January 24, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 8

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Past Opine interviews:
Lauren Berlant
Stephen Berry
John Boyer
David Cohen
Jerry Coyne
John Cunningham
Richard Epstein
John Frederick
Henry Frisch
Austan Goolsbee
Bernard Harcourt
Greg Jackson
Martin Marty
Martha Nussbaum
Raymond Pierrehumbert
José Quintáns
Jan-Marino Ramirez
Saskia Sassen
William Sewell
Herman Sinaiko
Geoffrey Stone
Cass Sunstein
Simon Swordy

    Opine: Marshall Lindheimer

    Marshall Lindheimer

    Marshall Lindheimer, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics & Gynecology in Medicine, has been a leader in research that examines preeclempsia, which puts pregnant mothers and their unborn children at risk.

    What book should everyone read and why?

    My recommendation is Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime (2004), authored by our own Geoffrey Stone. The book recalls our nation’s history of disgraceful overreactions during current and past wars, surrounding independence, the Civil War, World Wars I and II and the Cold War and, of course, current terror concerns leading to the Patriot Act. It details our government’s recurring actions, including attempts to quell free speech and mislabel dissent as treason, using fear tactics or appeals to super-patriotism. Professor Stone describes governmental behavior one would never think should occur in our democracy. Of special interest and in proud contrast to that of our government was the behavior demonstrated by our former University President Robert Maynard Hutchins. His defense of free speech and academic freedom at Chicago, his courageous stance and responses to the Illinois version of the U.S. House of Representative’s Un-American Committee make compelling reading. Finally, Professor Stone notes that these government actions ultimately led to guilt and shame a decade or so later.

    What American citizen, who is a well-known public figure, is a role model for America’s younger generation? What qualities does this individual possess that are worthy of being emulated?

    This was a difficult question to answer, especially by one who has passed his 75th year. It reminds me of an old Sam Levinson joke about the 10-year-old being admonished: “When I was your age, I was supporting a wife and five kids.” This difficulty may be more universal, given that industry is now hiring consultants to help them cope with the so-called spoiled generation, children of baby boomers, now entering the work force. One individual among our political leaders who always stood out to me is Jimmy Carter. This was because of his continued adherence to principles, combined with frankness and honesty. He did not tolerate bribes during government and business negotiations in Africa and the Middle East 30 years ago and has never been afraid to take unpopular positions. He focuses on help to the poor and downtrodden, including hands-on hard work, without pay, as a carpenter for Habitat for Humanity. I have not always agreed with his political stances, including some of the arguments in a recent book, but his actions (that led to a Nobel Peace prize) and way of life (by example) are certainly worthy of being emulated.

    What advice would you give to your best student who plans to follow a similar career path you have followed in teaching and doing research?

    The advice any mentor should give: Stay focused, as research dilettantism is a recipe for disaster. Stay the course, as few experiments are instant touchdown passes, and the cliché “patience is a virtue” must have been coined by an experimentalist. Stay with what interests you and remain in academia until it stops being fun, and the latter will never occur as long as the University of Chicago Medical Center keeps a University of Chicago mentality.

    How has information technology changed your life?

    This septuagenarian emeritus professor was at first floored by it, and in his second childhood is lagging behind his granddaughter in learning use of much of this technology. There is little doubt, however, that the information technology explosion will parallel the Industrial Revolution in history books. For me, it has primarily been the computer, decreasing the painstaking library hours needed for thorough research when writing, improving (I hope) my writing skills, as well as the ability to work with collaborators, worldwide, and putting calluses on my finger from deleting junk mail.

    Think of a renowned scholar from the past who added great value to your area of study. What would this person think of the advances that recently have been made in this field?

    I admired and sought the advice of the late Leon Chesley, Ph.D., trained as a renal physiologist, whose only employment during the Great Depression was as a chemist in a New Jersey hospital. Rather than just perform the laboratory tests requested, this non-physician went to the wards to observe why the tests were being done, and in the process became the greatest advocate for and leading producer of cutting-edge research in the area of preeclampsia. His intellectual honesty, including a willingness to state in print the error of a previous conclusion, was an example to mimic. He would be impressed and exhilarated by signal advances currently being made toward understanding the cause and eventually predicting and/or curing preeclampsia. I feel honored as being a recipient of the Leon Chesley Award for Excellence in the Study of the Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy, and editor of subsequent multi-authored editions of a classic text he originally wrote single-handedly, termed Chesley’s Hypertensive Disorders in Pregnancy.

    What lesson or lessons has America not yet learned from its history?

    Go back and read my answer to question one. The current atmosphere where we tap phones, incarcerate unidentified people (even children) for years without the expected rights anyone—citizen or not—is entitled to, and where we humiliate and torture, and excuse such behavior with the menchen über alles term, “national security,” is a period of American history I am ashamed to be witnessing. Said again, we have not learned from our historical debacles from the Sedition Act through the Patriot Act.

    In your opinion, where do science and art meet?

    The simple answer is in Leonardo da Vinci. Perhaps more reflectively, both can be beautiful.

    What are the three most important things to apply when making an argument for something you believe in-(e.g., academic freedom).

    Know the facts and particularly the arguments of your adversaries. Persist. Do not be afraid of unpopularity.

    If you could choose any three University professors and give them a one-year sabbatical together to solve a problem, develop a theory or make a discovery, who would they be and what task would you assign them?

    This approach in World War II gave us mass production of penicillin, (and unfortunately an atomic bomb, too), and each took over a year. I have my doubts on such strategy succeeding today, thus will duck the first part of this question. (I have not seen three names only on a major scientific paper for decades!) The areas of attack today, though, would be an AIDS vaccine and the reversal of global warming.