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Out of order: Avoiding extremes
January 2016
by Randall C Willis  |  Email the author
SHARING OPTIONS:

I tend to view the world in one of two formats: things to be worshipped and things to be disdained. (I’ve never been good with neutrality or indifference.)
 
It’s something I am working on in my personal life, where I am historically either a cheerleader or a cynic, either of which can get embarrassing in their intensity.
 
But, in my professional life—for example, in any bylined articles for DDNews—I work to maintain a degree of distance or detachment. It does you, the reader, little good if I write purely promotional pieces on any topic devoid of realistic balance.
 
[By the way, I’d really like you to call me on it if you ever feel I’ve sacrificed my critical eye for pompoms.]
 
It can be a struggle, however, to find that balance, let alone write it, when researching an article or conducting interviews. It’s not that organizations are trying to fool us or control the conversation, but rather that they are passionate about the work they are doing.
 
It’s all too easy to get swept up in the vision and forget or minimize the existing limitations and remaining downstream challenges to turn exciting work into life-altering products and services. That’s why it’s so important for me—and any of the other writers and editors at DDNews—to keep a level head while maintaining an open mind.
 
I noticed an example of this challenge recently while watching a news item about the potential of gene-editing technologies. (For more on these, see Germlines and gene-editing, August 2015 DDNews.)
 
To listen to the reporter, one would think that all human disease could be cured in the next six months if we just put our backs into it. She kept harping on how precise and accurate CRISPR-Cas9 technology was, implying that it was 100-percent safe, whereas the actual success rates can vary significantly from application to application.
 
And such rampant expectations tear into the hearts of the real sufferers—the patients and their families desperate for hope. As one distraught mother tearfully pleaded with scientists in Washington, “If you have the skills and the knowledge to fix these diseases, then fricking do it.”
 
The reality and promise of any scientific advance, of course, resides somewhere between the hype and the cynicism. And I greatly appreciate the cautionary second-thoughts of many of the people I interview for each of my stories.
 
When pressed, and often voluntarily, most people acknowledge that science and medicine is a stutter-step rather than a march, that significant strides often terminate in blind alleys and that any true achievement is usually a step in a process rather than the game-changing solution.
 
We can applaud our efforts while still continuing to challenge ourselves. In fact, this is the only way the system will work.
 
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch the greatest hockey team ever to don skates, my beloved Toronto Marlies. Go, Marlies, Go!

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