Monsanto Roundup Lawsuit

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Life and Times of Martin B Keller, MD - Part III: Brown trousers

By Matthew Holford

Matthew writes exclusively for Seroxat Sufferers

Did you know that 1764 was a Leap Year, or that 1764 is 42 squared, which must mean that 6 and 7 are factors? Yes, yes, I know you could have worked it out, but I bet you didn't know that it started on a Sunday, did you? I'd be surprised if you knew that St Louis, MI, was founded in 1764, either. Bloody hell, I'm a mine of useless information. Or Wikipedia is, anyway.

Charles Grey, future Prime Minister of Britain, was born. The oldest newspaper in North America, the Quebec Gazette, was first published in 1764, whilst Tsar Ivan VI was murdered in prison in July of that year. Just for sake of symetry, William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, and former British Prime Minister, died. This is like a scene out of Highlander!

And Brown University was founded, although it was originally called the College of Rhode Island. According to the potted history, on Brown's website, the College was founded as the Baptist counterbalance to the religious leanings of Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Columbia. It's certainly established itself as an Ivy League member, subsequently, in full measure. The College welcomed students from all persuasions, and this atmosphere of diversity and intellectual freedom has been fostered, to this day. That's what the website says, anyway.

The College was renamed after a chap by the name of Nicholas Brown, who presented this august establishment with some cash c. 1804, which was for an endowed professorship, if I remember aright, and the College was eponymously renamed. Women were first admitted in 1891 - there was a separate women's college, which merged with the blokes' in 1971. Brown's first medical graduates were awarded their degrees in 1975. By the way, do you know what a "vigorous pathologic inflammatory response" is?

Anyway, the business of making donations, funding chairs, establishing departments, and so on, is well-established. Trusts made in perpetuity are one way to have people remember that you were a valuable human being, in some sense. How they would remember that, if they didn't know you in the first place, I have no idea. I suppose people don't look at the crappy bits, if they're the beneficiary of some scholarship, or other. What else is Nicholas Brown, other than a great benefactor of the University, for example? Well, his family were slavers, although Nicholas is said to have been an abolitionist. Indeed, the University itself produced a report, documenting it, and other universities' (Oxford and Cambridge amongst them) involvement in the so-called Triangular Trade.

Perhaps we should leave that there, having mentioned that the University established an endowment, for the purpose of improving urban schools, presumably by way of reparation, given that the inner cities, as they're known in the UK, are where black people live, because they tend to be financially disadvantaged, relative to the wider population, and thus not able to live somewhere nicer.

Actually, being an inveterate asker of questions, I should perhaps pose the reader with one, to close this off. What is your understanding of the reason (the real reason - not economic justifications) that people believe that they may treat others as lesser human beings, such that those others should be enslaved? If you need any help with this, I suggest you read Richard Rorty's On Human Rights, whilst bearing in mind that one may only be objective about one's own truth. The accuracy of one's truth will be impacted by the number of perspectives that one is able to accommodate, within one's reality, if that is not too abstract an idea for the reader to grasp. You might also wish to recall that Plato, enlightened though he was, for the time, regarded slavery as indispenable, on the ground that it was the established order, and nothing would get done, otherwise.

However, Part III is not concerned with the history of the University. Not in a generalized way, anyway. No, I'm more interested in one particular incident, within the recent past. It should be borne in mind, at all times, that I write this in the spirit of intellectual freedom for which the University wishes to be known.

I was interested to read an old editorial, from August, 1998, penned by Frank Davidoff, MD, in the Annals of Internal Medicine, recently. It concerns the story of one David Kern, who used to be Associate Professor of Occupational Medicine, at Brown, based out of Memorial Hospital. It seems that Professor Kern had a case referred to him, which caused quite a stir, eventually. It involved a worker at a nearby textile plant, who was suffering from what was dubbed "flockworker's lung". This manifested itself the inflammatory response, which I referred to, earlier, and raised all kinds of questions about the toxicity of nylon fibres, hitherto regarded as inert, I understand.

Professor Kern led an investigatory team, although the NIOSH was also involved. Further cases emerged. Professor Kern felt that these findings should be published, but that was not the general consensus. Davidoff's piece is not particularly detailed, in this respect, I have to say. However, it seems that Kern had his attempts to present a paper at a major scientific meeting blocked, initially. Indeed, the Company concerned, Microfibres, Inc., threatened to sue both Kern and the Hospital, on the ground that Kern was revealing trade secrets (Kern had signed a non-disclosure agreement, or somesuch). Perhaps the reader should sit back in his or her chair for a moment or two, in order to savour that deliberate violence to ordinary words.

However, Microfibres was not alone in being concerned at the adverse publicity, it seems. The Associate Dean of Medicine at Brown, Peter Shank, PhD, wrote to Kern in November, 1996, in order to express his opinion that Kern would be unable to publish, without the consent of the Company. Indeed, Kern was also reprimanded (as I read it) for having notified the workers' union of his findings. Shank advised Kern that he should deal with the matter by working with the Company to correct the situation. In secret, presumably. Kern was told unequivocally to withdraw his paper.

Kern presented, anyway, although a modified version of the original text, I understand. His unit at Memorial Hospital was closed down. Shortly after that, Brown fired Kern (or it refused to renew his contract, to be accurate).

It doesn't look good, does it? Not much intellectual freedom, there, on the face of it. I read somewhere, on the Springer Science website, I think, that the Company was a benefactor of the Hospital, although I wouldn't for one moment wish to suggest that that had any bearing on the decision of the Hospital nor the University in taking the action that they did. In any case, I'm delighted to report that the Company's website cites in its safety mission that "we believe safety is of primary importance, all injuries are preventable, everyone is responsible, and management is accountable," which is probably definitive, isn't it? "Everyone is responsible." We should remember that.

I imagine that the importance of the industry to the local economy was a concern, in everybody's thinking. Were the Company to get a reputation for poor working practices, it might hit sales, although how it could be held responsible for being the site of discovery of a hitherto unknown condition, is anybody's guess. Fear's a powerful thing, I guess, but not as powerful as reason. I guess Kern's concern centred more precisely on the health of the 2500 flockworkers in the US alone. How many flockworkers does it take to make a charitiable remainder trust, I wonder?


Matthew Holford Copyright 2007