Pulitzer Prize–winning N.Y.U. historian David Oshinsky, director of the Division of Medical Humanities at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, talks about his latest book, Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital.
Pulitzer Prize-winning N.Y.U. historian David Oshinsky, director of the Division of Medical Humanities at the N.Y.U. Langone Medical Center, talks about his latest book, Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital.
Steve Mirsky: Welcome to Scientific American’s Science Talk, posted on January 17, 2017. I’m Steve Mirsky. On this episode -
David Oshinsky: Pasteur showed that at a certain temperature, germs die, but the notion that there're these unseen, invisible microbes that can hurt you, that can do real damage, was something American physicians had a hard time dealing with. And that was a big problem.
Mirsky: That’s David Oshinsky. He's a history professor at New York University and the director of the Division of Medical Humanities at the NYU Langone Medical Center. In 2006, he won the Pulitzer Prize in History for his book Polio, An American Story. And his latest book is Belleview: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital. His office is actually at Belleview, as the hospital is affiliated with NYU.
We met there in late December. This book is – The word – Words come to mind that are usually used to describe, say, Michener novels of multi-generational tales of dynastic families. This book is sweeping. It has an epic quality to it, which is reflective of the institution. To me it was a history of Belleview, obviously.
It was also a history of American medicine and a social history of New York City.
Oshinsky: Mm-hmm. I think that's right. Belleview is the oldest public hospital in the United States. It's been here for close to 300 years, and what I really decided to do was to use the hospital as a lens to look into larger issues. Once certainly was the growth of American medicine, medical reforms, great medical discoveries moving public health forward. A lot of it had to do with immigration.
New York City is the immigrant capital of the world, and new groups of immigrants came in with new diseases and afflictions, and obviously that played a very, very large role: from the Irish, to the Italians, to the Jews, to African Americans coming up from the south, and today people from Asia and Latin America. So that was also a very, very large part of the story. But what also really struck me is that Belleview was the hospital that turned no one away, and because of this, it attracted generally the newest immigrants who came to New York City, and it also attracted some of the greatest medical minds of the 19th and 20th century.
Because these were largely men at this time who came here to work at Belleview to some degree out of what they felt was their Christian duty; to some degree because they would see every imaginable disease that humankind knew about, and only at Belleview could they really work on these diseases. And also these were what I would call uncomplaining bodies, meaning that these were the very poor, and therefore physicians and researchers could take liberties in experimentation at Belleview that they couldn't take at other places.
Mirsky: Right. Stuff went on that today we would cringe at, in terms of informed consent. But at the time it wasn't considered to be a problem.
Oshinsky: No. And you really want to differentiate – This was not Frankenstein medicine. These were not physicians and researchers who were trying to hurt patients, or who had crazy ideas. These were very, very well-educated and very ambitious young doctors who simply believed that they could push the medical envelope forward by pushing their own ideas. So you would have experimentation in things like electric shock.
You would have experimentation in all kinds of different vaccines, and all kinds of different public health measures. Circumcision, for example, really begins at Belleview Hospital in the medical sense. These were doctors, in terms of everything from plastic surgery to psychiatry to pediatrics, who honestly believed that their experiments would help humankind as a whole and also give them a certain amount of recognition. And they really did use Belleview as a testing ground.
Mirsky: We should probably address – You might even call it in the book "the elephant in the room." I don't recall if you used that exact phrase, but when I was growing up here in New York, Belleview was the mental institution. It was a synonym for the mental institution. And I think I was a teenager before I realized that Belleview was actually a general hospital.
So we should probably tell people why, even in today's culture, Belleview is synonymous with mental institution.
Oshinsky: When I was growing up, I was a baby boomer. If I were acting "weirdly," my mother would say, "Keep it up and you're on your way to Belleview." That was what every New York City kid knew about. And it also sort of went into the larger world, because it was on radio and television and the like that Belleview was sort of the looney bin. And to some degree, this was true.
Belleview always had a very large psychiatric ward, and I think what made it very popular was that it's sort of close to Greenwich Village, where a lot of the writers and poets lived, many of whom, like Norman Mailer, went through that institution at some point or another. And therefore it sort of grew in that way. I'd say the most important moment for Belleview, in terms of psychiatry, was in the late 19th century, when a young reporter named Nellie Bly, working for Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper here in NYC – She was kind of a daredevil reporter. She was the kind of person, after Jules Verne wrote Around the World in Eighty Days, she went around the world in 76 days.
