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´╗┐Title: On Handling the Data
Author: Mayfield, M. I.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Illustrated by Freas


     _Sometimes a story is best told by omission--!_

September 16, 1957

Dr. Robert Von Engen, Editor
Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,
Constitution Avenue, N. W.,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Sir:

I am taking the liberty of writing you this letter since I read your
published volume, "Logical Control: The Computer vs. Brain" (Silliman
Memorial Lecture Series, 1957), with the hope that you can perhaps offer
me some advice and also publish this letter in the editorial section.
Your mathematical viewpoint on the analysis between computing machines
and the living human brain, especially the conclusion that the brain
operates in part digitally and in part analogically, using its own
statistical language involving selection, conditional transfer orders,
branching, and control sequence points, et cetera, makes me feel that
only you can offer me some information with logical _arithmetic depth_.

The questions raised in this letter are designed principally to reach
the embryonic and juvenile scientists ... the _scientists-elect_, so to
speak. (I think the "mature scientists" are irretrievably lost.) For
many reasons, some of which will be explained in the following
paragraphs, I think that it is of the greatest importance that some
stimulatable audience be reached. As yet, the beginners have no rigid
scientific biases and thus may have sufficient curiosity and flexibility
about the world in which they live to approach experimentation with a
mind devoid of "the hierarchy of memory registers which have programmed
in erroneous data."

What I have to say will not surprise nor shock _you_, or those who are
at present engaged in scientific investigation. In fact, I have read
many science-fiction stories that deal with the same problem. Perhaps
that is the only way that it can be approached, through the medium of a
story? Yet why not present it for what it may be? Let me tell it my own
way, and then, please, let me have your _coldly logical_ opinion.

As to my background, I am a graduate student in the Zoology Department
of a midwestern university working toward a Master's degree, or actually
a doctorate--we can bypass the M.S. if we choose--in the field of
Cellular Physiology. My sponsor is an internationally known man in the
field. The area of research that I have selected is concerned with the
effects of physical and chemical agents on the synthesis of nucleic
acids of the cell. Obviously, this is a big field, and I hope to select
from among the different agents, one or two that will give "positive
results." I have been doing active research for about half a year
testing the different agents. As for the _fundamental_ questions raised,
I am positive that it would make _no_ difference in what field of
science I were to work.

By now I have had enough course work to realize that when performing any
assigned laboratory exercise--they should not be called
experiments--even of a cook-book type, little or even major
discrepancies arise, and _always on the initial trials_, no matter how
carefully one works! As you are probably aware, the teaching assistant
in charge of the lab or the instructor, generally runs through the
exercise before the class does in order to get the "bugs" out of it--I
am deliberately generalizing, since the above holds for all of the
laboratory sciences--so when the student gets confusing or rather
contradictory results, the instructor can deftly point out the error in
the setup or calculations, or _what have you_. He may _even_ indicate
what results may be expected. _The last is critical._ Similarly other
students in the laboratory usually have friends who have had the course
before and know what results are expected--_this technique is frowned
upon_. Or one may consult textbooks and published papers. (This, by the
way, is known as _library research_, and is generally conceded to be
indicative of the superior student, especially if he points out the fact
that he is _so interested_ that he just had to delve into the
literature.) By any technique, _the expected results are always
obtained_. _Always. And by everyone._ The initial confusions--that some
_honest_ students perpetuate--are easily brushed aside as errors due to
inexperience, sloppiness, lack of initiative, stupidity of congenital
sort, et cetera, et cetera.

Since being a teaching fellow, even simple cook-book experiments don't
seem as cook-bookish. Some pretty weird things have happened when I
tried out an exercise prior to the class. Fortunately, I was taught to
keep data--in duplicate: indelible purple Hexostick original and carbon
copy. These, _vide infra_, are a few of such happenings.

     Elementary General Physiology Laboratory:

     1. Initial maximal vagal stimulation:

        _Expected results_: inhibition of heart beat.

        _Obtained results_: one series of increased heart beats.
        (Possible explanation: I missed the vagus nerve)????

     2. _Frog nerve-muscle preparation_:

        _Expected results_: a single muscle twitch.

        _Obtained results_: a beautiful nerve twitch.

        (Explanation: Eyesight? How can _nerves_ twitch?)??

     3. _Hypotonic hemolysis_:

        _Expected results_: red blood cell destruction.

        _Obtained results_: crenation.

        (Explanation: switched salt solutions _unconsciously_)?????

     4. _Curarized muscle preparation_:

        _Expected results_: a synaptic block with no response of nerve
        when stimulated.

        _Observed results_: a typical strychnine response, violent
        _tetanus_, et cetera.

        (Explanation: again, I switched bottles)????

     5. I shall avoid the obvious mention of mishaps with mechanical or
        electrical pieces of equipment. I assure you there were similar
        deviations in initial attempts.

