Thursday, December 19, 2019

Robin Wolfe Scheffler

Robin Wolfe Scheffler is the Leo Marx Career Development Chair in the History and Culture of Science and Technology at the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

His latest book is A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine.

From his Q&A with Carrie Adams at the University of Chicago Press blog:

In A Contagious Cause, you trace the history of the human cancer virus in twentieth-century America, documenting its origins and impact on the modern biological sciences. What drew you to this specific topic?

In the last fifty years our knowledge of the molecular basis of life has exploded. As one famous molecular biologist remarked, what was true of E. Coli bacteria was also true of elephants. When I started studying the history of modern biology I wanted to find a way of following this dramatic set of developments. As others have followed salt or cod, I was excited at the idea of telling this story by following cancer viruses, which formed the basis of many important advances in fundamental molecular biology.

However, as I followed these viruses, I found more and more questions rather than answers. When did the idea that “germs” existed in human cancer emerge, and who believed it? How was it possible for the American government to launch campaign larger than the Human Genome Project in pursuit of a vaccine for a human cancer virus whose existence was not proven? Why were so many leading molecular biologists dismissive of the idea of curing cancer despite receiving so much support from the National Cancer Institute?

Ultimately, I found following cancer viruses to be...[read on]
Learn more about A Contagious Cause at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Contagious Cause.

--Marshal Zeringue