And what she really decided to do was to go inside New York's institutions and see them from the inside. And she practiced at being what she called "crazy." Got herself arrested, and a judge sent her to Belleview on the way to somewhere else. But basically she wrote about her experiences at Belleview, how she tricked the doctors, how primitive conditions there were. And this became a spectacular exposé.
It came out as a best-seller called Ten Days in the Madhouse. And this forever, I think, linked Belleview above all to mental illness.
Mirsky: And not everybody on staff bought her act.
Oshinsky: Not everyone did.
Mirsky: But they figured, "What the hell?" They didn't know that an exposé was coming.
Oshinsky: They certainly did not. And she played the role very well, I might tell you. She played the role extremely well, and she claimed to be someone who had amnesia. She couldn't remember her name, and so they couldn't identify her. Actually, the head of Belleview, the head of the institution, really believed she was lying, but he felt that if he told this to the press, it would just be seen as an additional act of cruelty.
In other words, not really understanding the patient. So he was between a rock and a hard place, and the exposé was simply devastating.
Mirsky: Yeah. So that's why it's synonymous with a mental facility. But it really is so much more of a general institution, and the place of last resort. If you – Like you said, if you didn't have any money, they still took you here. And it was the only one –
Oshinsky: No one is turned away.
Mirsky: I say "here," because we're in Belleview right now.
Oshinsky: Right. No one is turned away at Belleview. That has always been the mantra of the hospital, that we will treat people that other hospitals won't treat. And they have done it very, very compassionately over the years. What is interesting about Belleview hospital, as I make very clear, is that it has great emergency and trauma services as well. So if a cop is shot in New York City, the cop goes to Belleview.
If a fireman is overcome with smoke, the firefighter goes to Belleview. If the pope or the president were to be injured, there's a bed waiting in the ICU at Belleview. So Belleview is really a remarkable hospital in that respect. But a large number of our patients are what you might call undocumented, undomiciled, and uninsured. And these are the people that we also treat, and these are the people that you would expect a large municipal hospital to treat, but Belleview does it more frequently and much better than other hospitals.
Mirsky: It's kind of what you would hope would be the case throughout the country.
Oshinsky: You would.
Mirsky: And yet it is an exception to the rule.
Oshinsky: It is. Public hospitals are in big trouble here. New York City once had 19 public hospitals. It's down under 10 now. And New York City is one of the few places that really guarantees free medical care to the indigent, and Belleview as its flagship has always played that role best. And Belleview has an amazing staff of attending physicians and residents, all supplied by NYU Medical School.
Mirsky: In the book, you end one chapter on the early days, you wrote, "Almshouse, pesthouse, death house: these are the indelible roots of Belleview Hospital, thrust deep in the bedrock of America's fastest-growing city." I mean, the institution goes from yellow fever in the late 18th century – it actually goes before that – to Ebola just a few years ago here.
Oshinsky: That is correct. Belleview has seen everything, and it actually began as a kind of pesthouse. It was associated with the poorhouse, the almshouse. It was a wing of that. But there were terrible yellow fever epidemics in the 1790s that came as far north as New York City, and Belleview was the place they went to die. By "going to die," I mean no physician at that time knew what caused yellow fever, and bleeding and purging was kind of the medical answer to almost every affliction at that time.
But Belleview also provided extremely compassionate care to these people. They were treated humanely. Some of them recovered; many of them died. Those who died were buried largely in Washington Square, right here in New York City, which was the first kind of pauper's grave. After that, the Irish bring cholera; typhus comes; influenza comes.
Belleview has enormous tuberculosis wards, enormous chest wards, that treat hundreds and then thousands, and then tens of thousands of TB patients. Belleview is ground zero for the AIDS crisis in New York City. More patients, more AIDS patients came to Belleview and died at Belleview than any hospital in the country. It was an extraordinary battle that went on for more than a decade, in fact. And it ended in some ways triumphantly.
We didn't stop – We have no cure for the disease, but the treatment, which has turned it into kind of a condition that people can survive now – Much of the testing of the multi-drug cocktail was done at Belleview. So Belleview's role in both treating AIDS patients and in research for HIV/AIDS is absolutely extraordinary. And then, as you mentioned, when we had our one Ebola patient in New York City, where did that Ebola patient go? Of course, it went – he went to Belleview.
Mirsky: And the care that he received saved his life, possibly. It also showed how much the incredibly high death rate for Ebola is due to conditions of treatment and poverty, because all the Americans who got it, survive because they were treated with such care, and kept hydrated, and constantly monitored, and in the places where it's endemic, that treatment's just not available.
