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GP 7 June 2006: Tinker's Dam and Other Errata

Damn.  A persuasive gentleman in Boston tells us that our use of “Tinker’s Damn” is slipshod and that we should always opt for “Tinker’s Dam.”  The dam once was the tinker’s small wall of dough used to contain solder until it had cooled.  But it could only be used once; hence, it was almost instantaneously worthless. 

Upon investigation, we discover that probably both “Tinker’s Damn” and “Tinker’s Dam” are equally acceptable, at least according to Random House.  But the Proper Bostonian was right to reprove us.  The use of “Dam” apparently was an effort by polite society to make the “Tinker” expression more acceptable.  And so we have to accept this lesson in civility. 

Addendum.  We can recommend to you a review of J.H. Elliott’s Empires of the Atlantic World by Imperial historian Niall Ferguson, an Englishman who also hangs his hat in Boston (see the Wall Street Journal, June 3-4, 2006, p. P8).  Here you get a far more cosmic explanation of the historical dilemma of Mexico than we provided in “Lament for Mexico: Destiny Thwarted.”  According to Ferguson, Sir John demonstrates: 

That when independence came to (some of) the North American colonies, it was the reaction of a self-consciously libertarian society of merchants and farmers against an assertion of imperial authority.  When it came to South America a couple of decades later, it was a chaotic response to the sudden vacuum of power that followed Napoleon’s assault on Bourbon authority in 1808. 

Mexico never really has recovered from the circumstances of its founding.  Nor has the U.S. helped it complete its liberation. 

Breast Cancer Tributes and Tribulations.  It’s heartening to see American women  in several cities across the land participating in an array of breast cancer walks, such as Avon’s Walk for Breast Cancer, as well as the Susan C. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation’s array of 3-Days around the nation.  They are building support, research, and hope for an affliction that sometimes seems epidemic. 

And it’s distressing to see flawed theses about breast cancer promulgated by the federal government.  In a recent instance, the National Cancer Institute has theorized about a connection between breast cancer and abortion, an idea that a more reputable agency—the Centers for Disease Control—has pooh pooed.  This is only one of several examples of mucking about with the scientific process, all brought about because the short-sighted have been promoting their political agenda.  This bastardization threatens the scientific preeminence of the U.S., our main competitive advantage in the global economy. 

But it’s not just laymen who are disgorging a mishmash of fact and fiction, not unlike the dragons in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen.  There are plenty of scientists spouting truly goofy thoughts.  Several promote as fact hypotheses that still amount to conjecture.  Scientists, moreover, are in line for public and private research funding.  As a result, they often climb on trendy science theories—and smother the offbeat thoughts at the margin in areas such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s. 

Hungry for funds, they come off as rather tepid when it’s time to stand up and knock down bad science or, more importantly, the errant use of new technology.  Only Robert Oppenheimer comes to mind when we try to think of who has stood up to the implications of the atomic and hydrogen bombs and really striven to at least moderate the course of atomic research.  Of course, he was driven off the scientific and government reservation as a result.  Most scientists indulge in a little bombast and then go away—with hardly a whimper. 

We would hope, however, that we all don’t have to become copy editors, nitpicking scientific data and articles on matters big and small.  But that’s where we are headed if everybody is going to have an axe to grind, with little regard for honor or knowledge.  A regard for the truth is surely worth more than a tinker’s dam. 

P.S.  Look, too, at “Science Journals Artfully Try to Boost Their Rankings,” Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2006, p. B1.  Editors and publishers of scientific journals, lusting for the spotlight and hoping to become number one, tilt their publications for commercial and other reasons.  Already we are learning about the considerable number of severely flawed medical articles with possible conflicts of interest that are creeping into such publications.  Apparently editors are also demanding that authors include lots of citations, particularly of articles in their own publications, in order to boost their standings in the journal rat race.  One John B. West, as eminent an authority as you can get in respiratory physiology, was recently asked by the staff at one such publication to boost his citations before his article got published.  Also see “Just Medical Blogs” on the Global Province.

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