National Emergency Medicine Assoc. (NEMA)



a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA) 

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Week: 609.7

Guest: Charles Osgood, Commentator, CBS Television & Radio

Topic: PBS series on the 20th century

Host/Producer: Steve Girard

NEMA: Every day, we at the Heart of the Matter follow the progress of those among us who have made it their life’s goal of making new discoveries and improvements in health and medicine...and I think we sometimes see their work as esoteric and distant, impossible to understand and apply to our current times. But it’s the curiosity of scientists that has moved us ferociously through this 20th century, making incredible progress, and primed us for the new millennium...with all the potential and possibility that awaits. Today we’re happy to have Charles Osgood...the longtime CBS radio and TV network correspondent and commentator...who serves as host of a new PBS series looking back on the achievements of the 1900’s ...including one segment called "Matters of Life and Death"...about medicine, and another entitled, "In Search of Ourselves"...which examines our study of our own behavior. Mr. Osgood, tell us about the approach you had to take to host and narrate a look back at the turbulent medical discoveries of the century...

OSGOOD: The whole series is what has happened in the hundred years in the way of science and technology. So, in that broadcast, we start ...just use as a starting point the assassination of President McKinley in 1901. The fact that he was shot by an assassin, and the doctors...and this was at an exposition, where they were celebrating a century of technological progress. They had electric lights outside, to show everybody what electric light looked like, but inside, where they took him after he was shot, the doctors did not have enough light to operate...they could not find the bullet! And so they kept trying to get him close to the window, so that they could get the fading sunlight would be enough to see. They couldn’t get him close to a flame because the anesthesia they were using was flammable, and of course, there were no antibiotics at that time. So, the President, who certainly got all of the best resources that were available at the time, under those circumstances, died of infection...from a relatively minor bullet wound. And just think of how far we have come since then. And we talk about that, about antibiotics, and we talk about pellegra, and the individuals who were involved in identifying what this was. Same with diabetes, we talk about the people who were involved in extracting insulin, and how that has changed the lives of so many people afflicted with this disease. Anyway, that is the approach, and they’re all human stories, and it is that that not only goes through this broadcast, the one about health and medicine, but the other broadcasts about physics and astronomy and what we call, "In Search of Ourselves", which also is a very human story...the ideas that people had about ‘it was all heredity’ know, the story of eugenics, and how people thought that you could breed...that the way to improve society was to keep out certain unwanted races or inferior people who were subject to certain disease, and maybe that was the way to improve the human race. And then, on the other side...almost the exact opposite of those people who believed it was all inherited, were those who thought it was all environmental...they idea of nurture versus nature. And that was carried to ridiculous extremes as well. And then how gradually we learned that it’s part...genetics plays a role but environment and education plays a tremendous role as well in understanding ourselves. And we have a broadcast on origins, asking how the earth was formed, and human evolution and the beginning of life and all of that. It’s, for me anyway...I’m a layman, I’m not any kind of a science expert, but I learned a whole lot, and I’m sure anybody would, watching this series.

NEMA: Looking at the events from the human involvement and understanding side of things, rather than another technical look at the achievements....was there a different perspective or chronology?

OSGOOD: Yes, I think so, and I think if you see these broadcasts, I think you will see that this way of doing it, where we emphasize the human stories...I think it’s easier for the layman to get his teeth into it. You realize that these people didn’t come down from Mars or someplace with brains that are different than ours. Science is a very, very human endeavor, and the humans who work in it are flawed, just like we are. And they have their limitations, and they come to the problems they’re trying to solve with preconceived notions that are sometimes way off base, and sometimes with prejudices that have to be overcome. But that makes it all the more interesting. You realize that this is not a story that you can just talk about the names of chemicals, or the names of scientific theories, these are stories about people, and how they managed to break through and take us as far as we’ve come these last hundred years, but each one of these individuals is fascinating in his or her own right.

