View From The Trenches

William Tivol tivol at
Sat Jul 8 01:49:25 EST 1995

Dear Kathy,

U27111 at wrote:

: > We take these very seriously--sometimes
: >to the annoyance of some of the PI's.

: That's what I was saying... they find it more of a bore/chore and
: something they *have* to do if they want to work with
: radioisotopes.

	It's OK with the safety office if the PI's consider the paper work and
safety lectures a bore/chore, but the PI's *have* to do it, and do it right.
This can only happen if the safety office has the support of the higher-ups.

:[horror stories snipped]

	About the worst I've heard of is the postdocs who thought it was macho
not to use proper shielding for 32P.  I know I've been in good labs, and you
obviously haven't.  These experiences have led to some of our differing views.

: that was years ago, never knew what happened to him later in his
: career?).

	Later??  Did he live long enough to have a later?

: And once I saw a door to a room completely sealed shut with all
: sorts of warnings, etc. on it... never new what had happened but
: the date on the door went back a few years?  Whatever it was...
: they never got around to cleaning it up?

	Actually, for some tritium spills, sealing the room and waiting many
half-lives (12.4 yr) may be the best procedure.

: I know the people who run the radiation safety office is very
: serious about what they do... but they are just not as serious as
: the P.I.s who only care about end results of experiments and the
: students/techs who don't know better or who just plain don't care.

	See above re administration support.

: And in all honesty, how this all effects safety... I don't really
: know.  Mostly I just do what I am told.

	If the PI's, grads, postdocs, techs, etc. are allowed to perpetrate the
horrors you described, the effects on safety are disasterous.  If what you de-
scribed is what happens with radioactives, what can happen with non-radioac-
tives?  "Well, the HCN wasn't even hot, so I just threw it in the sink."

: but as far as I was
: lead to believe, federal institutions do self-policing.  They are
: not subject to state inspections.

	No, but they are subject to federal inspections.  I would hope that the
feds are as tough as the states.

: they had little to no idea how to handel radioactive
: materials and was allowed to work with some very hot stuff

	At our institution, they would have to take the six-hour course and
pass a test before being allowed to handle radioactives.

: I was told half-life
: calculations are tricky and don't even bother... just make sure the
: numbers add up.  And that's about as far as I have been trained in
: that.

	The important part is to trace where everything goes, and to be conser-
vative about it.  It's really a matter of attitude; you should be truly con-
cerned about accounting for any place isotopes could have gone, not just that
you have written "1+1=2."  When I say "you," I really mean the whole institu-

: And as much as I like my own idea... I tend to
: doubt a system such I have described would be allowed to have
: *real* teeth?  Thus my hypothesis.

	I agree.  That's definitely a problem.

: "If the recent results finding both genes and viruses associated
: with various cancers are good work,..."

: Again, you hit the nail right on the head.

: No this has not been good work... it has been slow in coming.

	I'll take your word for this for now.  In ~50 years I'll re-evaluate.

: I can go on and on with what I have seen... it's no wonder this
: work is slow in progress.  And when some progress is made... often
: it's not able to be duplicated or once you get it to human level of
: testing, it doesn't work as well as initial testing indicated it
: should.

	That is a definite indication of something suspicious.  If it can't be
duplicated, then there's something wrong, and too many appeals to not being
able to extrapolate from the animal model to human makes me think there's some-
thing wrong with the model.

: I had such high hopes and dreams... not that I would find a cure or
: something like that - but just to be able to add something
: significant to the pool of knowledge that may one day help to find
: a cure.

	Yes, that's what drives a scientist.

: Then one night me and my mother sat up and watched them do the
: repairs of the Hubble Space Telescope... the team work, the
: dedication, the paying attention to details - it was amazing.  And
: somewhere between 2-3 am in the morning it finally hit me - that's
: what I was looking for.  Oh no, not to go into space... just the
: feeling of working with a group of people all with one goal.  And
: who puts that goal above everything else.

	I have been fortunate to experience that feeling.  In fact, promoting
teamwork rather than competition would be about the best thing which could be
done to assure scientific progress--and it would make research more fun also.

: And ladies and gentlemen, that's what is missing from cancer and
: AIDS research... dedication, paying attention to 'details,' putting
: the validity and credibility of the work above politics, greed and
: egos and working as a team to find a cure.


: Science of the 90's have lost all of these properties... these
: exact same properties which got us to the moon and back.

	Not necessarily, but you have to work hard to promote them.

: So when are people going to have had enough of the lack or progress
: towards AIDS and cancer research and demand the NIH reorganizes?

	ACT UP has had enough for quite a while now.  I agree with you about
the kinds of problems, although we may differ on the amounts.  I think the 
solutions will not be simple; reorganization of NIH is not as important as
reorganization of individual attitudes.
				Bill Tivol

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