« Revisionist History

The Imaginary Crimes of Margit Hamosh

2018-07-05

Epidemics of fear repeat themselves. The first time as tragedy. The second time as farce. Margit Hamosh? Definitely farce. 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
In early summer of nineteen ninety nine there was a strange incident in Belgium. Brothers had been taken back from the market when it happened, but obviously it was already a bit too late. It began, a secondary school. Town called borne him just outside Antwerp, a group of students got sick, abdominal distress head nausea, trembling dizziness dozens of kids first wave all get up in the hospital and there Commonality was that there had been eating together, but each even their own sandwiches, so there was no possibility of a food borne problem. That's been. Why memory his medical toxicologist at the University of Love- and he was part of the group that investigated the outbreak among students.
The only thing that they have in common is that they had drunk Coca cola from bottles from creates, and allegedly there was a strange older in the cook, and then the school teachers went in the different classrooms asking is anybody feeling and well and drunk Coca COLA, which of course made sense at the time, but that led the few more children to reports sick to be taken to hospital. The story, National. The evening news was a montage of ambulances and worried parents. The next day for more schools reported outbreaks, a minute was really a state of panic. Every single Coca COLA product in Belgium
pulled from the shells and destroyed thirty million cans and bottles, the largest recall and Coca COLA history. The company was in crisis, the stock price plummeted. I was transfixed by the belgian coke crisis, not because I had any special interest in cooking. Allah or Belgium, but because the whole affair reminded me of another panic something I'd live through years before that left me baffled and frustrate My name is, Come Gladwell, you listening The revision is, history, might podcast about things forgotten misunderstood. The next to episodes are about a panic that swept the United States a quarter century ago. Outbreak of insanity. I was in the middle covered it as a young, Rapporteur for the Washington Post, but it took the belgian coke crisis.
A few years later for me to understand why it happened you know what poisoned all those Belgians, nothing. The best explanation Coca COLA could come up with was at some of the carbon dioxide at their local bottling plant had been contaminated with sulphur compounds enough to cause slight odor, but trace amounts orders of magnitude below what is necessary to cause illness. No major toxins detected nothing that would suggest true poisoning and so academia. Logically, it made no sense that there was Listening by a single the same agent, looking into it memory and his colleagues concluded that the crisis was an example of what is known as a mass socio genetic illness. What used to be called mass hysteria people had real symptoms.
They were nauseated and vomiting and dizzy, and the initial of Coke served in the school in borne. Him was a bit off, but the coke didn't poisoned. There was no actual connection between their sickness and the thing they thought made them sick Memory says that he saw another socio gigantic outbreak first hand in Soviet Georgia. In nineteen. Eighty nine soviet troops had spread a group of protesters with chemical agents terrible into The strange thing, though, was it: the children of the protesters had the same symptoms as their parents, even though they were the ones who were spray. In the medical literature. There are countless cases like this, a group of people linked by some shared anxiety, come to believe they had been. To something malevolent. Scary thing is that when you in the middle of a socio genetic outbreak, when you're, vomiting and running a fever after drinking your can of coke, you have no
idea. None, but the key cause you your illness. Is all in your imagination. So she saw her native town was german attention Spoke Hebrew and she learned English and she learned French and she laughed yeah. She knew very well. She spoke with private, in conversation lead in this I met the said Otto Hamish just outside of Baltimore on her porch she's, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins next to her is her sister to MAR Professor of medicine at Yale University and next to MAR their father, Paul retired professor of medicine, at George John University, ATA
and tomorrow we are talking about their mother Marguerite, also Professor Medicine Georgetown University. Until she died of cancer in two thousand and eleven, and they want your cancers. Like I'm willing me a better, tell me I'm just the way she did her whole adventure is very positive. Amazing ability to make. Ever she was talking to think that they were the single most important person in the room. With a most interesting story, Marguerite Hamish was born in Germany, then raised Bucharest after her family fled the Nazis in nineteen thirty six she met her when Paul in Israel after the war was the star he was to protect her. He was, he was the commander. Schooling, nature. You don't have meningitis. When you get how can move your neck? He to play is akin to the aims you chaired aside. He took a back seat to her. He always did for sixty years. They retain
