Excerpt from Intuition by Allegra Goodman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Intuition

by Allegra Goodman

Intuition
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 448 pages

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Cliff's cheeks were already burning as he followed Marion down the corridor. At six foot three, he was more than a foot taller than Marion. Still, he was entirely in her power, and he dreaded what she and Glass were about to say. For years he'd been developing a variant of Respiratory Syncytial Virus and had dreamed of using his modified RSV to transform cancer cells into normal cells. His experiments were not working; Sandy and Marion had ordered him to give them up, and he had disobeyed.

The door closed behind him, and Cliff was standing in the tight, cluttered office.

"Now, Cliff," said Glass, "did we or did we not have a discussion about your continuing trials with RSV?"

Cliff stood silent.

"Maybe you don't remember our conversation," said Glass, smiling.

Cliff did remember, and he knew better than to smile back. Always cheerful, brimming with the irrepressible joy of his own intelligence, Sandy Glass smiled most when he was angry.

"I said you had to stop using RSV," Sandy reminded Cliff. "You said you understood."

Cliff nodded.

"We established RSV has some effect in vitro," Glass said. "Congratulations. You're on your way to curing cancer in a petri dish. But what have we established when we try injecting RSV into living mice?"

Cliff looked away.

"You've established nothing. You injected fifty-six mice with RSV, with no effect on tumors whatsoever. Therefore, Marion and I asked you to stop. We asked you nicely to move on. What did you do next?"

"I tried again," Cliff said, staring down at the floor.

"Yes, you did. You tried again."

"I'm sorry."

Sandy ignored this. "We told you to stop wasting resources on RSV."

"I didn't want to give up," Cliff said.

"Look, I realize RSV was your baby," Sandy said. "I realize this was two years' work developing the virus."

Two and a half years, Cliff amended silently.

"We understand you put your heart and soul into this project." Sandy glanced at Marion, who looked anything but understanding. "The point is, RSV does not work. And now, yet another set of experiments--against all advice, against our specific instructions. What were you thinking, Cliff? Don't say anything. Perseverance can be a valuable trait, particularly when you're right. But we see now that this third trial is showing every sign of failing spectacularly. No, don't apologize. Just tell us what you were thinking. Tell us your thoughts, because we really want to know."

Why had he tried twice more with the virus after it had failed? They were expecting an answer, but Cliff could not speak. The truth shamed him; it was so simple: he could not bear to jettison work that had taken so much time. The hours, the thousands of hours he'd spent, sickened him. How could he confess to that? The scientific method was precise and calibrated. A scientist was, by definition, impassive. He cut his losses and moved on to something else; he was exhausted, perhaps, but never defiant with exhaustion. A scientist did not allow emotion to govern his experiments.

And yet Cliff had been emotional and unrealistic about his work. He had behaved unprofessionally, taking his long shot again, and yet again. How could he explain that? There was only one reasonable explanation: he was not a scientist. This was what Mendelssohn and Glass were driving at.

"Did we or did we not agree," said Glass, "that you would end the wholesale extermination of our lab animals?"

"We don't have the money," said Mendelssohn, and she didn't mean funds for the mice themselves, which cost about fifteen dollars each, but the money for the infinite care the delicate animals required. "You'll recall we asked you to work with Robin."

"She could still use another pair of hands," Glass said, and Cliff hated him for that, and for the patronizing, slightly prurient tone in Glass's voice.

Excerpted from Intuition by Allegra Goodman Copyright © 2006 by Allegra Goodman. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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