Since I realize that you are preparing a paper on _Memory Registers:
Stimulation Criteria_, for the VIth Annual International Meeting of the
Society of Theoretical Biomathematicians in London, and are short of
time, I shall avoid going into the same kind of detail as the above for
other Biology Labs, and get into the real heart of the thing ... the
research problem. (After all that is what both of us are interested in.)
By the way, please send me a reprint of the paper when it comes out.

I guess I am really hepped up on this, because I've just got to point
out for emphasis other incidences usually of a type that involved
missing a whole organ in dissections or a tissue structure in histology
only on the _first_ study, and then re-reading the assignment--after
knowing what to look for--and _subsequently finding it exactly where it
is said to be_. (Ever hunt for an unknown quality--or quantity?) _So it
was there all the time_, sloppy technique? Or is this branching at a
control point? _cf._ LC: C. vs. B. p. 251.

To get back to my thesis research, the pieces of equipment that I have
been using in the research are fairly standard in physiological
research: a Beckman spectrophotometer, a Coleman photometer, a van Slyke
amino nitrogen apparatus, a Warburg respirometer, pH meters, Kjeldahls,
Thunbergs, et cetera. Mostly, I'm in the process of getting used to
them. Also there is a high voltage X-ray generator, U. V. source and
other equipment for irradiation purposes. We also have an A. E. C.
license so that we can get at least microcurie amounts of the usual
isotopes for radioautographic work.

Now the literature in my area is pretty controversial. (You can
appreciate _that_, especially since Bergbottom at the Kaiser Wilhelm
Institute bombarded you with criticisms of your theories.) Different and
actually contradictory results have been obtained for the same substance
in the same organism, _e. g._ alkaline phosphatase in the frog liver
cell (Monnenblick, '55, Tripp, '56, and Stone, '57). To give an example,
when I start a run for respiration effects using a Warburg I don't know
what results to expect. Whenever this has been the case, my results have
been confusing ... to say the least.

On nitrogen-mustard treated cells, in some instances the controls
respired significantly _more_--even with a statistical analysis of
variance--in some instances the _experimentals_ respired significantly
more; and in other cases the respiration for both was _exactly_ the
same--even _closer_ than the expected deviations that should be found in
any random population. One run, the blank run, _containing no cells_ ...
and grease-free ... consumed the greatest amount of oxygen. To cut this
letter short, the same inconstancies apply to other trials that I have
made. Whenever I didn't know what to expect, and particularly where the
literature was controversial, my results have been completely haywire.

Needless to say, I was not happy with this so I discussed it with other
graduate students. They have all encountered the _same thing_! But most
professors won't admit this to be true and merely tell me that my
technique is lousy. If anything, I am an overly careful worker. Why is
it when I _know_ what results are expected, I get comparable results
even on the _first_ trial?

Remember, _I obtained the expected results_ when the literature wasn't
confused or when my sponsor--a most important man in my life--gave me a
clue as to what kind of results to expect. _Only then._

Now this is the heart of the matter.... The obvious explanation is the
lack of experience. But, and this is what haunts me ... _what if those
so-called contradictory results are meaningful_? What if they were
executed with care--_and they were_--and are not the results of
sloppiness or inexperience? _What if a nerve can twitch?_

Very respectfully yours,

Jonathan Wells

       *       *       *       *       *

May 3, 1958

Dr. Robert Von Engen,
Editor, Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,
Constitution Avenue,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Dr. Von Engen:

I would like to thank you for your encouraging letter and advice. I
agree completely with your statement that science has a long way to go
before we can explain the various inconsistencies that crop up in
research. But I certainly can't see how the letter is far too
"unsophisticated" for inclusion in the _Letters to the Editor_ portion
of your journal. While your letter should have calmed me, I feel even
more strongly now after a year of research about the matter than I did
before. I have deliberately postponed answering your letter until I had
more _facts_.

I now find that I have accumulated--as you suggested--three distinctly
conflicting groups of data on nucleic acid synthesis of frog liver

1. There is a conversion of ribonucleic acid to desoxyribonucleic acid.

2. There is a conversion of desoxyribonucleic acid to ribonucleic acid.

3. The synthesis of both types of nucleic acid are independent of each
other. (In addition, I have some data ... that I don't want to think
about too much ... that shows that there is absolutely no nucleic acid
in the liver cell.) Thus, these data all accumulated by experimental
work, support all three hypotheses. Moreover, the literature supports
_all three hypotheses_. I intend to go to the Woods Hole, Massachusetts
Marine Lab this summer with my sponsor and get some new ideas there,
especially since Professor Gould M. Rice from the University of London
will be there presenting a seminar series on his work in nucleic acid
synthesis in _Oryzias_.

The point is not that there is a conflict in the data, but that the data
conflict because there is a conflict in my mind and in the literature.
_Don't you see it?_ As you said on page 20 of "Logical Control: Computer
vs. Brain": "the order-system--this means the problem to be solved, the
interaction of the user--is communicated to the machine by 'loading' it
into the memory."

