Fearless Friday: Paracelsus

Due to my growing science literature collection, I have decided to share some stories of scientists who truly led unique lives due to struggles and scientific contributions. There are important aspects in history that discuss the lives of those scientists who were beheaded, banished, publicly humiliated and those either used, eradicated or appointed by Hitler.

When I get passionate about my work or defend my science,  it is not just me, it is the history--the knowledge I build upon, is also sacrifices. The most intimate details of their struggles are rarely discussed and I'd like to change that. It reminds me that "for the greater good" use to have a much different price than today.

Paracelsus "The Chemical Luther" 

1493- Born into this world as Philippus Arelius Theophrastrus Bombast van Hohenheim 

1509 to 1516- Adopted the name Paracelsus after admiration of the Roman physician Celsius. Influenced by him and Trithemius, he sets out to study at every famous university who offer teaching besides that of the bible. 

1516 to 1526-Traveled all over Europe for ten years, where he gathered knowledge about alchemy and medicine. His use of alchemy to fashion medicines into cures, gathered extensive practice of surgical procedures and knowledge of diseases. This did little to persuade the false prophets of healing..Medicine was still a pseudo-science ruled by Hippocrates of Cos, Avicenna the Persian Prince of Physicians and Galen of Pergamos. These authorities held themselves as "infallible." 

1526 to 1528- Decided to be a medical lecturer at University of Basel in an attempt to restore medicine and challenge dogma.

Like a Boss. 

He makes a calculated entrance to the University, for he has a special introduction. It happened during the University's bonfire & feast of St. John. Paracelsus strolls in with a copy of Avicenna's Canon of Medicine and the audacity probably not ever witnessed in this particular time period. He demanded the books of the old masters of alchemy and medicine, so they can be burned. The act of smoke being generated  was significant to him and those all around. Much like Luther and the protestant reformation, he was ushering in a new change of thought, with that of the church, but separate thought. Paracelsus put forth his thoughts on those before him.
"You all shall follow me. The latchets of my shoes are better instructed than you all. All the universities and all the older writers are less gifted than the hairs of my beard and the crown of my head."

The Renaissance Haters.
"Luther is abundantly learned , therefore you hate him and me, but we are at least a match for you."

Unless one was treated by Paracelsus, then he received nothing but hostility. The medical faculty hated him because he publicly denounced them as a

"misbegotten crew of approved asses."

Doctors treated the sick by making them bleed out and violent bathing. He was outraged over treatment of the sick. The apothecaries relied on profit, not on altruism. Paracelsus declared himself official town physician. His denounced apothecaries ability to help, so he made his own medicine and didn't charge any of his patients.

"The doctors who have got themselves made doctors with money go about the town as if it were a crime for the sick to contradict them. These calves think themselves great masters, for did they not go through the examination at Nuremberg? The physician's duty IS TO HEAL THE SICK, NOT enrich the apothecaries."

When Frobenius died of a stroke under his care, the court and those opposed acted swiftly to hold him accountable, easily denouncing his medical skills and professional philosophy as well. His friends ushered him out of the city before his vulgar tongue ushered a swift death in defiance of the "pseudo-medicos."

Public Enemy, Outcast & Benefactor of Mankind

1528 to 1541- Led a vagabond life pleasing no one but whom he healed. It is said he dragged his sickly body from town to town. He went into his grave fighting. No one would grant him a public hearing nor publish his books. Still, he wrote unrelentingly and gained clearer insight to his work and healing.

Respect Earned.

Feared nothing. Discovered Everything. His devotion to "test and true" approach to all his discoveries and his practice. Allowed him to make strides in curing ills and diseases. His forward thinking is alarming. He pioneered the use of mercury for syphilis and mined minerals for constant cure processes. He had "spectacular cures and spectacular kills." Developed a list of medicines, a pharmacopoeia, different from Galenic ones. Paracelsus used inorganic sources as opposed to herbal remedies. 

but after they will know me. If I stoop
Into a dark tremendous sea of cloud
It is but for a time; I press God's lamp
Close to my breast; its splendour, soon or late
Will pierce the gloom; I shall emerge one day
You understand me? I have said enough.

Diversifying My Sources: "Putting Soul into Science" #BHM2014

My collection of old science literature and books have proven to be a priceless investment. Just recently, I was scanning back through my Reader's Digest Science Reader books because I wanted to quickly cross-check the name of a chemist featured in a 1974 article with the discussions taken place, specifically- American Chemical Society's #BHM2014 tribute video

My resources didn't match. So I did what any chemist would do and went on a mission to bridge the gap. 

First and foremost, content discovery is like being queen of the lab, but on the internet. Second of all, I spent the next couple of days digging into every data file containing keywords from MY resource since all I had was a manual reading device. Those are single user friendly, ya know ;)

This #BlackHistoryMonth, I would like to pay tribute to Dr. James Harris, Ebony Magazine and Reader's Digest. My Science Reader books contained features on scientists as well as the science. I went back through that book because of the unfamiliar curiosity I had with the names of black chemists, and scientists as well. After doing the quick page flip/shuffle dance, I realized every scientist featured in that book was a POC because the articles were adapted from Ebony Magazine as a collaboration for public knowledge.