It had breakfast in bed. Together they would dragged work together, they would work in the same offers them drive home together. They would make dinner together, they will wherever they are definitely better enable concept that another seen from your father. Who I have all the time which run before server. Yes, that's what you would say that I have no reason to think he would have her mom. You know me: they were hurries, even only were in their sixty sooner. They always read the paper. On a Sunday morning we had a big and so They would read the paper and they would look chase each other around. Like I mean like kids in love, I mean like Ok, guys, like you're, sixty five we ve had our debts is bizarre Marguerite Hamish, discovered an enzyme critical for newborn digestion became,
expert on human milking nutrition. Lectured all over the World ran a major laboratories, Georgetown Fund, by millions in research grants from the National Institutes of Health and intellectual, elegant and even with your three children, a full time job and everything else, they went on at least three times a week to a apply. Or a cancer or performers. Every week, one weekend day was museums, editing, there's something for the weak, on Saturday afternoon, the author was on anything made, a sound you that, due to the neck from I from Lincoln. In the late nineteenth eighties Marguerite Hamish had a small problem in her lap. Nothing major disagreement, with one of her researchers, the researcher quit, then she changed her mind wanted her job back. The Hamish is rehired her the second time around three
Did your grew even more disgruntled? She ended up making. Series of accusations. Georgetown launched an investigation, Hamish was cleared, but the researcher than appealed who case to the National Institutes of Health, the institution that when Hamish Research, because the h gives out billions of dollars in research grants they have mechanism to ensure that money is used appropriately. In those days it was an investigative unit called the o s eye the office of scientific integrity. When first. He could not resolve disputes on their own. The o aside, step in and take the case, that's what happened Hamish the office. I investigated and wrote a report. Lastly, what is this? All about? and the truth is that I really didn't. When it was all about in the sense that you know there was a lot of granting and rating going on now. Let me ask you
Yes, when was the last time you heard about an internal laboratory dispute between. Medical researchers working in some esoteric corner of human physiology. Unless you're a scientist, I'm gonna, guess never. People in academic laboratories work long hours in close quarters. The pay is low. You can spend years on an experiment with little to show for it. You might see person. Next, you get a job or published a paper or winning the ward that you think you deserved. Competition for funding is intense labs, stressful places. So what that's? Why scientists publish their results to work out disagreements among themselves fights rarely go public, except during a brief period in the early nineties, nineties, the window of insanity when everything went public.
Back, then I was on a team of science riders at the Washington Post. We call ourselves the pod. We wrote about medicine in physics in psychology and covered the health bureaucracy, the age, the food and Drug Administration, the CDC, and what were we obsessed with? Not just us, but our counterparts in other newspapers as well science fraud, There was the Baltimore case and insanely complicated allegation against a Nobel Prize winner, David Baltimore, the Gallo case, an unbelievable tale of the AIDS virus in a lab theft, the Cleveland Clinic case it never ended, leaks lawsuits, page one stories, big headlines, a science writer of the Chicago Tribune, a reporter named John Kreutz and wrote eighty thousand words on the gallows case. Eighty,
thousand words, for a newspaper. I have written books that aren't eighty thousand words. There was a nine. Our congressional hearing, entirely devoted to a scientific paper entitled altered repertoire of India. Genus amino globular, Jean expression and transgenic mice containing a rearranged mew. The chain Jean nine hours. During Congressmen attempted to sound intelligent on the subject of transgenic new products. Then in the middle of all of this Marguerite Hamish, I never met her but for some reason, out of all the cases that bubbled up in the great science panic hers was always the case that effect to be the deepest. It made me angry in ways that will take the better part of this episode and the next to explain.