Oshinsky: That is absolutely correct. And the one death in the United States was a patient in a Texas hospital who came from Africa. And the hospital – Someone had to be first in treating an Ebola patient, and the hospital wasn't ready. It's a very good hospital in Dallas, but it wasn't ready. Belleview was ready. Belleview had trained for this. And we also have an isolation ward for drug-resistant tuberculosis patients.
So there was really something in the hospital that could deal with that patient immediately. But, I mean, that patient had round-the-clock nursing and medical care. Just disposing of the medical waste of that single patient cost $100,000.00 a day. A laboratory was set up there so that his blood and other specimens did not have to travel through the hospital. Belleview gave him extraordinary care in the three weeks. He was discharged and perfectly healthy.
Mirsky: Yeah. There's so much fascinating history in the book. The presidents section: Lincoln and then Garfield. That's some great stuff there.
Oshinsky: It is. Very few people know this, but there actually was a doctor present at Ford's Theater when Lincoln was shot, and that doctor was Charles Augustus Leale, in his early 20s, who had just graduated from Belleview Medical School, and who was working for the Union Army at the very end of the war. And Leale rushed to Lincoln's side and literally held the fate of the republic in his hands. Lincoln was mortally wounded. He could not be saved, but Charles Augustus Leale did what he had been trained to do, including putting a dirty finger into Lincoln's wound to check for bullet fragments and the trajectory of the bullet itself, something that you would not do at this point.
And what is really interesting, as you note, is that the man who trained Charles August Leale, Frank Hamilton, was probably the greatest Civil War surgeon, certainly on the union side. And when Garfield, President Garfield, was shot in 1881, Frank Hamilton from Belleview rushed down to deal with Garfield's condition. He was one of a number of doctors, but he really was the lead surgeon. And Frank Hamilton also put his finger into Garfield's wound. Garfield was shot twice, once very superficially in the back, and one bullet that did enter but lodged in fatty tissue near the pancreas.
What we know today is that, had Garfield simply been left alone, he would have survived. What killed him was the infections that were caused by probing for the bullet. And Frank Hamilton at Belleview used unwashed hands. He used unwashed probes. And within a very relatively short period of time, Garfield went from 200 pounds to 100 pounds.
His body was just filled with pus and abscesses and infection, and he died. What Garfield's death did was to make American physicians much more aware of antiseptic medicine, of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister, and the fact that you could really save patients by essentially sanitizing the room, the operating room, washing your hands in heavy chemicals, using probes that had been cleaned very, very carefully, dressing the patient up, making sure the wound was clean. None of this was done with Garfield, and Garfield died. But there is one good ending to the process, and that is about 15 years after that, President Grover Cleveland came to Belleview because his lead doctor was there, and he clearly had some sort of cancerous mass in his mouth. And the doctor sent a little piece of it to Washington, and it did come back as cancer.
And then, in a secret operation in 1893 –
Mirsky: At sea.
Oshinsky: At sea, you're absolutely right. President Cleveland did not want anyone to know that he'd had this operation or was having the operation. The country was in the midst of an economic depression. He was afraid of what his critics would say. So, as you know, a group of Belleview physicians and a couple of others got a yacht. They outfitted the yacht as an operating room.
They sailed it up the East River, past Belleview hospital with the shades drawn –
Mirsky: Because they were afraid somebody looking out the window would say –
Oshinsky: What the hell was the president doing on a yacht on his back? And they went out into Long Island Sound, and they took out the cancerous mass, and they did it in ways that Frank Hamilton would never have done it. In other words, they made sure everything was done according to the latest antiseptic medicine. And Grover Cleveland lived another 25 years and died of a heart attack. So what you could really say is that Belleview doctors were there from Lincoln to Garfield to Cleveland, but the death of Garfield, in particular, probably saved the life of Grover Cleveland.
We went from no antiseptic medicine at Belleview in 1881 to a full variety of methods that we use to cleanse the patient, to cleanse the wound, to sanitize the operating room, and the like.
Mirsky: There was some real resistance on the part of some of the older staff members here at Belleview to the information coming over from Europe about hygiene and sterilization.
Oshinsky: That is absolutely true. I think it was a kind of arrogance on the part of many American doctors. Joseph Lister was British, Pasteur was French, so –
Oshinsky: Right, Semmelweis was Austrian-Hungarian. You're absolutely right. And there was the sense that we really don't need some French guy, and British methods, brought over here. We know what is best for our patients. And you're absolutely right, it did take more time than it should have for antiseptic medicine to take hold in the United States.
