History & Endurance

I’ve been dipping my hand into the podcast cookie jar again. One of Malcolm Gladwell’s recent Revisionist History stories has gotten chocolate all over my … brain? Dammit. I hate when the metaphor falls apart. So, his Obscure Virus Club story is stuck in my head. That isn’t surprising since one of his stated objectives is for every episode to be thought-provoking.

Although I feel compelled to relay the entire story in as much detail as possible, the little angel on my shoulder with Mrs. Blackwelder’s face is giving me a look. The one that is usually accompanied by a covert stomp on my foot when we’re at a gathering and she knows that I’m about ready to launch into a thirty-minute monologue.

I’ll summarize. Two researchers have doubts about the science of viruses. Their peers patted them on the heads and told them to work on something different. They kept at it and we’re all alive right now because they did.

At its heart, the podcast is about science, persistence, and belief in one’s self. This, of course, hits me in all the right places.

Mrs. Blackwelder and I both have educational and professional backgrounds in science although she has been far more rigorous in her application of the scientific method than I have. The virologists in Gladwell’s story are really the embodiment of the proper use of science. Observable fact contradicts commonly held belief–research, gather data, present findings, and force the belief to change. In today’s world of populist thinking (I promised I wouldn’t say fake news) and dogmatic belief, it’s a relief to see the scientific method working as it should.

As a father, I want my kids to have the persistence and self-confidence displayed by these scientists. This is one of the things I worry about as a parent-probably because I perceive the lack of these characteristics in myself. The scientists in the story were called crazy by their colleagues for ten years until they were proven right and awarded the Nobel Prize. How does one give their kids the tools to say, “I’m right. Look at the data.” for a decade? More importantly, how do you give them the tools to know the difference between actually being correct and self-deception?

As a writer, I need to take these lessons to heart. I need to have faith in my projects and see them through. Self-confidence and persistence.

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