Whoa. Mind blown. It wasn't a fancy textbook that contained these truths. It was scientific propaganda in minimalist form, designed to maintain the justice mentality following such time periods.

Reader's Digest collaborates with Ebony Founder 

In 1942, with a $500 loan secured by furniture owned by Mr. Johnson’s mother, the Johnsons began publishing Negro Digest, a magazine modeled on Reader’s Digest. Within a year it had a circulation of 50,000. That inspired the couple to start Ebony, a monthly with flashy covers like those of Life magazine. Ebony now has a circulation of 1.25 million. Jet magazine, a weekly, was started in 1951 to highlight news of famous African-Americans; it now has a circulation of 900,000.
Mrs. Johnson, who was secretary-treasurer of the publishing company, continued to produce and direct the Ebony Fashion Fair through last year.
Over the years, hundreds of the shows have been held on Sunday afternoons, with women of all generations — many turned out in flowery hats, fine jewelry and proper dresses — leaving morning church services to get to the fair.
At the 1974 show in Manhattan, Mrs. Johnson drew a roar from the crowd when she stepped onstage during intermission and said that she could “run a fashion show from the au

 Ebony writer finds, interviews first black chemist. 1970.

nuclear chemist of UC Berkely's Rad Lab
"as a sort of hip,
 scientific soul brother."

Most impressive language to his specific legacy . He helped discovered elements 104 and 105. His story is not one of small contribution. First black chemist? The struggle is real with this one. I cannot even understand the underlying principles in nuclear chemistry research and he did what he did, WITHOUT a PhD. He was busy working trying to prove to most of Academia USA, that he was indeed not there for a the janitor position. 


I also uploaded these to Google drive so anyone can access them for future use. Here is the link for the documents above: 

This post is an acknowledgement of Danielle Lee's Dialogue on Diversity through action. 

Dialogue exchange is easy after you diversify your sources. For those new at this (hard conversations), start small. Diversity dialogue can be found in local art. It is mostly formed and inspired by our immediate reality and values.  

Here's to the hood culture that made my scientist and the music above. In fact, a #hiphoped project with local artists like this is way overdue. 

A Chemist's Fear of the Dark: Dedicated to Chemophobia.

Upon writing a recent manuscript for the most recent chemophobia discussion, I found two essays. Despite the time I spent on my most recent research, this essay contributes to the conversation in so many ways. I wrote this in undergrad for a history of chemistry class, four years ago. The hopes of an aspiring chemist concerning chemophobia. I will say my thoughts back then have managed to morph into something else. A new meaning. 

First, I would recommend reading these articles first so you are familiar with my topic and references:

  1. Hoffman, Roald. Chemistry, Democracy, and a Response to the Environment, Chemical and Engineering News, 68(17), 25-29 (April 23, 1990).
  2. Kovac,Jeffrey. A Weird Insult from Norway: Linus Pauling, the Bomb, and the Ethics ofFaculty Involvement in Public Affairs, Proceedings of Conference on Values in Higher Education Stewardshipand Opportunism: The Moral Roots of Accountability. April 16-18, 1998.
  3.  Bard,Allen J. Politics, Culture, and Science: The Golden Age Revisited, Chemical and Engineering News, Volume 80(14), pp. 44-47.

Brandi VanAlphen
Nature and Dev. Of Chemistry
November 24, 2010

       Chemophobia is a term, more frequently found, when reading about chemistry and society. The ordinary sense of the meaning corresponds to the fear of chemicals. Historically, it is still uncertain the exact translation of chemistry from alchemy but it is certain to be a product of change, subject to evolution. For intended purposes, it can be generally used to describe fear of the unknown. People described as having chemophobia assume all chemicals are undependable and harmful. Then again, those with a familiar knowledge of chemistry argue that this is an incorrect generalization. For chemistry to continue to prosper for/in society, the chemistry professionals and society must work together to achieve mutual respect and trust. There are several issues regarding why there are gaps. First, most people remember large scale tragedies (Bhopal, Chernobyl etc.) compared to the daily requirements that they now take advantage of (pharmaceuticals, house-hold products etc.). The chemical revolution has surpassed our chemical knowledge. Chemophobia is more widespread than ever now that companies are pushing “natural” and “organic” products. The media contributes to this phenomenon because its function is not regulated by scientific ethics. The only solution to conquering these fears would be education reform. This new knowledge and understanding would support more research  by which chemists can demonstrate their intelligent craft and uphold the tradition as benefactors of humankind. That image reflects the absence of chemophobia.

