Apr 122018

The announcement of the successful results of major testing of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was made on this date in 1955, leading to its approval as safe and effective, and dramatically reducing the incidence of polio worldwide. I was born a number of years before the vaccine was developed, but I was part of a massive effort to inoculate children after the vaccine had been refined and declared safe. I was part of a generation that was ravaged by polio, and I knew a number of children who were permanently crippled by the disease. The polio vaccine was created, starting in 1952, by Salk and a team at the University of Pittsburgh that included Julius Youngner, Byron Bennett, L. James Lewis, and Lorraine Friedman, and required years of subsequent testing. Salk went on CBS radio to report a successful test on a small group of adults and children on 26 March 1953; two days later the results were published in JAMA. Beginning 23 February 1954, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Salk’s vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis, the largest medical experiment in history at that time. The test began with approximately 4,000 children at Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia, and would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California. By the conclusion of the study, roughly 440,000 received one or more injections of the vaccine, about 210,000 children received a placebo, consisting of harmless culture media, and 1.2 million children received no vaccination and served as a control group, who would then be observed to see if any contracted polio.

The results of the field trial were announced 12th April 1955 (the tenth anniversary of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose paralytic illness was generally believed to have been caused by polio). The Salk vaccine had been 60–70% effective against PV1 (poliovirus type 1), over 90% effective against PV2 and PV3, and 94% effective against the development of bulbar polio. Soon after Salk’s vaccine was licensed in 1955, children’s vaccination campaigns were launched. In the U.S, following a mass immunization campaign promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of polio cases fell from 35,000 in 1953 to 5,600 by 1957. By 1961 only 161 cases were recorded in the United States.

Salk is not only a worthy scientist to celebrate on this blog for his achievements, his outlook on life, expressed in various aphorisms, is commendable:

The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.

Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.

I have dreams, and I have nightmares. I overcame the nightmares because of my dreams.

I couldn’t possibly have become a member of this institute [The Salk Institute for Biological Studies] if I hadn’t founded it myself.

There are three stages of truth. First is that it can’t be true, and that’s what they said. You couldn’t immunize against polio with a killed-virus vaccine. Second phase: they say, “Well, if it’s true, it’s not very important.” And the third stage is, “Well, we’ve known it all along.”

Now, some people might look at something and let it go by, because they don’t recognize the pattern and the significance. It’s the sensitivity to pattern recognition that seems to me to be of great importance. It’s a matter of being able to find meaning, whether it’s positive or negative, in whatever you encounter.

Reason alone will not serve. Intuition alone can be improved by reason, but reason alone without intuition can easily lead the wrong way. They both are necessary.

In the years that Salk was developing the vaccine, his favorite eating place right near the University of Pittsburgh was the Bamboo Garden, a Chinese restaurant on Forbes Avenue, operated by Roy Shew and Ken Yee. It is said that he used to think through problems over a bowl of wonton soup, egg roll, rice and chicken chow mein made with homegrown bean sprouts. I would find 1950s-style Westernized Cantonese cooking of this order pretty wretched these days, but back then I was probably as much of a fan as Salk.  The words chow mein mean ‘stir-fried noodles’, chow meaning ‘stir-fried’ and mein meaning ‘noodles’. The pronunciation chow mein is an English corruption of the Taishanese pronunciation chāu-mèing. The lightly pronounced Taishanese [ŋ], resembling the end of a Portuguese nasal vowel, was taken to be /n/ by English speakers. The Taishan dialect was spoken by migrants to North America from Taishan, a city in southwestern Guangdong.

There are as many variants of chow mein as there are countries where Chinese have opened restaurants, none of them being much like 炒面 (fried noodles), served in China. Indeed, “fried noodles” is about as generic in China as “pasta” is in Italy. Salk would have eaten one of two kinds of chow mein, probably the steamed kind, because his favorite mentions bean sprouts. There are two main kinds of chow meins available in the US:

  1. Steamed chow mein
  2. Crispy chow mein, also known as Hong Kong style chow mein

Steamed chow mein has a softer texture, while the latter is crisper and drier. Crispy chow mein uses fried, flat noodles, while soft chow mein uses long, rounded noodles. Crispy chow mein has either onions and celery in the finished dish or is served “strained” (without any vegetables). Steamed chow mein can have many different kinds of vegetables in the finished dish, most commonly including onions and celery but sometimes carrots, cabbage and mung bean sprouts as well. Crispy chow mein is usually topped with a thick brown sauce, while steamed chow mein is mixed with soy sauce before being served. Both are commonly served with chicken or pork (or even beef), but can also be vegetarian.

Finding a Chinese restaurant that will serve 1950s-style chow mein in Cambodia is not happening for me, and I can’t say that I relish the prospect either. If you live away from the east or west coast of the US, I expect you will have a better shot at it. I wish you luck if that is your thing: 很多运气.

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