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Crackpot or groundbreaking

By Timothy Cocks Science and the world 05 Nov 2014

From Adelaidian, The University of Adelaide’s magazine

A unique partnership between two of the University of Adelaide’s senior medical researchers is edging closer to finding new treatments for chronic pain, one of the most common yet little understood conditions.

In a radical departure from accepted medical thinking, Professor Paul Rolan and Dr Mark Hutchinson have combined their different specialist skills to prove a link between pain and the brain’s immune system.

“It’s a novel approach – and that usually means it’s either crackpot or groundbreaking” said Professor Rolan.

“But we’re being viewed less and less as renegades because our research is strongly indicating that it’s the latter. Over the past four years we’ve had very few blind alleys.” (emphasis added)

Science, good science, done well, by passionate scientists, tends to have a beautiful, self-correcting and self-evincing arc when the people pursuing an understanding of our world persevere – sometimes despite great personal and professional difficulty – derision, isolation, public ridicule and more.

Many thought Barry Marshall was a crackpot, but probably not anymore. Bringing the brain into ‘manual’ therapy was dismissed and derided initially, and explaining the complex biology of pain to people with no medical training – forget about it…

Steve Jobs said it best when he was talking about the ‘crazy ones’ – “You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward”

Crackpot or groundbreaking, it can be such a fine line.


-Tim Cocks


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