      Education about chemistry does not just extend to the public and our children, but it must be properly managed to academia, industry and the governing bodies that usher them both into power. Roald Hoffman expressed his concern about this in his 1999 Priest Medal Address titled Chemistry, Democracy, and a Response to the Environment. In the C&EN article, Hoffman describes the importance of democracy in our government along with the historical accounts of the chemical industry. From this, individuals maintained liberties for the greater good of society and trade emerged. Over time, individuals and chemicals became an integrated part of society allowing human error and then the daunting environmental concerns. Environmental concerns bred negative attitudes and portray chemists as “the producers of the unnatural, collectively labeled as polluters” and “we [chemists] are surrounded by chemophobia, by unreasonable, irrational fear of what we do[1].” In response to these attitudes of fear, scientists react instinctively with what they know- the science they are taught. Hoffman maintains that “to take the view that even if we do not know what someone else knows and that we should trust that someone else to ensure our health is na├»ve, unscientific and undemocratic[1].” People have an invested interest in their health so they should be somewhat responsible for knowing what they digest or at least have the tools available to them to find out. Scientists have an equal investment in their science and health to not distribute harmful chemicals in food. Hoffman goes on to explain proper responses of chemists to the environment as well as risk assessments. The etiquette and compassion shown towards society should alleviate some fears but his words also caution against reliance upon a single authority. Hoffman’s solution to this is to construct chemistry courses that are aimed at everyone covering a wide-range of issues. These courses need to stress the importance of knowing what goes on in the world so they generate informed citizens. Hoffman believes democracy was built on education and it is everyone’s commitment and responsibility to be properly informed about chemistry and how it relates to us.

One of the responsibilities as a scientist is to pass on safety information to the public. This arrangement is not as simple as it is stated. Complexities can occur that limits a scientist’s public role. A famous example of that is Linus Pauling, 1962 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Pauling believed that he should have an influence in public affairs and readily pursued that right when speaking publicly about the dangers of nuclear testing. His opinion wasn't welcomed because it was against the best interests of Americans at the time. His opinion was so unpopular that when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, LIFE Magazine called the award “an extraordinary insult to America[2].” In an article by Jeffrey Kovac titled A Weird Insult from Norway: Linus Pauling, the Bomb, and the Ethics of Faculty Involvement in Public Affairs, Kovac describes how Pauling’s name in science grew into a notorious one in politics throughout the length of his career. Despite the fact that Pauling was correct in his scientific findings, Kovac finds it troubling that he abandoned his roles and responsibilities as a faculty member in a research university. Perhaps this is because most credible scientists are found working at universities on research that contain empirical data. Pauling was taking to the media on a regular basis without sufficient evidence and was not considered a specialist in regards to nuclear physics. This is where education is important. Society will not accept opinions from a scientist who does not have proper education, peer support and the ability to perceive a risk for their best interests. Pauling was a great respected intelligent man, but Kovac suggests that Pauling faced a great ethical dilemma between education and the preservation of world peace. Kovac portrays Pauling as a citizen activist who left a dent in the Caltech chemical community.by mishandling his prestige. Perhaps they thought he could have  geared his actions more towards education instead of unpopular topics[2]. Educating the public about a specific topic must be an expert collaboration directly related to the topic and field to ensure the interests of a democratic society. 

For scientists to continue to educate themselves and the public, we need professors who are constantly skilled in research and analysis. They end up being important public intellectuals and innovators in technology. Chemistry in academia and industry has a strong history relying on each other’s success, despite public hostility towards one or the other.  Research and analysis is expensive and relies heavily on federal funding. Alan J Bard visited this topic in his 2002 Priestley Medal Address. Bard believes that we need to nourish the spirit of the Golden Age of American science in order to preserve our economy and society[3]. Funding in the beginning of the Golden Age is described by Bard as the “generous support of fundamental research [leading] to the development of a body of scientists and science that became the envy of the world[3].” Not only does education serve an important foundation for science but research cultivates new ideas and discoveries that benefit society. Bard goes on to establish society is playing it safe when taking risks and this affects research as well. Bard says, “I think fundamental research can be justified based on a long history showing that it pays off in societal benefits in the long run and it should be defended on that basis alone[3].” Not only is revolutionizing education an important factor for preserving chemistry but continuing that education through research as well. Research dictates policy and policy dictates our lives. If we don’t do it, someone else will. 

The majority without the knowledge of chemistry contain jobs that control policies affecting science. This is a huge concern. If the people in control do not value this information, it comes down directly on the scientists and educators. For example, since the turnover of the House of Representatives, it is a concern that “science research funding may be a target of a Republican plan to roll back government spending[4].” This affects research, scientists, education and the public. Without pushing knowledge of chemistry, the environment and society will suffer from these consequences. If funds are unavailable, chemists cannot explore safety of chemicals, tragedies will occur and we will all still be left in the dark.

1. Hoffman, Roald. Chemistry, Democracy, and a Response to the Environment, Chemical and Engineering News, 68(17), 25-29 (April 23, 1990). 
2. Kovac, Jeffrey. A Weird Insult from Norway: Linus Pauling, the Bomb, and the Ethics of Faculty Involvement in Public Affairs, Proceedings of Conference on Values in Higher Education Stewardship and Opportunism: The Moral Roots of Accountability. April 16-18, 1998.
3. Bard, Allen J. Politics, Culture, and Science: The Golden Age Revisited, Chemical and Engineering News, Volume 80 (14), pp. 44-47.
4. Hess, G., Hogue, C., Johnson, J. and Pittman, D. A Change in the House: Republican takeover of House of Representatives signals new science policies, Chemical and Engineering News, Volume 88 (47), pp. 23-25.