I’ve fallen … and I can’t get up!

Some say there is no room for politics in science. That’s wrong. Politics is what distinguishes us from raccoons and is what funds science and medicine, like it or not

Peter Kissinger
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I was looking forward to a presidential defenestration inthe US of A, and it was not to be. It's hard to imagine a football coach withfour losing seasons getting a contract extension for four more of the same.Recruiting has been weak, transparency has been opaque, investment returns ontaxpayer's money negative and team spirit for "we, the people" is as bad asI've seen it in seven decades. 
To be fair, for the first two of my decades, I was clueless.My third decade, in the late 1960s, was bad. Many were mad then, but today weare more frustrated and sad, starving for a better day and not quite knowinghow to get it all restarted. If we had a Minister for Happiness, as does theHimalayan kingdom of Bhutan, she would be very sad indeed.
We completed a contest that was characterized by puttingclass against class, race against race, religion against religion and youngagainst old. Billions of dollars were spent being divisive, and we never couldseriously debate. We heard the word "liar" an awful lot. 
Then there were references to "tired old policies," "thetop-two percent," "playing by the same rules," "paying down a deficit on thebacks of the poor, sick and old," "millionaires and billionaires," "war onwomen," "spread the wealth around" and "fair share." What rules, what policies,what's fair, what's the fix? These were not revealed. 
One of the campaigns proposed no substantive plans and spentits war chest vilifying the two good men in opposition. It worked, but made noone happy. The other campaign made really foolish statements on immigration andsocial issues that threw raw meat to their opponents. Long-term policyquestions faded completely in the face of short-term greed and fear. Truth isthe first casualty of a political campaign.
As depressing as this is to those respectful of the basictenets of our democracy, it is not new. Supporters of both John Adams andThomas Jefferson in the campaign of 1800 transformed the other candidate into amonster, ignoring the reality of two founding fathers of exceptionalaccomplishment. Who they purportedly fathered was one of the issues and ''acountry" was not one of the answers.
In 1800, there was no Twitter, no e-mail, no blogging, nocable TV, no Smartphones, few newspapers and no electricity. Today, you canindeed repeat a thing often enough with it being heard frequently enough thatit becomes true enough. This technique is referred to as "truth by assertion,"and there is no doubt about its efficacy. "If you repeat a lie often enough, itbecomes the truth."—Goebbels. 
I know this works very well on even the best and brightestof my academic colleagues. They sufferfrom confirmation or expectation bias, as do all experimentalists, racists,misogynists and columnists. In our industry, most of us operate according to anhonor code with respect to competitors. Imagine if we didn't. A new flowcytometer is introduced. The leading competitor then runs a series of ads,Tweets and blogs accusing advocates for the new device to be mean to cells, toline them up against their will and to be especially unfair to circulatingtumor cells. Their instrument clearly doesn't work, includes shoddy parts,service is terrible and their application notes are all fabricated while theycheat on their taxes. The integrity of science is based on facts, and facts winthe day. We are often guilty of excessive enthusiasm for our own themes, butfor the most part, we don't live by bashing others.
But what defines an American? What is our plan, our missionstatement? We either do not know or have forgotten. We've always been aheterogeneous mixture—a melting pot—but today our multicultural tendencies haverun away from integration toward segregated tribes. Focusing on the values thatseparate the demographics is a proven way to destroy a society. That was notthe intention of recognizing and valuing differences. We are no longer blended,but rather hyphenated.
Some say there is no room for politics in science. That'swrong. Politics is what distinguishes us from raccoons and is what fundsscience and medicine, like it or not. Not only is our national debt heading ineluctably toward $20 trillion,our gross national happiness continues to head south, and the slope issteepening. I wonder how the labs are doing in Bhutan.
What have I learned this year that I didn't know sooner? Ilearned that junk DNA is no longer junk. I learned that tumors evolve to resistthe drugs we throw at them. I learned that noninvasive prenatal genetic testingshows much promise. This was the year of extensive exposure of the human gutmicrobiome and its role in health and disease, suggesting new avenues forresearch. Recent FDA approvals of first-in-class therapies are a further causefor celebration—so, too, Big Pharma's embrace of more open innovation.
Together, they will achieve more. I learned that we havemultiple satellites circling Mars and communicating with a cool SUV makingchemical and physical measurements while sending us vacation pictures. Ilearned that others purportedly have evidence for the Higgs boson. I can't seeanything in Facebook but a waste of time. The election aside, science advancednicely in 2012.
Have a great 2013! I fear the '13 is a premonition, at leastfor weak funding prospects for government grants. Then again, the Mayandoomsday prophesies for my wife's birthday on Dec. 21 may be an escape for usall. I could buy a fabulous gift on credit—and never have to pay for it. Now Ifeel better. Catharsis is achieved.
Peter T. Kissinger isprofessor of chemistry at Purdue University, chairman emeritus of BASi and adirector of Chembio Diagnostics, Phlebotics and Prosolia.


Peter Kissinger

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