Sincerely yours,


       *       *       *       *       *

August 31, 1958

Dr. Robert Von Engen,
Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,
Constitution Avenue,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Dr. Bob:

Again, many thanks for your letter--and encouragement. I especially
treasure the inscribed copy of "Logical Control: Computer vs. Brain,"
and the current reprint. I am sorry that I didn't get an opportunity to
get down to Washington en route to Woods Hole and talk over the whole
thing over a bottle of beer, _dark beer_. From what I hear of the
demands on a first-rate mathematician's time these days, you should be
grateful that I didn't get to see you, because I would have monopolized
_all_ your time. I appreciate your generosity in extending the
invitation as a rain check to me.

Your mention of the Duke School of "psychology"--my quotes--leaves me
cold. It's too obvious and puts the cart before the horse. The important
point that I was trying to make dealt not with the "possible
parapsychological" manipulation of equipment or the materials _a la_
telekinesis to produce the desired results, _but that our Science may
not be studying natural phenomena and trying to interpret them at all_.
The point, to get it down in black and white, is that our
"Science"--yes, quotes--may be _inventing_ the reality that it is
supposedly studying. _Inventing the atoms, molecules, cells, nuclei, et
cetera ... and then describing them, and in the description giving them

While I was at Woods Hole I had some really good bull sessions about
this very thing. I realize now that I may have been falling into the
trap of solipsism, "who watches the quad," et cetera, type of thing.
Incidentally, my research is finally beginning to fall into shape. My
sponsor and I had some pretty good sessions about it, and some of the
screwy results I wrote you begin to make sense. I had the good luck to
talk to an outstanding man in the field of nucleic acid synthesis and he
was quite enthusiastic about the caliber of our work. He feels quite
strongly--but has no real evidence--that the synthesis of both types of
nucleic acid are independent of each other and has pointed out some
significant references that I did not know about. I'm anxious to buckle
down and really lick this nucleic acid problem ... in time for a June




Please send me a reprint of your lecture on "Memory
Banks--Transistorized Neurones." The lecture was ingenious, but there
are some biological phenomena with which I don't agree. Remember, I'm
the biologist. Honestly, Doc, don't you think--_entre nous_--that your
idea that a living organism, can be compared with automata in picking up
informational items and processing them simultaneously in parallel,
rather than in series, is naif?


       *       *       *       *       *

October 28, 1958

Dr. R. Von Engen,
Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,
Washington, D. C.

Dear Dr. Von Engen:

I apologize for not answering your letter sooner. I assume you were
pulling my leg when you suggested that I make a science-fiction story
out of "the confused ideas of a beginning graduate student." You might
give _your_ idea of a "possible science-fiction story" to one of your
acolytes that has some small experience in the field of writing--not
science. I am afraid that your other suggestions are not germane to the
problem of nucleic acid synthesis and metabolism, a problem that has
been occupying _all_ my time. In fact, I've been doing with three to
four hours of sleep these days. With the kind of concentration that I
can offer the problem, there is no question that the data are falling
into line, and our research is going rather well. We will show, I hope,
fairly conclusively that there is little or no interconversion between
the two types of nucleic acid synthesis in the cell.

Despite your ingenious mathematical approaches for stimulation criteria,
in biological research--a very abstruse field--even your multiplex
machines with elaborate means of intercommunication are not
sophisticated enough--or ever will be--to cope with the complexities
inherent in the numerous interacting biosyntheses on the subcellular
ultratopographical level of protoplasm.

Sincerely yours,

Jonathan Wells

       *       *       *       *       *

November 8, 1958

The Editor,
Journal of the National Academy of Sciences,
Washington, D. C.

My dear Professor Von Engen:

From the tenor of your last letter it is quite evident that there has
been a radical change in your originally sound and inspired ideas, and
which clearly indicates to me that a discussion and exchange of basic
concept would be fruitless. I'm rather hurt that you question my
integrity with the statement about the "slick, calculating,
career-minded cult of Ph. Deism." Moreover, I would appreciate, if
possible, the return of my previous correspondence.

I don't feel that I am totally inept, for I have been awarded a
predoctoral fellowship that will support me during the remainder of
graduate school. In addition, I am being seriously considered for a
faculty position at an outstanding Eastern University upon completion of
my thesis. Should you be interested, we now have an article in press on
the Journal of Cellular Physiology entitled: "Nucleic acid synthesis in
the frog liver cell: A definitive study." We have found substantial
evidence which demonstrates that there is no interconversion of the two
types of nucleic acid.

I cannot help but comment about your recent paper in _Scientia_--I do
not believe that it is at all possible to devise computers which can
handle the species of data which we obtain. Your data being less
complex, of course, may fit.

_Naturally_, I have your confidence in the entire matter.

Yours very truly,

J. Wellington Wells

  |                      Transcriber's Note                      |
  |                                                              |
  | This e-text was produced from Astounding Science Fiction,    |
  | September, 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any      |
  | evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was     |
  | renewed.                                                     |

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