The "Where were you when Kennedy was shot" question of my generation is "Where were you when the Challenger space shuttle exploded." I was in Ms. Gomez's 4th grade classroom, watching it on TV. In fact, my fourth grade year was forever memorable because 1) The Challenger exploded while in class and 2) Ms. Gomez was the first person (in my 9 years) to use the title "Ms." Very ms.terious, indeed.
It is entirely possible that my life was shaped by this event, although isn't our life shaped by all events? So I'll just start a new paragraph now.
The explosion of the Challenger shaped my path, as did a fine scientist Richard Feynman. I won't go on and on about Richard, because most of it is crush-like. What I will do is give you a reading assignment.
Physicist Richard P. Feynman was on the board that investigated the explosion, not only because of his expertise in physics but because he was an out-of-the-box thinker and he enjoyed being a non-conformist. He is famous for casually demonstrating that an "O Ring" shrinks and hardens when placed in a glass of ice water. He brought this out while in committee with all involved during a presentation of "what went wrong." The demonstration wasn't as impromptu as it appeared and Richard didn't come to these conclusions alone. Rather a NASA engineer had tipped him off to what the engineers had been telling the administration about hardware capabilities for some time.
Why am I talking about the Space Shuttle on my body blog? Because the series of events that led to the explosion of the Challenger is similar to the behind-the-curtain processes that influence the *safety rating* of health-"improving" options (like surgery or diet) we consume every day. Specifically, I want to show how the way of thinking that led to the Challenger crash is similar to the way of thinking that affects the way information is given to the public about health. I could write a bunch more, but R.P.F. has explained the bureaucratic influence on outcomes while under the guise of "science" so well in this document, I'll let him take it from here.
"It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?" Read the rest of Appendix F from the Challenger investigation here: http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission/Appendix-F.txt
You've got a lot of reading to do, so in my next post (Political Science, Part 2) I will write why (or how?) this information affects you and the importance of free speech in the public health domain.
P.S. Where were YOU when the Challenger exploded. Or Kennedy was shot, for that matter. (Or, for you readers outside the United States, do you have something similar in your culture?)