A Pantheon of Rock Stars & rebels

Maybe it’s the COVID era, maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s just time.

This is an incredible time to be alive, to watch history unfold, to see science at work, to observe significant changes occurring before our eyes. Normally history is hardly noticeable, visible only to academics and scholars. Today, the pace of historical change, the biblical battles at hand, and the lens from which to view them is different.

Our individual ability to access information has never been greater—and each day that grows exponentially. On the front lines of this intelligence are the scientists and technologists who put all this information to work.

Someday, I want to create a Pantheon of the great rock stars and rebels of science and technology. I am inspired—truly inspired—by the sheer tenacity, grit, and perseverance of a brand of scientists I see out there and the work that they, against all odds, produce.

I recently published a blog highlighting Dr. Leonard Hayflick, an unbelievable man who had to overcome unbelievable challenges to prove his hypothesis and modernize our understanding of cellular aging. This pioneer fought the institution he sought to patronize and the government he sought to serve—all in the name of science and to radically improve our health and welfare. The disinformation about his science and ridicule he suffered on our behalf is astounding and telling (given our world today). Dr, Leonard Hayflick is in my Pantheon.

And then there is Dr. Jim Allison who was recently featured in a documentary on the Independent Lens—what a badass! It’s not just the brilliance of Jim’s mind to conceive of and solve a groundbreaking change in cancer therapy, but the incredible strength of his mind and spirit to bring his discovery to us which is awe-inspiring. Challenged by the institution and impedimenta to change, he succeeded and won a Nobel Prize for his discovery in cancer immunotherapy and improving the lives of countless individuals. Dr. Jim Allison is in my Pantheon.

And what about Dr. Didier Raoult? This gun-slinging outlaw comes to our worldwide attention amidst the COVID pandemic. His controversial work and claims with respect to Hydroxychloroquine has made him even more of a pariah—as if that could be possible. With his unconverted brilliance, skull ring, and a willingness to fight, he is an inspiring character for any young-gun-genius. This badass scientist could have just as easily been the front man for Metallica or a master of the universe solving diseases that ail humanity. Dr. Didier Raoult is in my Pantheon.

And then there is Dr. Norman Borlaug, known as The Man Who Tried to Feed the World. His story, documented by American Experience, is a thrilling tale of a young scientist who travels from the fields of Minnesota to the farms of central Mexico where is working on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation. There, despite orders from his superiors, and outside the mandate of the foundation, he single-handedly goes on to create the “green revolution” to feed the world.

Without Norman’s Nobel Prize-winning work, global hunger and despair would be far worse in today’s world. Norman is the more clean-cut rock star, but he was unconventional and went against the order of his superiors and their mandates to make a massive scientific discovery that changed the world. His Midwest stubborn edge about what he was going to do, no matter what anyone told him, earns a place in the pantheon of scientific rock stars and badasses.

While a Nobel Prize Pantheon already exists, I am envisioning something with less pomp and circumstance. My Pantheon would be, shall I say, a little more direct by recognizing these inspirational, rebellious characters of science who fight conventional wisdom and win against all odds because they believe their science will prevail. And when their science prevails, all of humanity benefits. Thus, the chief aim of my Pantheon (with guest artist Metallica playing the introductory anthem), is not only to honor and celebrate these great individuals, but also to inspire younger generations to create similar paths in science and technology.

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