Why did Marguerite Hamish choose to spend her life in a laboratory? Out of all the thing she could have done, it's not hard to imagine. She was a refugee from Nazi Germany, there were times I remember vividly. I interrupted my mother because I don't know I was in sixth grade and a boy don t or something- It may me- and she looked at me- and she said you know at your age I was You know in an area, shelter, you know wondering what I was gonna eat, elaborate I offered order and certainty and safety after all, she'd been true what happens outside the laboratory doesn't matter, and then out of the blue, the outside old does matter a routine disagreement with someone in her lab turn. Into a national story, Marguerite. Hamish has been forced to defend yourself against charges of falsifying data. Plagiarism
mismanaging research in her laboratory, Washington, Post January twenty second. Ninety ninety one written by one colleagues, I am not going to say who, because I think that any of US pact then could have written it. It was what we did. I remember vividly when that paper came out in one of my friends said: have you seen his paper? have you seen this article, and I said what article and I like is your: did your mom commit scientific fraud? I'm like no. What are you talkin about, and I read it? I was like gosh. This is bad the Hamish is didn't wanna talk at first, they told. They didn't want to dig up all those memories. I was married to her fifty seven years and I was I also promoted- I myself relationship
and he couldn't pretended from us. It was really that serves as a golden protecting children. In this particular case, Paul Hamish could not protect Marguerite anymore. She had been so up in a pen, a sense of pride that comes with being able to talk confidently and intelligently about a subject and feel you truly understand it. That's what the great courses plus is all about. With this streaming service, you have the freedom to learn more about virtually any topic and not just get them six but truly mastering learn unique risks
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over a year since Dennis David Acer died of in Florida and he left I've of his former patients with the disease of AIDS? The opera? When pressure September, one thousand nine hundred and ninety one Oprah's guest is twenty. Three year old, Kimberly Bergalis one hundred and five patients infected by doctor. Has there been any clarification Kimberly on how you can acted the disease, was there a cut, or was it was the doktor was it transmitted through the instrument or what is have you been clarified, on that as yet you down- and I suppose that this point it doesn't really matter that much bearing the AIDS epidemic was then at its height there was no effective treatment. The epidemic had started with the gay community, an ivy drug users and people who had received contaminated blood transfusions, but
Kimberly by gallus wasn't gay or a drug user or someone who had gone through a major medical procedure. She was just a college student in Florida, a virgin from religious family who had done nothing more than go, see the dentist. If you were to chart public fear of HIV over time, that's or of nineteen? Ninety one during Kimberly, brick, Alice's, slow and very public death was the peak Bardell us. His parents took her in a train from their home in Florida to Washington DC to tell To fight before Congress, they wanted mandatory HIV testing for all health care providers, an army of rape orders some around the country climbed on board to document her journey. I was one of them Kimberly per Gallus, his right of rage September, twenty six nineteen, ninety one washed imposed. She was down to seventy pounds by that point. When she spoke to reporters her father
carry her in his arms. There was a sixty minutes episode of After a long running controversy over whether her dentist deliberately infected her interviews, headlines and then Oprah ice. Now, in a recent letter to Florida, health officials Kimberly regardless makes it clear who is she It is responsible for her having this disease in an exit. Kimberly states who'd? Why blame do I blame myself? I sure don't. I never had a blood Institution I blamed two acer and every single one of you bastard. She says I'm done guys good by what really we I'll just are interested in knowing, first of all, how how you are feeling, and how are you doing. Why I walk away with assistance are now here. Hey, I'm pretty weak
I feel that, a few months later, she was gone, the great anxiety of the early AIDS epidemic was it science and the medical establishment had failed us. They hadn't protected us and irregardless case embodied that fear. We get a lot of abuse off from air your medical establishment. I think that's one of them frustrating things when Kimberly appeared on Oprah the final time her mother and I was by his side, my daughter dying. They realise that she is dying. They realise that she is dying because of of of the medical establishment, the civil liberties of the gay activists groups and they are not doing anything. I'm not emotional, not hysterical, ion enraged. Turn ten years into the AIDS epidemic, people had found their culprit. The medical establishment now, of course, justice.
