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Can Scientists Create a Cure for Pain From Scorpions, Spiders, and Centipedes?

No information is too obscure to be of potential use.

by
Theodore Dalrymple

Bio

December 31, 2013 - 7:00 pm
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Scientists are often portrayed as archetypally rational men, mere calculating machines in human form who propose correct new theories by infallible deduction from what is already known. Science cannot possibly advance in this way, however, and the philosopher Karl Popper pointed out long ago that leaps of the imagination are as necessary to science as they were to art

I have never been able to make such leaps myself, which is why I admire them in others. I remember meeting a researcher into malaria who was trying to produce a vaccine, not against the malarial parasite itself, but against the stomach lining of the mosquitoes that carried the parasite. He hoped that such a vaccine would kill the mosquitoes – causing them to explode in mid-flight, perhaps – and thus prevent the spread of the disease. The idea did not work, but I was impressed by the boldness of the conception.

For the scientist no information is too obscure to be of potential use. And what information could be more obscure than that the desert-dwelling grasshopper mouse that likes eating the bark scorpion, whose sting causes severe pain in all other possible predators and makes them avoid it? Most of us, I think, would say, “All very interesting, professor, but so what?” The scientist, however, asks why the grasshopper mouse is immune to the painful effects of the scorpion venom, and whether, on discovering the reason, it might not help in the development of new analgesics. Mankind has long believed that remedies for its afflictions are to be found in Nature, but only scientists can go about systematically investigating the possibilities. Imagination is a necessary but not sufficient quality for scientific research.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, in a long-running series that tries to connect basic scientific research with clinical progress, draws attention to research on the grasshopper mouse. The article is provocatively entitled Darwin 1, Pharma 0, thereby drawing our attention to the fact that millions of years of natural selection have done for the grasshopper mouse what a century of research by pharmaceutical companies has not been able to do for Man. The comparison seems neither apt nor fair, but any stick these days is good enough to beat Big Pharma with.

The grasshopper mouse, it seems, has a mutant gene that prevents a component in the scorpion venom from activating the peripheral nerve cells involved in the transmission of pain. Could human pain be alleviated or even abolished if a compound were found that acts on the mechanism that the normal version of the gene, present in all other mammal genomes, controls?

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14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
What the author describes sounds a lot like Thomas Kuhn's Paradigm Shift defined in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962). Kuhn's thesis was that most scientific advances come from the margins, not from traditional, mainstream thought. Gives value to thinking outside the envelope.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
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14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let one of these little beasts sting you and you'll forget all about your arthritis.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
my granddad would split a yellow onion and rub it on puncture wound . reduced swelling and lightened pain
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agree completely. Only genius accounts for the leaps in science and such necessary tools as mathematics. How else to explain the achievements of Newton, Einstein, Gauss and Euler, to name but a few. But it also takes many highly skilled purely rational men and women to turn the ideas of geniuses into useful technology. What I fear is that we have created an educational system that demands conformity, stifles genius, and filters all through a filter of political correctness. Today the Newton's of the world would be given adderall and punished for thinking and expressing ideas not in line with the established political view.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
A good insecticide goes a long way toward solving this problem before it starts. Too bad that diazinon and chlordane are no longer available.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
DDT use here in the desert southwest resulted in the virtual elimination of bark scorpions (among other pest insects) for decades. They are only just now beginning to make a comeback.

Curses, Rachel Carson.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why "scientists"? ANYONE. Take an interest in the thing and play with it, work with it, market it. Make it work.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
To do such a thing is an application of science. 'anyone' is not capable of such work.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Disagree. Newton wasn't credentialed by society to do what he did. Einstein was a patent clerk when he did his breakthrough work. The Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, born in a rural culture, was self-taught. Today, we demand scientists to have "degrees" from credentialed colleges to work. Genius cannot be predicted or directed. It is serendipitous. While almost anyone is not capable of such work, there are a few born in each generation who could be anybody. While genius might be stifled by lack of nurture, it can has shown itself from the most astonishing of circumstances.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
What if Abraham Lincoln had been aborted?
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Interesting how the process of getting a degree seems to ensure a sort of group think approach to science and technology. It would seem that the pursuit of credentials pours cold water on creative thought and could really tamp down genius.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yet, people who claim to be Darwinian will defend the credential until Hell freezes over.
That's why our current crop of "experts" quite simply, ain't.
Rice bowls trump everything, at all times and all situations.
14 weeks ago
14 weeks ago Link To Comment
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