The effects of the hostile takeover of Research Genetics on my research and career weren't immediately apparent. No crowd gathered. No ambulance drove me and my passengers, the other members of my lab, to an emergency room for X-rays. No circle of frowning physicians conferenced around my bed while I lay in a coma. It wasn't a car accident. What it was was a tipping point.
A tipping point is usually identified in retrospect as the critical moment of change in a progression of events. A tipping point affects perception to cause reinterpretation of preceding events. A tipping point is the proverbial straw that breaks a camel's back, but it's only one straw in the bundle.
Good Luck, Bad Luck
There's an old Zen story called Good Luck, Bad Luck about a farmer who inherits a horse to help him with his field work. This version is as told by Anthony De Mello in The Song of the Bird:
There once was a simple farmer who lived and struggled alongside his neighbours and friends, trying to exist and fulfil a peaceful life. One day news arrived from far away, that his old loving father had died. His neighbours gathered to grieve, but the farmer simply said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?"
In time relatives brought a very fine horse of great cost and fine breeding, left to the farmer by his father. All the villagers and neighbours gathered in delight with him to celebrate his good fortune, but he just said, "Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”
One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbours sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”
A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”
Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”
Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
It would be a mistake to say I didn't know how difficult even a partial recovery from the impact of the hostile takeover would be. What made it particularly difficult is that I was only months away from having to renew my lab funding. Good luck, namely receiving an R01 award from the National Institutes of Health on my first try, even if only an award for three years, now had turned decidedly bad.
Without the antibodies that were on that truck to California, convincing grant reviewers was going to be nearly impossible. What I didn't suspect were the cumulative effects of lingering sexism and increased competitiveness as capitalistic concerns invaded academia.
I also didn't anticipate that the very thing that was a major source of my enthusiasm and perseverance would contribute to my downfall. My research was threatening to be the start of a paradigm shift. That was why it was worth the work and the other sacrifices in my life, at least to me.
The paradigm the scientific community and pharmaceutical corporations were invested in was that neuronal plasticity, learning and memory, and the resulting changes in behavior were a consequence of activity dependent changes in the concentration of calcium inside cells. To be clear, my research, if it had been allowed to proceed unhindered, would not have negated previous results but called them into question.
...to be continued…