Years later, the same medical establishment that everyone was blaming. Ninety ninety one would figure out how to treat HIV and the thing that was so scary. Infection by health care provider would turn out to be a one off incredible. Rare, but no one knew that in the summer of ninety ninety one. All we had was fear and anger and what to start seeing something dark in the motives of people in white coats. It doesn't end every disagree. And every anomaly every molehill becomes a scandal. The communist shoe novels, even your detained, a whole burden, is towards a defeat for the public and on the soft, also behind him, dioxin of basic big. If that's exactly what happened with the belgian coke hysteria, evil didn't eat a few months earlier, Belgium had been through a crisis began chickens in farms across the country had fallen ill. Their feet had gotten contaminated with
I accept what are the most toxic of all chemicals. No, it was major, it was, it was. A may is probably one of the biggest food scares in, I would say. Maybe in history, then why memory the tax ecologist was in the middle of it the belgian government, had to recall any thing might possibly have been in contact with a contaminated feed, eggs, chicken, beef. The news was filled with about how extraordinarily dangerous dioxins are, how And trace amounts can cause cancer every day on television you, you could see animals that were being slaughtered than and dumped into mass graves and need here, but hey specific, if as it at second reading on the trade in timber attitude, so dollar dollar, dioxin off who block and then a few weeks later, a batch of coke smells a little funny and the panic starts a panic borne entirely in the imagination of terrified children and their parents and teachers school
children being poisoned by Coca COLA Which is again one of the biggest symbols of our modern food and so that was really the sort of cherry on on that rotten cake. Epidemics of fear repeat themselves. You start with dioxin. You end up with Coca COLA. You start with Kimberly regardless, you end up with muggy amish. First time is tragedy, second hemisphere On March 22nd, one thousand nine hundred and ninety one, the Washington Post, published its second article on an amish case. The way all the signs fraud stories of that era began with a call to authority quote the National Institute, health, has concluded that a top scientist at Georgetown University Medical Center, committed scientific misconduct
by knowingly submitting false information in applying for two federal research grants. End quote this is now two months after the first big piece on the Hamish case in the Washington Post, the office, a scientific integrity, has finished its investigation and found her guilty, maybe because this was a story written by someone else, and maybe because I could see it with fresh eyes, but I remember: reading the peace, and radiant again and wondering what is this something's wrong? This was the point I became a sceptic first thing, so it sounds like there was some kind of formal hearing which ruled against Marguerite. Hamish right actually know here is the way things worked at the office of scientific integrity. They would interview both parties to
the agreement right up their findings and then just leave them to the press, some in the office would slip his or her favorite reporter a package of documents stamped something like confidential or for internal use only or simply draft put inside plain brown envelopes. I got them, we all got them now, if you scroll down to the second to last paragraph in the Washington Post, peace you'll, come to this. How, his chief of the division of developmental biology and nutrition in George Towns, Pediatrics Department will have an opportunity to review the report and submit a written rebuttal. End quote will have an opportunity. She hadn't seen it and also submit a written rebuttal. The o s I had concluded Marguerite. Hamish was a fraud with showing her the evidence or letting her respond.
I remember once not long before this dude. Another story. On a science fraud case, I called the attorney for the used and he said well. I can't comment because I have no idea what my client is accused of. I took my leaked oversight report out of its plain brown wrapper, photocopied it and sent it over to him. No part of that transaction had seemed weird to me at the time now, the most put in question of all what was it that Marguerite Hamish did what was her alleged fraud I have been going on and on about this case for a good half hour now- and I haven't told you, you know why, because we didn't know you won't find a good explanation in the washed imposed story of March twenty. Second, ninety, ninety one just vague mentions of an experiment involving rabbits. Well, we tell you the final accusation against Marguerite Amish at the end of a twin
thousand word and H grant application in a second. That was completely peripheral to the subject of her grant request. Marguerite Hamish wrote the following sentence last, but at least we are presently using the newborn rabbit animal model for total parental nutrition after scrutinising every word, if her grand application, the oh yes, I said that's wrong because at the time muggy Amish wrote the grand she didn't actually have the animal model up and running she wasn't presently using newborn rabbits their understanding of the word presently was it so as a synonym for currently Hamish is defensible. She had designed the rabbit experiments. She had see the money to conduct those experiments. She can obtain the special surgical equipment to run the rabbit experiments and she had begun,