And the methods were there. I mean, Lister in the late 1860s was saying, "I am doing away with postoperative infection in Glasgow by using sanitary methods." Pasteur showed that at a certain temperature, germs die. But the notion that there're these unseen, invisible microbes that can hurt you, that can do real damage, was something Americans had a hard time dealing with. And the fact that the information was coming from outside, particularly from Europe, their backs stood up.
And that was a big problem.
Mirsky: I mentioned Semmelweis. If you haven't heard of him – or "Semmelveis" – Handwashing. He's the one who championed handwashing, and he was basically drummed out of business for it –
Oshinsky: You're absolutely right.
Mirsky: – because they thought he was nuts. And there was a resistance because doctors didn't think they had time, for one thing, to keep washing their hands all day.
Oshinsky: They didn't. And they also felt that the hands would become chapped and red and unusable, if they were constantly dipping it into carbolic acid. But you're absolutely right. I mean, Semmelweis showed, in this gigantic hospital in Vienna, that midwives had a much lower rate of infection of patients than doctors did, and the reason was that doctors were going from the dead house, from the morgue, where they were inspecting cadavers. They were not washing their hands, and then they were delivering babies.
And Semmelweis showed that this was killing women, which was somewhat a message that doctors did not want to hear, that they were killing their own patients.
Mirsky: And Hamilton, the great surgeon, nevertheless had a postop death rate because of infections that – I forget, was it – ?
Oshinsky: About 50 percent.
Mirsky: —50 percent.
Oshinsky: So –
Mirsky: So you – The – What's the old joke? The operation was a success, but the patient died.
Oshinsky: Right. Within a month. What was really interesting was that anesthesia really comes in, in a big way, before the Civil War. What anesthesia allows you to do is to keep the patient on the table for a longer period of time. You can probe more deeply. When you're doing that, the chance of causing infection grows.
So the second half of the walnut was using antiseptic medicine in the operating room. And that took Belleview physicians, particularly the older ones, a long time to deal with. And some of them never did. Frank Hamilton never dealt with it.
Mirsky: I forget, was it – ? Was the name Loomis, the – ?
Oshinsky: Yeah, Loomis was the other. He said, "I see back – There are bacteria in the air, but I cannot see them. I – " And his students would laugh. It was a way of saying if you can't see it, it's not there. It's not a problem.
Mirsky: But ultimately when Koch showed that you could see the tuberculosis bacterium under the microscope, even Loomis came around, at that point.
Oshinsky: That is absolutely right. That – I mean, what Koch did, and particularly Koch, was just to blow the miasma theory and other theories out of the water. And suddenly it was quite clear that germ theory was coming in.
Mirsky: I lived through a lot of the stuff that's in the last maybe fifth of the book, that traces Belleview through the '70s to the present. Some of the stuff, though, in the chapter about Hurricane Sandy, I didn't know. I knew that Belleview was in real trouble because of the power situation. But you tell the story of how they actually kept the generators going by this line of people going up 13 flights of stairs. I mean, that's an amazing story of dedication.
Oshinsky: It is. That was known as the bucket brigade. What happened was the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy was the greatest in the history of New York City.
Mirsky: They were prepared for like 6 feet, but it was 14 feet?
Oshinsky: That's pretty accurate, yeah. And two hospitals on the East Side, Tisch Hospital, which is NYU's voluntary hospital, and Belleview, the city hospital, did not close. They both had to evacuate. Tisch evacuated almost immediately, and very, very successfully. Belleview, as the people's hospital, never – It always stands there.
It had never closed in its history. So Belleview decided to wait it out. But the storm surge was so enormous that it basically took out the generators in the basement. It took out wall oxygen. It flooded the – Belleview to the point where power went out.
There was an emergency generator on the 13th floor. When fuel was delivered, Belleview doctors and nurses and staffers took five-gallon drums and marched 'em up 13 flights of stairs to fill the fuel capacity of these generators. And what they did was to provide Belleview with enough power to keep going. The lighting was very, very dim. The air conditioning went off.
The toilets didn't work. The smell was beyond belief. Food began to run out. And finally it was decided that the hospital did have to evacuate. It simply had reached a point where it was more dangerous to keep the patients in the hospital than to move them elsewhere.
