Search This Blog

Saturday, January 16, 2016


President Obama has compared the search for a cancer cure to the moon shot.

PZ Myers writes at ScienceBlogs:
Everyone admires John F. Kennedy’s ambition in setting a specific goal for the space program, way back in the 1960s. It was smart to focus. But here’s the difference: we knew where the moon was. There it is, 380,000km away, in a predictable orbit around the planet, and we had these technologies to fire off rockets that already contained the basic principles we needed to get to the moon. It was a nontrivial effort, but getting from here to there was an already specified problem.
Where is “cancer”? Can you even define the problem? Do you see a solution that you can reach by just throwing a lot of money at it and telling a team of doctors to fix it?
No, you can’t. Scientists who study cancer will even tell you flat out that cancer isn’t one disease, it’s a multitude of diseases. It’s more like a pattern of collapse of a complex structure, and there’s a million different ways it can happen. A “moonshot” is a terrible metaphor for how to approach the treatment of cancer.
Ike Swetlitz writes at STAT:
Nixon, of course, also invoked a “war on cancer.” Decades later, with the war still not won, the Clinton administration turned again to that militaristic metaphor.
“We want to be the first generation that finally wins the war on cancer,” then-Vice President Al Gore told the Toledo Blade in 1998. He said science was on the verge of a breakthrough: “For the first time, the enemy is outmatched.”
It wasn’t.
In the following campaign, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush returned to the space metaphor. He promised to “fund and lead a medical moonshot to reach far beyond what seems possible today,” to cure not just cancer but many ills associated with aging.