Today is the birthday of Alexander Fleming. It will come and go with little, if any celebration. Don’t know who I’m talking about? That is okay, I’m guessing only about one percent of people world wide do, even though a much greater percentage owe their lives to him. I think we should have and Alexander Fleming day today. I also think we should have an Edmund Jenner day, each May 17th for his birthday. Don’t know him either? No hard feelings, but he is thought to have saved more people than any other in history on this planet. Who are these people?
The most under appreciated group of people out there, and it is time we talked about changing that.
Photo Credit: Encyclopedia Brittanica
Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. By doing that, he probably has saved between 150 and 200 million lives. It is reasonable to say that without Penicillin, you or I might not be here. Edmund Jenner? He developed a vaccine for smallpox, the greatest killer in world history. By doing so, he paved the way for all vaccines that we have today. At least a half a billion lives have been saved by Edmund Jenner, likely more. not only that, think about the ripple effect of the lives saved by these two men. How many lives did the lives they saved save? Yet, very few people know these men. Why? We don’t teach about them enough, we don’t honor them enough, and we don’t appreciate what they did enough. We give a lot of attention to the takers of life, not nearly enough to the givers of life.
Recently, there has been a debate raging in America about whether to take down or leave standing statues and monuments to people who fought on the side of the Confederacy. There are intense and passionate opinions on both sides. I’ve thought a lot about it, and one question I have is, “Why do so many of our statues have to be about war?” It is not that I don’t appreciate the soldiers, anyone that knows me will verify that, but couldn’t and shouldn’t we give love to a wider group of people? When we erect statues, build monuments, name schools and streets, etc. we are sending a message about how much we value and honor that particular pursuit. If we don’t have statues and other acts of honor towards a particular group of people, aren’t we kind of saying that they aren’t that important?
I live in Portland Oregon less than a mile from where Linus Pauling attended high school, and about two miles from the house he grew up in. There are no statues that I know of in Portland celebrating Mr. Pauling. His grave is a very modestly marked one in the suburb of Lake Oswego. There is a small sign denoting the house he grew up in. This is the only man to win two Nobel prizes in different categories in the history of the award! He won it in 1954 for Chemistry, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962. Shouldn’t that merit as much recognition as if he was a war hero? An athlete? A reality t.v. star?????????
I could go on and on and on. Remember how we were terrified by A.I.D.S. 30 years ago when people were dying horribly and in large numbers? We are on top of A.I.D.S. now, and you know who led the charge on that battlefield? That is right, the scientists. No more Ebola in most of Africa? The end of Polio? Stopping the Zika virus? Going to the moon? Food preservation? Water purification? How about the very machines we are communicating on right now?
All, and so much more……the scientists.
When we put up a statue of someone, or name something after them, it is not just way of giving thanks or honoring them, it is a statement to our youth about what is important to us. Who we want them to admire, and try to be like. Dedications are not simply and ode to our past, but a calling to our future. Think about the conversations that go on next to statues between parents and children around statues, and imagine more like, “Look child, that is Edmund Jenner, he dedicated his life to research, innovation, and helping others. He saved over a half a billion people.”
You have probably read or heard something like this in the past month: “We have all of these fires, all of these hurricanes, God is trying to send us a message you fools!”
I agree, and the message is this: “Pay more attention to the scientists. They have been trying to warn you about this for decades.” Maybe we placed a higher value on them in our society, people would listen to them.
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