And it was a – really a heroic evacuation. The evacuation at NYU's Tisch was also quite a heroic evacuation. But Belleview was larger, and Belleview has special kinds of patients. The entire 19th floor is a prison ward. Every male prisoner from Riker's Island who has a medical or psychiatric issue gets sent to Belleview hospital.
You had to, in semidarkness, walk down an entire floor's worth of prisoners daisy-chained to one another, in semidarkness. They were surrounded by doctors, but they were also surrounded by corrections officers. And this was a very, very dangerous and time-consuming process. You had to evacuate from the upper floors hundreds of psychiatric patients who had no idea what was going on. You had to calm them down, and you had to slowly move them out.
You had to move out infants from neonatal care. You had to move out drug-resistant TB patients, and make sure you could put 'em in an isolation room in another hospital. This was an incredible vertical evacuation. It had never occurred before. You had had evacuations in New Orleans, where helicopters came and took people off roofs.
You had to march these people out of the building, 24 floors of patients. And every single patient got out alive and was sent to another facility, which did include homeless shelters, and in some cases sent home. You had to follow them. You had to check their medical records, see they had the proper medication. It was one of the most extraordinary medical events in modern history.
Mirsky: Although I think you say two patients could not be removed.
Oshinsky: You're absolutely right. There were two patients. One was a woman who weighed, I think, 550 pounds. And these patients were often taken down in plastic sleds, and slid down. And I must admit, the National Guard came, and they were like our cavalry. They were amazing in helping the staff.
But this woman was simply too big to put into a sled. And there was one other patient who had such severe heart problems that moving that patient was out of the question. So they did have to wait till an elevator could be rigged, a single elevator, to bring the final two patients out. Yeah.
Mirsky: Right. But they were the only ones.
Oshinsky: They were the only ones, right.
Mirsky: Yeah. It's pretty amazing. Just wanna talk about one other thing before we close, and that's the history of the inclusion of non-white males into the medical schools and Belleview as physicians. A mind-boggling fact in the book is that Johns Hopkins didn't admit their first African-American medical student until the 1970s.
Oshinsky: That's correct.
Mirsky: Unbelievable. And Belleview, in some ways, is a much better example. And in some ways it's a moderately better example of inclusion.
Oshinsky: Yeah. Well, Harvard didn't admit its first woman into medical school until World War II, or just after World War II, so Belleview was way ahead of the curve. There was a time when Belleview was serviced by Columbia Medical School, by Cornell Medical School, and NYU. Cornell and Columbia have gone on to, I won't say "greener," but to other pastures. So NYU is left as the medical school feeder for all of the care at Belleview Hospital. But Belleview admitted women much earlier.
It admitted African Americans much earlier. And what your audience may not know is that NYU Medical School was the only medical school in this area that did not have a Jewish quota. Harvard had a Jewish quota. Yale, Penn –
Oshinsky: – Columbia, P&S, Cornell, they all had Jewish quotas, which meant they accepted a very small number of Jews, starting around 1920 and moving forward.
Mirsky: It's really ironic, because the cliché is now the Jewish doctor. But 100 years ago, Jews couldn't get into medical school.
Oshinsky: It was so many were applying that – And the quotas were just riddled with anti-Semitism. But what was interesting is that, because so many Jewish doctors were at NYU, and so many came out, because more than half of NYU's class, even in the '20s and '30s and '40s, was Jewish, it was the only game in town. Belleview hospital had lots of Jewish physicians, because NYU was the major feeder. I always have people saying to me, "You know, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin both went to NYU Medical School. What a coincidence!"
It was no coincidence. That was the only place they could get into in this era. So Belleview, in a way, really mirrored New York City. That is what is so wonderful about it. It took African Americans earlier as physicians. It took women earlier. It wasn't easy. The process wasn't easy.
Mirsky: Well, you talk about the women facing discriminate – Just terrible things being said to them on a daily basis.
Oshinsky: Right. Right. It was very, very hard to be a female doctor anywhere, and that included Belleview Hospital. There was a tremendous amount of discrimination and male chauvinism in that era. But they were there. The point is, they were trained there. And some of them rose to take over in psychiatry, the pediatric wing.
The TB wards in particular had brilliant female doctors. So there was a chance. And what was very interesting is that in the 1960s, when Cornell and Columbia left Belleview –
Mirsky: At the same time. it was like the Giants and the Dodgers both leaving.
Oshinsky: That's a great analogy. It was. One sort of covered the other's behind, and they both left. But Lew Thomas, who was one of the great figures – He won the National Book Award for his medical essays, and he was _____ –
Mirsky: The Lives of the Cell, or The Life of a Cell?