collecting the necessary preliminary data on the rabbits prior to the experiment. She was going to do. The rabbit experiments presently She was using presently as a synonym for shortly which is the way that it is often used in british English. The doktor will be with you presently. That's it. Her crime was not writing the more conventional we will show maybe using the newborn rabbit as an animal model, or maybe shifting the word presently till the end of the sentence which is the one place where in American English, we will accept the british definition of presently we, we'll be using a newborn rabbit as an animal model for total parental nutrition presently, but I do know she born in Germany. She was educated in Israel. English is her
seven language. Ok now you might say this is ridiculous. Still ridiculous cases sometimes happen. So what? But after Hamish it dawned on me that they were all like this all the signs fraud cases that we had become obsessed with, like the case of make up a poet of ironic, just at the end of each the scientists to figured out how to grow the AIDS virus in the laboratory, without which nothing, no subsequent research on HIV would have been possible here is, as it bit character in a film adaptation of, and the band played on poverty is yours, who's calling at it
when people knew nothing about HIV, except that it was the most murderous virus anyone had ever seen, but public slaved away in the laboratory hours on end working with samples of HIV infected blood with his hands anything. How can I How can I isolate virus if I just can't keep a settled by the public was also accused of fraud? Why? Because in a chart in the paper where he first described grown, the AIDS virus, Popovic eight use the initials Andy in the place of a number, the charts Legend said: Andy meant not done
the obvious, I said: wait, you did do those experiments, that's fraud, except the public's English is bad. Somebody helped him right the paper and that person put in the footnote about Andy, meaning not done what public actually meant by Andy was not determinable, meaning the results were inconclusive. So why did public miss the error in the not done footnote? Maybe because the article in question was published in nine in eighty four when AIDS was in its first terrifying stages- and maybe he was in just a little bit of a hurry, to publish the most important advance to that point against the epidemic, the boy idle. Over an de went on for years, the OECD
conducted more than seven thousand hours of interviews in deliberations. Public sued lost ran through his savings got chased out of an age over I D, viewed over the correct interpretation of two initials Andy. Presently, it was like. The spanish Inquisition staff by a mob of angry copy editors. In the face of a panic, it is the job of those who know better. To stand and say, like Ben one memory did weight, it isn't the coke, the coke is harmless. This is misplaced anxiety. It is the job of those who know better to deliver the difficult truth. But those of us who were science writers in that era didn't do that. We laptop eggs from the outside, we wrote our sensational stories and we tore apart the lives of innocent people
No one remembers Marguerite Amish today, she's a footnote one scientists long gone, who worked away quietly in a lab on a problem that most of us have never heard of first of all, the amount of material in this case generated was no less than three hundred pounds of paper. Ok, I mean I would say, in their house in their house, and you didn't see the part that is down stairs knowledge. Tommy doesn't entire falcon entire. From ending up in the cellar there were boxes in boxes, full of binders, Marguerite, Hamish shouldn't be a footnote. Her case should be a warning. This is what happens when we let our fears concern miss when I opened a binder and any her annotations were met me she and hated every every binder had her Henry. This isn't true. I didn't say that now. I think that this is misinterpreted tiny handwriting everywhere, yellow pages legal pages, stuff,
I disagree with this. This is in every binder. She annotated every man and a minor of everything with his castle think about what she could have been doing at that time. Then, one day it stopped How that happened is the subject of the next episode, how all the cases that obsessed us just went away and the fever past. It aims to her, I think, like me, when I think of my mother and how she aged She is a woman who lies in her late forties. Early fifties was still very beautiful. But by the time she had sixty, she looked at me and that decade was probably heart for her. She was always chief worries me. I didn't know that she's suffering to end,
what extend she suffering for this horse. I turned to my lie about it and she would, she said, was I pretended not happening and TAT was to sleep with aware. And then again in my brain and the next info. When this cushion in that order, because did anyone from an age ever apologize. To get out of the game. The insanity passes. Then everyone pretend it never happened. Except for those who don't have the luxury of pretending I was angry about it, then I am angry about it. Still.
Religion History is a panoply production, the lead produce, who is meal? A bell with Jacob Smith and Camille Baptista are editor, is Julia Barton Fink Williams, is our engineer fact checking by Beth Johnson it'll, music by Luis Kara, special thanks to Andy Bowers and Jacob iceberg. I Malcolm Grandma,. Even when she was dying, I took having wheel chair to the camera these centres as much. They called the media. Does the art on July tenth. Twenty fifteen, a young woman named Sandra Bland, was stopped by a police officer on a higher in rural Texas. Then everything went wrong. I've written,
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Transcript generated on 2020-01-12.