© 2023 Public Radio Tulsa
800 South Tucker Drive
Tulsa, OK 74104
(918) 631-2577

A listener-supported service of The University of Tulsa
PRT Header Color
classical 88.7 | public radio 89.5
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Doctor as National Hero -- "Jonas Salk: A Life"

salk-book-photo.jpg
Aired on Tuesday, May 19th.

On this edition of ST, we're discussing an interesting new biography, "Jonas Salk: A Life." Our guest is Dr. Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs, the Shenson Professor of Medicine (Emerita) at Stanford University. Dr. Jacobs -- who's also the author of "Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin's Disease" -- remembers firsthand the polio scare of the middle 20th century, and thus also remembers Salk's widespread celebrity in this country; her heroic portrait of Salk was hailed as a "treasure trove of facts and stories" by Library Journal. And further, per a starred review in Kirkus: "An extraordinarily rich biography of the doctor Americans adored and all but regarded as a saint.... Jacobs delivers a nuanced portrait of Salk (1914-1995), a complex and kind man with a mission to do good for mankind. Salk scotched his plan to become a lawyer when his mother disapproved, and he entered medicine. Early on, he worked on an influenza vaccine, demonstrating the possibility of achieving immunity with a dead rather than weakened live virus. He adopted the same strategy for polio, going against the conventional wisdom of senior investigators. Jacobs chronicles the polio years with a vivid, you-are-there quality. Remarkably, the research and clinical trials of the Salk vaccine all stemmed from the coffers of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and its March of Dimes campaigns. Unfortunately, Salk's availability and popularity with the media only further damaged his credentials with scientists who thought him a scientific lightweight and egotist. Nonetheless, he eventually realized a second dream: to build a scientific institute where great minds could conduct research and bridge the gap between science and the humanities. The result was the Salk Institute, set in La Jolla, California, in buildings designed by Louis Kahn. Sadly, the prestigious institute never bridged the culture gap, and Salk was effectively banished from his lab over time. Yet in his private life, he drew inspiration from a second marriage to Françoise Gilot (a Picasso mistress), and in old age, he enjoyed liaisons with a handful of attractive, intelligent young women with whom he shared a lifetime habit of nighttime thoughts jotted down in moments of wakefulness. Throughout, the author demonstrates a deep understanding of the character and the nature of science in the latter half of the 20th century.... Jacobs makes a convincing case that Salk was a shy man who never succeeded in making the scientific or personal connections that could bring happiness, but his idealism proved a boon to mankind."

Rich Fisher passed through KWGS about thirty years ago, and just never left. Today, he is the general manager of Public Radio Tulsa, and the host of KWGS’s public affairs program, StudioTulsa, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in August 2012 . As host of StudioTulsa, Rich has conducted roughly four thousand long-form interviews with local, national, and international figures in the arts, humanities, sciences, and government. Very few interviews have gone smoothly. Despite this, he has been honored for his work by several organizations including the Governor's Arts Award for Media by the State Arts Council, a Harwelden Award from the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, and was named one of the “99 Great Things About Oklahoma” in 2000 by Oklahoma Today magazine.
Related Content
  • Following an expert panel's recommendations, The National Institutes of Health announced it will not issue new awards for experiments using chimps until a new set of strict criteria is in place. The panel also recommended setting up an independent oversight committee that includes members of the public.
  • Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan are the only three countries left where poliovirus remains endemic. But work to put the paralyzing virus on the ropes there is in danger of failing. The setbacks have spurred a renewed focus on defeating the disease.
  • Through their Facebook pages, chat rooms and message boards, patients are recruiting each other to participate in medical research in a kind of virtual word-of-mouth. Patient-initiated research is especially appealing to people with rare diseases whom researchers can't easily find.
  • Northern Nigeria is the only region in the world where the number of polio cases is on the rise. International groups have poured money and volunteers into the area to combat the disease. But vaccinators face daunting challenges — from security threats like terrorist bombings to a lack of basic resources like electricity.
  • We're right on the verge of wiping out polio globally. But to do that, children in remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan must be inoculated with the heat-sensitive vaccine — not once, but multiple times. Time to call in the donkeys.
  • The appearance of an unusual type of poliovirus in Pakistan exposed gaps in vaccination campaigns. When a community isn't well immunized against polio, the weakened virus used in the oral vaccine can mutate and then infect unvaccinated people.
  • The world is close to wiping out polio, as the number of new cases is at an all-time low. But recent violence against polio vaccinators threatens to reverse this progress. Recently, gunmen killed nine polio vaccinators in Nigeria, mirroring attacks in Pakistan in December.
  • When Superstorm Sandy flooded lower Manhattan last year, thousands of lab animals drowned and many scientists lost months or even years of work. The specialty animals can be very difficult to replace, but researchers say the loss of animal life is emotionally devastating and difficult to get over.
  • The World Health Organization released a six-year plan to wipe out the remaining pockets of polio and ensure the virus doesn't come back. With fewer than 20 polio cases so far this year, the world is closer than ever before to eradicating polio.
  • New drugs are usually tested in animals before they're tested in humans. But many of those studies aren't done carefully enough, analysts say. So time and money is wasted, and treatments are delayed.
  • The Havasupai Native American tribe celebrated Blood Victory Day this week. That's the anniversary of their legal victory over researchers who misused members' blood samples without proper consent.
  • The study is the first to test an oral vaccine in the middle of an outbreak — in Guinea in 2012. And it offered a remarkable degree of protection against this deadly disease.
  • Vaccination isn't a perfect defense against flu. But vaccines remain the most reliable way to reduce the risk from an illness that causes thousands of deaths in the U.S. during a typical flu season.
  • There are some deep political lessons in how the 2016 hopefuls fumbled the political hot potato.
  • Scientists can no longer guarantee privacy for patients donating tissue and DNA for medical research. NPR's Arun Rath talks with Jennifer Couzin-Frankel of Science Magazine.
  • A dentist unearths documents detailing the sugar industry's influence over the National Institutes of Health's research agenda in the 1960s and 1970s. At issue: setting limits for sugar intake.