Oshinsky: That's correct. Yeah, that's correct.
Mirsky: This was required reading 25 years ago, yeah.
Oshinsky: It was. Thomas was the dean. And Thomas actually said, "Let them go." He said, "NYU not only can handle this, but NYU physicians are better equipped to deal with Belleview patients, because they're working-class New Yorkers themselves. They've come out of the New York City public school system."
These are the medical students. "And they have a sense of the city that other physicians simply don't have. They are part of it. They are the gritty part of New York City." And he was right.
Mirsky: They've seen it all.
Oshinsky: They've seen it all.
Mirsky: Before they even walk through the doors. You just mentioned Jonas Salk and Sabin. I have not read your other books, but I saw that you wrote a book about polio.
Oshinsky: I did.
Mirsky: And I just wanted to get your thoughts on our current environment in which people are denying that vaccines are efficacious, or are actually frightened of vaccines. It's because they didn't live through polio, I think.
Oshinsky: That is right. Vaccines have done their job so well that they've taken away the evidence of the diseases they prevent. And one of the problems is that parents generally are always into risk versus reward. And with my parents, there was no issue. The disease was far more dangerous than anything that could happen with the vaccine.
They saw polio every single day. They saw wheelchairs, and kids in iron lungs and leg braces, and children dying of this disease. Today you don't see this in the United States.
Mirsky: A public swimming pool was a frightening sight.
Oshinsky: They were closed. When I was a boy, you couldn't go swimming in the summer. We had to stay out of crowds. You couldn't go bowling. You couldn't go to the movies. Before the vaccines, it was a different world in the summer.
Those days are gone, and thank God they're gone. But the point is, if we don't keep vaccinating, those days can come back, and that's really the scary point. Many parents just wonder, "Why should I vaccinate my child against a disease that is no longer around?" And what you have to do – tell them is that the reason the disease is no longer around is because we vaccinate. It's just – It's a circular argument.
But they feel the same way about measles and whooping cough, and there are these pockets of unvaccinated children by the dozens, and sometimes by the hundreds, who are coming down with diseases that can kill them, and that do have very, very serious side effects attached to them. There is the first – and we worked on it – the first law now in California that has done away with religious exemptions and philosophical exemptions to vaccination if you wanna go to public school. Unless you have some serious medical issue, you have to vaccinate your child. Those are the battles we're fighting today. And the anti-vaccine movement has really sort of hooked onto a kind of fake science, and then when that doesn't work, they talk about it's their right to do what their – their constitutional right to do what they want with their children.
And what we try to impress upon them is that we're all in this together. That we need everyone to be vaccinated who can be vaccinated, in order to protect those who can't. And that's really a selfish act, when you don't vaccinate your child, in terms of others in the community who are vulnerable to diseases but can't be vaccinated themselves.
Mirsky: And one last thing. The Belleview book is the only one of your books I've been fortunate enough to read, but I did see that you have also written about the McCarthy era.
Oshinsky: I have.
Mirsky: And just last week we heard about this request from the incoming administration to have the names named of climate science –
Oshinsky: I saw that.
Mirsky: – researchers in – I forget; was it the Department in the Interior?
Oshinsky: I don't know the exact department, but yes. There is really a battle going on now within the government that – in terms of targeting certain people and highlighting their alleged indiscretions, when in fact all they're doing is honest scientific, and legitimate scientific, and important scientific, work.
Mirsky: I mean, Lamar Smith at the House Science Committee has subpoenaed many climate scientists. And this is just to try to frighten people.
Oshinsky: It is. I mean, there is obviously an agenda behind it. But it is reminiscent of an earlier era, and that is the McCarthy era that I wrote about, where government officials were singled out, in most cases with wild accusations. And they were tarred and feathered, and they lost their jobs and suffered very, very serious consequences, not only in terms of their careers but in terms of their personal lives. I'm hopeful that we have a press now that is much more aggressive in ferreting out these issues, and that we have a public, hopefully, that has learned lessons from the past.
Mirsky: That’s it for this episode. Get your science news at our website, www.ScientificAmerican.com, or you can access our special report, "Science and the Trump Presidency: What to Expect for Climate Change, Health Care, Technology and More under the New Administration." And follow us on Twitter, where you’ll get a tweet whenever a new item hits the website. Our Twitter name is @SciAm. For Scientific American Science Talk, I’m Steve Mirsky. Thanks for clicking on us.
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