Tag Archives: change

A Sad Truth

For the last week or so a stray dog, still a puppy by my estimate, has been hanging around the campus where I work. He’s wily, as he knows to avoid any campus vehicle or police car. He isn’t afraid so much as wary of humans. I highly doubt he’s ever experienced the joy of a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears. He’s too thin and the odds work against him the longer he fends for himself. I see his life¬† as a symptom of what’s wrong with our society. Endless numbers of people pass by and don’t even see him. Some see him, but don’t even slow down. Only one here and there offer aid.¬† It doesn’t require a leap in imagination to conjecture the same thing occurs with his human counterparts. People don’t want to bother. It isn’t their problem.

I feel bad for him and have given him food, just as I saw another student do. I called the local animal shelter, but the odds they’ll look for him are slim. If the animal isn’t confined in some manner, they don’t bother. I understand they lack the resources to actively search for every reported stray. What I don’t understand is someone’s view that it is better for this guy to live the life he’s living than to get picked up by the pound. If he’s not feral or sick they WILL try to adopt him out. In a few weeks temperatures will be in the nineties. There won’t be any ready access to water. Not to mention he must cross massively busy streets. I witnessed a near miss just today. A lady on a Facebook page where I posted his picture, on the slim chance he might be lost, went on a rant against the animal shelter. She’d rather he roam, always hungry and thirsty, too hot or too cold, always fearful, and in constant misery, than to have a chance, even a slim one, at finding a life with a family who will love and care for him.

Yes, the shelter is a kill shelter. The local non-kill shelter won’t come pick up strays. They simply don’t have the funds or the space. All the local rescue groups are up to their eyeballs in animals and have been for a number of years. I’m one of those people who would rescue them all if I could, but I can’t. The lady who ranted against the shelter didn’t offer to take him in, so who is she to criticize the facility for doing their best against overwhelming odds? When I was looking for a second dog, back when I just had Marble, I visited the pound and the Humane Society, and contacted multiple rescue groups. I was looking for a puppy, not b/c I didn’t want an older dog (Marble was a adult dog from the Humane Society when I adopted her), but b/c of Marble’s personality quirks. I felt it would be less stressful all-around to introduce a young dog she could “teach” rather than an older one that she’d have to battle for top-dog rights. Seeing as she only sees myself and Soup King as higher in rank than her (and she only granted him that right I think b/c I let him feed her for many months). Anyway, when I was at the shelter a couple came in with an adorable small, female, dog. The woman was surrendering her. Not only was she handing over this perfectly healthy dog, but turns out she’d never bothered naming her even though she’d had her for over a year.

Yesterday when I was offering the stray some food, a stranger commented that it was nice of me to do that. I suppose. I view it more as what I’d want someone to do for me if the situation were reversed. I didn’t go to any great expense or effort. It took very little time. Have we sunk so low as a society that something as simple as being nice is praised b/c of its rarity?

Sure, I could rant about the issues of pet over-population and irresponsible owners, but even worse is this pervasive attitude that others’ lives and problems are somehow less important than yours. If people can treat a helpless animal with cruelty, that behavior likely extends into their human relationships. It’s easy to point the finger at those people, but apathy is no better. It’s why our freedoms are slipping through our fingers. It’s why the public school system is crumbling into rubbish. It’s why we have corrupt politicians running things. Change doesn’t happen because you sit around waiting for others to do something. You see a wrong and step forward to right it in whatever small way you can. It is the accumulation of many small acts which culminates in change.

He'll come within inches of me now, but won't eat out of my hand yet.

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Occupy science?

Today’s seminar began in the usual boring manner. Truth be told, many of us graduate students peruse Facebook or play clickity games on smart phones while some student, faculty, or in a handful of cases, a guest speaker drones on about their research. The Pharmaceutical Sciences consists of two very different groups of people: those making drugs and those making new ways to formulate and deliver drugs. In any case, no matter who they invite or who is presenting, half the audience tunes out and bemoans either the interruption in work or the chance to go home before dark. One poor guy started snoring today. I sympathize. I’ve napped during seminar more than I care to admit.

So as I clickity-clicked, I listened to the guest speaker point out the flaws with nanotechnology. My initial response of “Interesting, but not my field” began to shift as he drove his point home. He pointed to over half a dozen entrepreneurs that affected dramatic change in society by their inventions or ideas, making the ironic observation that most were college drop-outs. They dared to pursue a passion rather than remain within the defined confines of academia and business. He dared us, not to drop out of course, but rather to change the direction of science, to think outside accepted scientific dogma.

To be expected, his criticism of the nanotechnology bandwagon sparked heated comments, since half or more of the audience work in the area of drug delivery and nanotechnology. He pointed out that while nanotechnology has improved the efficacy of drugs and allowed decreases in dosing to alleviate dangerous side effects, it has not advanced medicine in any sizable degree over the past ten years. Nanotechnology has made a difference, but only as an incremental improvement, another tool to add to our drug discovery and formulation toolbox. Harnessing electricity, discovery of penicillin, the invention of vaccines: these are discoveries which vastly changed the quality of life for all humanity.

In the nineties we thought the genome project would answer everything, but a decade later we learned that one gene can play many roles. Then came the era of proteonomics, and then nanotechnology. Combine the bandwagon trend (if you aren’t working on the “in” thing, good luck getting funded) with the slow shift away from basic science the statistics show stagnant drug discovery. Even the National Science Foundation warns that this disturbing evidence combined with the decrease in government funding is bad news for the country and progress.

As a graduate student, and a person who never fails to ask “But why? How?” it’s become increasingly clear to me that there’s still far more we don’t know, despite our advances. Yet, ask any professor in the department, and if he or she can’t somehow show a direct medical application, funding is just about non-existent. Even for solid applied research funds are sadly in short supply. The complaints I hear lend me to fear that the funding, which is primarily by the government, is as laden with cronies and politics as Washington D.C.

I echo the concerns of the speaker today, but wonder, in a money driven society, can change really and truly occur? Even now I see my department shrinking before my eyes as funding dwindles to a trickle. A multitude of factors contribute, lack of focus on science in public schools, the increased cost of secondary education, poor economy, etc. What happens when all but the wealthiest universities can afford research programs in the basic sciences? The divide of rich and poor will grow and the country as a nation will fall farther behind the rest of the world.

What’s to be done? Like many things in this country, change is needed. We can start by encouraging young people to study math and science. For those of us already in the field and facing financial and ideological obstacles, I can only repeat the sentiment the speaker shared: “Pursue your passion. Persevere. Never give up.”