See bottom of article for Polish translation

Perhaps we might remember Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, who also died in 2012, and whose work on the prevention of deaths of premature babies saved an estimated 800,000 lives. So far.

Let’s remember William Staub who invented the treadmill. Complain if you must, but, particularly for those in cold weather climates, a treadmill can help maintain the eight-minute mile pace that many scientists claim dramatically increases cardiovascular health. Indeed William Staub used his own product well into a healthy and functional nineties. His work lengthened thousands of lives (and, heck, listen to a book on tape, or watch TV, if you want to whine about getting on the treadmill).

Irving Millman’s work led to the creation of the Hepatitis B vaccine. Vaccines are hard to market because they don’t generate a lot of income for the pharmaceutical industry.  Yet, once instituted, the Hepatitis B vaccine saved millions of lives. That’s millions!  Dr. Millman also earned a Bronze Star in WWII. Obscure second stringers on TV shows? They made the Time-Life obituary cut. But not Dr. Millman.

Renato Dulbecco won a Nobel Prize for his work on onco-viruses, the type that cause cancer. His work was the basis for later preventative measures, including science that helps counteract HIV. Dr. Dulbecco also served in the Italian resistance against Mussolini. Dr. Dulbecco’s research laid the groundwork for saving many lives.

Russell Train ran the Environmental Protection Agency under Richard Nixon. A lawyer, Train reached the rank of Major during WWII. At EPA Train pushed for a sound science approach. A Republican who had served on the National Water Commission in the Johnson years, Train was trusted to be objective by both political parties. He helped push for approval of catalytic converters in cars, significantly decreasing pollution thus improving public health.  He led implementation of the Toxic Substances Control Act. He later headed the World Wildlife Fund, expanding the organization’s focus to go beyond species and include protection of habitat for species. Train led the organization’s concept of addressing developing-world debt in exchange for nature preservation – known as “debt for nature swaps.”  His bipartisan objective lawyering stands as a testament to what seems a bygone era of public service based on reasoned analysis. 

Dr. Lester Breslow literally transformed the field of public health from one that was almost entirely focused on infectious disease to one that includes analysis of how personal behavior pertains to longevity.  He advised a half-dozen presidents. In the 1950s he used science to show the ill effects of smoking. His California research helped form the basis for the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking. Governor Ronald Reagan fired him from his job as Director of California’s Public Health Department because Dr. Breslow objected to health care cuts for the poor.  Dr. Breslow’s early work dramatically changed the field of public health by specifically documenting how exercise, avoiding smoking, drinking only in moderation, and other factors extended life – and he provided data to back it up. 

Before abortion was legal, Dr. Jean Pakter documented the number of women who were horribly injured or died from abortions.  Her efforts led to the 1970 law making safe regulated abortion legal in New York three years before the Supreme Court decision. She devised a new process for the treatment of premature babies, a process that saved many lives and still does.  This wonderful woman was one of but four women who entered NYU’s 1934 Medical School class. A font of statistics for decades, she found that, at that time anyway, fewer women were impregnated in the spring or in her words, “the gleam in a young man’s eye is in the fall.”  Her work for women’s rights and for premature babies was both life-saving and historic. She died at 101. Not a mention by Time-Life.

John Atta Mills died while President of Ghana.  A lawyer, Mills expanded health care and ambulance service, and expanded education funding.  A politician with a sense of humor, Mills increased the strength of an already more stable African nation with his emphasis on education and public health. He also sometimes played for the Ghanaian national hockey team (not too many presidents can say that).

George McGovern was mentioned in year end obituaries, but not for his policy impact on public health. McGovern led President Kennedy’s new Food for Peace program starting in 1961. McGovern’s leadership of the program increased the ability of hungry children to focus and get an education and is credited with dramatically increasing the affection and esteem for the United States of America that was expressed overwhelmingly in the developing world upon the assassination of President Kennedy.  McGovern, a WWII combat pilot hero, saw starving children in Europe during the war.  In later years, working with Republican Senator Bob Dole, a fellow combat veteran, Senator McGovern secured funding for hungry children worldwide and for pregnant and nursing mothers. This effort increases IQ. Often girls who don’t eat drop out of school before boys.  McGovern’s effort helped address these injustices and increase economic growth in the developing world.

