Gratitude Attitude: harvesting science

Autumn brings the harvest, somewhen between the end of a scorching summer and the rainstorms of winter.  People around the world take time to celebrate the good things in life in as many ways as there are human cultures.  The gratitude attitude seems to be very human.
Have you ever reflected on how Thanksgiving dinner (or any dinner) arrives on your table?  Tilling the land; developing, planting and harvesting the crops; transporting, sharing and cooking them -- these are some of the things that happened before the table was set.  Raising the children who grew into the people around the table, ensuring their health and education and entertainment, their well-being and happiness occupies whole lifetimes.
Only a few lifetimes ago, the foods would have been local, the entertainment home-made.  A few more lifetimes ago, horses or oxen would have tilled the land and hauled the crops to market.  Good health was more by accident than by design; education was a privilege limited to the few.  So how did we get here from there?
Along the human voyage some people shine like quasars, leaving legacies that touch our lives every single day.  Sometimes we know their names.  Some of their names are lost in time to Guardian of Forever.  But their ideas made our modern world possible.
Jane Jacobs, in her book "Dark Age Ahead", cites three 19th century scientists who laid the foundation for all modern public health.  Each one boldly went where none had gone before, bucking established  "science" and fighting for what their research had proven.  
Country doctor Edward Jenner (England, 1749 - 1823) invented vaccination.  The 13 year old Jenner heard a milkmaid bragging that she'd had cowpox, so she could never get smallpox.  In Jenner's world, the scourge of smallpox left many with disfiguring scars in passing.  Many more simply died.  Yet the adult Jenner had the wit to see that infection by mild cowpox could give immunity to the deadlier smallpox.  Cause and cure were unknown, yet Jenner created a vaccine to prevent smallpox; every human and every animal we vaccinate today ultimately owes their longer life to Edward Jenner.
Dr. John Snow (England, 1813 - 1858) invented epidemiology, the science that allows us to track diseases to their origins, to follow and predict their spread -- from the common cold and influenza to Ebola and AIDS.  In 1854, Snow knocked on doors in a fetid neighborhood of London where cholera had broken out. He interviewed people, mapped his data, and traced the outbreak to a single public water pump.  After the pump handle was removed, the cholera outbreak ended.  Snow worked entirely from data to solve the problem:  this was 7 years before the "germ theory" of disease would be developed by Louis Pasteur, an era when "miasma" or "bad air" was considered the root cause of disease.   Centers for Disease Control around the world owe their existence and their effectiveness to John Snow.
Louis Pasteur (France, 1822 - 1895) laid the foundation for all microbiology.  The "germ theory" changed hospitals from charnel houses to the places of healing they are today.  The "basic practices" of handwashing and sterilization are Pasteur's legacy.  He developed processes to safely preserve foods (including milk)  in airtight containers . . . in case you noticed a few tins and bottles at the grocery store.  Adding to Jenner's work, he developed new vaccines using weakened microorganisms for anthrax, TB and rabies, and smallpox.  His inspiration?  It all began with trying to figure out why wine, beer and milk went sour.  Raise a glass to Pasteur over the dinner table.
Our lights, microwave ovens, TV's, radios, computers, and all gadgets powered by electric current (including your smartphone charger) harken back to one man:  Michael Faraday (England, 1791 - 1867).  It was Faraday who discovered how to generate electricity without a battery, by electromotive induction.  The refrigerator you stored the turkey in?  He invented coolant systems, and the first commercial ice-making machine was demonstrated at the Universal London Exhibition in 1862.  More?  Faraday discovered the benzene molecule -- used in making motor fuel and plastics.  His inspiration?  Too poor for much schooling, at age 13 Faraday went to work for a bookbinder.  In off hours, he read the books he bound, especially sciences, and scraped his ha'pennies together for supplies to test the truth of what he was reading.
And as we fuss about the pumpkins ripening a month early this year, or whether the brussels sprouts are organic -- a nod to one who revolutionized the environmental movement around the world with the publication of a single book in 1962. "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson (USA, 1907 - 1964) was a game-changing book, and worth (re)reading.  This was no opinion piece.  It was the result of 4 years of meticulous research, consultations with experts across many fields of science, and stressed awareness of the impact of human actions on the natural world.  Our modern environmental movement has deep roots in Carson's work.  She hammered out in scientific terms the inter-relationships that aboriginal cultures have recognized for millennia. 
We build our future on an enormous legacy.  To our ancestors of a millennium ago, almost everything we take for granted today would be magical fantasy.  By the 19th century of Jules Verne, our world was merely science fiction.  For us, it's reality. 
To the wayfinders who have gone before us, making our journey possible:  an attitude of gratitude.
Where shall we go from here?
[Gillian Shearwater is a  member of Alberni Deep Space Star Trek Fan Association.  Interested in what we do?  Community service supports local charities.  Shore Leaves are our own members' R&R:  we offer  Trek Games nights, Trek Video nights, movie nights and more.  Comm channels:  albernideepspace at gmail dot com or phone 250-724-7293]
The Inventors & Inventions Song by Sue Dickson
Science STYLE by ASAP Science
Dark Age Ahead by Jane Jacobs (Random House, NY 2004) 241 pages
Edward Jenner
Louis Pasteur
You Know Plenty, John Snow
Michael Faraday
Rachel Carson
Pesticides - DDT - Rachel Carson - Silent Spring
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