Let’s do the Time Warp Again

Last night this song was playing on the radio as I drove home. This morning I was reminded of it again as I read the medical news in order – I hoped – to keep my pathophysiology notes up to date.

It’s harder to update my patho notes than you would expect. For instance, today’s oncology research news tidbit is that the closer cancer cells are to the embryonic cell state, the worse the prognosis.  This has been in my patho notes since I attended an oncology workshop in 1991. A few months ago, the research news told me that the cells in any given tumor varied, competing with one another. Amazing! At least, that was my response when I added it to my notes in 1992. I know the dates because I cleaned files this semester, throwing out the old folders I hadn’t opened for twenty years.

For the first ten years or so, I was smug when science writers discovered the existence of things I had been teaching for years. Now, it’s just plain embarrassing. How many times are the same old concepts going to be presented as brand new discoveries?

The internet was supposed to speed up the dissemination of information. We were all going to be more up to date when work didn’t have to wait 5 years between lab and textbook. And maybe for people deep in the field, whose interest is in the practical application of these concepts or the techniques of how to measure them, cancer biology is just zooming along.  But I am out here longing for some science writing with even a tiny bit of historical context – even a 30-second PubMed search to reveal how long something’s been in the literature.

Of course the real issue may be that the outlets I followed back then were the current science of their day, while the ones I follow now – the ones I can understand – are incapable of presenting the real cutting-edge work. Perhaps the real new stuff is inside an impenetrable fortress of molecular genetics, so we whole-body folks are left outside with the people who are just discovering that cells exist. Perhaps what I really need to update my patho notes is a course in cancer genetics.

Or perhaps the major conceptual discoveries really were all made in the early ’90s, and I shouldn’t have thrown out all those old folders.

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