Italian Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini wasn’t supposed to get involved in science because she was a Jew. Mussolini’s government in the 1930s had banned Jews from academic careers. Undeterred, she simply set up a lab in her bedroom where she experimented on chicken embryos.  She won her Nobel for work on cells, work that increased the understanding of cancer.  She carried on several hours of research every day until her death her death at 103, a death that came after lunch as if she was falling asleep.

Senator Daniel Inouye, whose well-documented bravery while horribly wounded in WWII is almost beyond comprehension, led conservation of huge tracts of land for incorporation into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Inouye, who vanquished several German soldiers with his right arm destroyed, said that his experiences rehabilitating from battle increased his commitment to health research for which he successfully secured funding.

Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride are justly profiled in the major magazine obituary retrospectives.   As astronauts, their celebrity “fire power” is entirely understandable, but Neil Armstrong, though incredibly and repeatedly brave in battle and as a test pilot, was a proud engineer.  Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, a physicist with a Stanford degree, would agree that these other marvelous human beings -- who moved forward science, technology, public health and the public policies that support these life-saving endeavors -- should be well-recognized by the general public as well.  Maybe leaders in these endeavors deserve more focus than second-tier TV stars.

At the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, we will continue to promote the values and policies that make this world a better place -- and holding the people profiled here in the highest esteem is an essential part of that effort. 

Dlaczego uratowanie milionów ludzi nie przekłada się na duży nekrolog?

Autor tekstu: Sean Faircloth

Tłumaczenie: Małgorzata Koraszewska

Zarówno w specjalnym wydaniu nekrologów „Farewell" pisma „Life", jak w ostatnim zeszłorocznym numerze pisma „Time" przedstawiono sylwetki dwojga ludzi nauki: Neila Armstronga i Sally Ride. Bardzo cieszę się, że to zrobiono. Oboje są wspaniałymi przykładami dla nas wszystkich. Niemniej, mimo że „Life" opublikował profil jednego z aktorów, który grał w starym programie telewizyjnym Moi trzej synowie, nie opublikowali niczego o wielu zmarłych naukowcach. Lubię gwiazdy filmowe. Rozkoszuję się mało znanymi zespołami rockowymi, ale jak piszę w mojej książce Afterword, wcześniejsze zestawy nekrologów słynnych ludzi wydają się pomijać tych, którzy wywarli długotrwały wpływ na nasze życie, daleko przyćmiewający drugorzędnych aktorów w starych serialach telewizyjnych.

Być może moglibyśmy pamiętać dr Mary Ellen Avery, która także zmarła w 2012 r., i której praca nad zapobieganiem śmierci wcześniaków uratowała, jak się szacuje, 800 tysięcy dzieci. Jak dotąd.

Pamiętajmy Williama Stauba, który wynalazł ruchomą bieżnię. Marudź, jeśli musisz, ale tym, którzy mieszkają w zimnym klimacie, bieżnia może pomóc zachować tempo pięciu minut na kilometr, a taka kondycja — zdaniem wielu naukowców - radykalnie poprawia funkcjonowanie układu krążenia. Sam William Staub używał swojego produktu dobrze po dziewięćdziesiątce, w zdrowiu i w pełni funkcjonując. Jego praca przedłużyła życie milionów (i, do diabła, słuchaj podczas jej używania audiobooków albo patrz na telewizor, ale nie marudź na bieżnię).

Praca Irvinga Millmana doprowadziła do stworzenia szczepionki na żółtaczkę B. Szczepionki trudno jest wprowadzać na rynek, bo nie dają wielkich dochodów przemysłowi farmaceutycznemu. Niemniej, raz wprowadzona, ta szczepionka uratowała życie mionom ludzi. Milionom! Dr Millman zdobył także Brązową Gwiazdę w drugiej wojnie światowej. Mało znani drugorzędni aktorzy telewizyjni? Oni mają nekrolog w „Time" i „Life". Ale nie dr Millman.

Czytaj dalej