Thursday, January 22, 2015

Conflicting Images of Fifties Science - as recalled by a child

As a little kid back then, I have only two memories of Fifties Science --- two images only.

Back in that totally totalizing era, it is hard to imagine Science being allowed to display such wildly conflicting public images.

But it did - a sign perhaps of what was going to break out into the open in the 1960s and 1970s, when Science divided into Dunlap & McCright's feuding Production and Impact scientists.


One image came from our textbooks, Hollywood movies and countless beyond countless ads in our parents' glossy magazines.

It was of gleaming porcelain white laboratories - bright lit, clean and dry - with stern faced men in white lab coats carefully adjusting walls of shining stainless steel dials - or peering intently at the well-behaved contents of spotlessly clean beakers and test tubes.

I swear to God you could safely eat off all of it - the floor, the walls, the dials, the lab coats, the beakers, even the men's smoothly-shaved strong chins.

The constant cut line below was usually about 'living better synthetically' : whether chemically or atomically it mattered little.


The other image could not have been more opposite.

But this was an image we children had to conjure up in our own minds from what our teacher verbally told us.

Penicillin, she said, had along with more and more wonderful new child-saving medicines - had first come from a stinky smelly scraping off the dark wet concrete wall of a dank basement.

The other new antibiotics had also come from the most obscure and benighted corners of the world - as far away from those world class city white laboratories as life on earth could be.

We tried hard to imagine children like us being saved by slime plucked out of Mediterranean sewage discharges or by white fungus threads dug out of soil from the damp musky floors of decaying South American rain forest jungles.


And then had to reconcile all that child life saving from dirty slime against our vivid movie images of military Gas and Plutonium synthetically produced from behind the closely guarded walls of those gleaming white clean laboratories.

We were much too young to have developed a keen sense of irony , but still....

Baby Boomer kids a conflicted generation ?

Wouldn't you be ?

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