NEMA: It seems there’s a pendulum that swings between the extreme perspectives we have when going into an area of research...for instance, we discover we can introduce chemicals to the body to handle many health problems...which gives rise to huge health care and pharmaceutical concerns constantly creating new compounds to try out....and now a movement that involves trying to find these compounds in nature...and perhaps a return to a more holistic view of healing and health...

OSGOOD: ...Yes, yes...but that’s a part of progress and science as well...I mean to come to some understanding of this. It’s...very often it turns out that we have an answer, and then the answer got away. I mean, it wasn’t until later on...we tell the story one of our broadcasts, of how some of the antibiotic drugs were developed, and some answers almost magically were there, they were found, they were recorded, and then ignored for a while. Sometimes it takes time for some discovery to sink in. But this is the kind of thing that television can do so well. It can pique your interest, it can excite you about the possibilities of this. Then, you go on from there to find out more about it. There’s a book, a companion book for this series, which has the same name, ‘A Science Odyssey...subtitled, ‘a hundred years of discovery..’, and it contains very much of the same information in printed form, so that it can be looked at....suspended in space as well as in time. I’ve done a forward for that book, an introduction to it was done by Charles Kuralt, who was originally supposed to be the host and narrator of this series...and as you probably know, Charles died on the 4th of July this past Summer. And I was asked to step in, I was honored to be asked to do that, and the experience, not only because of his memory, because he was a good friend and a long time colleague, I also found the project itself was simply fascinating. And I of the fringe benefits of this business, really, is that you do get to meet wonderful people, but you do get to learn a lot yourself everyday.

NEMA: I hate to put you on the spot...but do you have a favorite story in the segments dealing with health and medicine...something you may talk about in normal conversation with friends that really struck you during the production of the Science Odyssey series?

OSGOOD: W hen it comes to health and medicine...there were a lot of good stories. That I find interesting....the one that for me hit home was the story of the discovery of insulin. And the people who were involved in the extraction of insulin, the difficulties that they ran into...the passions ran so high in the way, they had a lot of failures as well as successes. They tried so many different combinations, that they couldn’t remember what they had done before, and they had something that worked, and then they couldn’t make it happen again. And sometimes the passions ran so high, that they hit each other...I mean there were fights about this. And they finally were able to find out how to do it, and what a difference it’s made in people’s lives. The story of pellegra, and the man, Goldberger, who worked so hard at this, and finally was able to pin it down...and it’s possible to eliminate a disease, once you understand what it is and how it works and how it can be avoided.

NEMA: I remember that story, and how they found pellegra was actually a nutritional deficiency...niacin...

OSGOOD: ...But we’re still today learning so much about these things. But a hundred years ago, when all this began, it was...people had some pretty funny ideas about what was good....

NEMA: I’m sure a hundred years from now, people will have some pretty funny ideas about what we’re talking about right now.

OSGOOD: Well, there’s no fact, one of the things I say in the forward is that we laugh now at how little they knew back then, but we know that tomorrow, they’re going to be laughing at how little we know.

NEMA: The series is called Science Odyssey, 100 years of discovery...and though it has already aired on many PBS stations last week, you can check with your local public broadcasting outlet for repeat air times. And check your local bookstores for the companion book of the same name, published by William Morrow.

SPOT: Small pages....big advice on parenting...from infants to teens. It’s the new ‘Little Book of Parenting’. What to expect, emotionally and physically, as your child grows. How to develop positive discipline,how to deal with kids and TV, adolescent issues, drug education, fighting, single and step’s all in the new ‘Little Book of Parenting, available through the National Emergency Medicine Association. Call 1-800-332-6362 for more information.

NEMA: Thanks for joining us for today’s program. If you have any comments or suggestions, contact this station. Or visit our home page at:

...for a look at transcripts of this or past programs, or to find out more

about the National Emergency Medicine Association. I’m Steve Girard at The Heart of the Matter.