect, testing exclusively on star-nosed moles may have been
a mistake.
No --- the lesson of thalidomide is quite simple.
TOM: It's 'thalidomide', not 'thalidomine', however much you think you
remember it the other way.
MIKE: Hey, wait, it is, isn't it?
So long as human beings hope to make progress in
control of disease and misery, some people will be lost
in the exploration of the unknown.
CROW: Don't go looking for them. There's grues there.
There is no way to prevent that. There is no
possible system of tests that can avoid it --- only
minimize the risk.
TOM: By shoving unproved drugs down millions of people's throats just in
case one of them is good for something! The drugs, I mean, not the people.
We could, of course, simply stop trying new drugs
at all.
MIKE: Gotta say, it does sound like we're not very good at making them.
The animals never did try the pain and the risk
of fire. They're still animals, too.
January 1963 John W Campbell
TOM: Who died of drinking DDT in a lead-lined glass while smoking an
asbestos-filtered cigarette laced with cyclamates.
CROW: And saying none of it was statistically proven.
MIKE: John Glenn, everybody. John Glenn.
TOM: Let's just get *out* of this popsicle stand.

[ ALL exit. ]

[ 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW are in a line. ]

MIKE: Well, Pearl, wherever you are ... I hope you're satisfied with this
heap of misery you've inflicted on us.
TOM: I think the only thing that'll rescue our mood is the lighthearted
yet barbed whimsy of the Rankin/Bass universe.
CROW: _Rudolph's Shiny New Year_ is on.
MIKE: The one where our hero Rudolph is searching for the Baby New Year,
which will make thousand-year-old Aeon die.
TOM: Oh good heavens.
[ CROW flops over, defeated. ]
MIKE: Happy new year, everyone, and to all ... guh.



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Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations
therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc, so I'd appreciate if you
didn't tell them what I've been up to all these years. The essay 'The
Lesson Of Thalidomide' by John W Campbell was originally published in Analog
and appeared in the archive.org resource _Collected Editorials From Analog_,
https://archive.org/details/collectededitori01camp where it and much other
writing can be enjoyed at your leisure. Nothing untoward or mean is meant
toward John W Campbell or anyone at Analog, and I'm not irritated with
archive.org or anything either. If you're feeling bad about all this,
consider: the word 'bunny' seems to come from Gaelic 'bun', referring to
their tails, and doesn't that make you grin some?
for all I can know, she may have perfect and
reliable trans-temporal clairvoyance, so that, in 1960,
she was reading the medical reports published in late
1961, and basing her decisions very logically on that
trans-temporal data.
--
Joseph Nebus
Math: Reading the Comics: Surely This Is It For 2014?
http://wp.me/p1RYhY-Ge
Humor: Why This Mouse Situation Doesn't Need Control
http://wp.me/p37lb5-GT
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