What Are Facts?

What Are Facts?


Leonard Zwelling

Bear with me on this one. It’s complicated.


In The Wall Street Journal on Monday, October 7, famous cartoonist Scott Adams (“Dilbert”) wrote a piece about trying to discern fact from fiction when the news media from the right and left appear to be giving us conflicting views of reality. He’s actually been writing about this very phenomenon in his daily strip for the past few days, and with good reason. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t about what is happening in Washington and, specifically, what is really true about what President Trump has done and said and what their effects are on the world.

It reminds me of a time almost forty years ago now in the very beginning of my career as a research scientist.

In the late 1970’s Warren Ross, a Clinical Associate like me in the Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology of the National Cancer Institute, made an interesting discovery. Using a novel technology developed by our boss, Kurt Kohn, that used membrane filters as molecular sieves to sort out the size of cellular DNA eluting from the filters, Warren found that active cancer drugs with flat structures thought to slide between or intercalate between adjacent base pairs in DNA caused the DNA of treated cells to display a previously undescribed phenomenon. The DNA of the treated cells was broken and when the breaks were quantified, they seemed to match the number of DNA-protein crosslinks produced. This protein-associated DNA cleavage was only seen in intercalator-treated cells.

Another Clinical Associate working in my part of the lab wanted to try to see if a new intercalator called m-AMSA did this, too. It was of interest because m-AMSA looked like a promising antileukemia drug at the time and it had an inactive analogue called o-AMSA that should not produce the protein-associated breaks if these breaks were mechanistically-related to how the drug killed cells.

Everytime Dr. Ungerleider, the Clinical Associate, tried the experiment it failed. All the DNA fell off the filters when protein was digested from them or none of it eluted when the protein was not digested. It then occurred to Dr. Kohn that m-AMSA might be so good at producing the phenomenon we sought that we were blinded to the effect because the sensitivity of our assay was too great. By speeding up the rate at which the DNA was eluted from the filters, we found that m-AMSA produced the most profound effect of any intercalator and we were able to prove that the protein-associated breakage was most likely enzymatically-mediated and eventually Jon Minford, in our lab, showed that it was mediated by topoisomerase II.

So, at first we all thought that the intercalator effect had an exception in m-AMSA. In the end, the active drug analogue was the best probe of the biochemistry we had yet found. We missed the real facts until we altered the way we looked for them.

This may be the case with the latest Trump phenomenon, the question of extortion of foreign leaders for their help with U. S. domestic politics in exchange for needed aid or access to the White House.

I think that in the end, we will have an impeachment and that there will be just enough sentiment in the Senate to have a real trial such that the facts may come to light.

Personally, I believe that Mr. Trump is right that the Democrats have been out to get him since his election just as the Republicans were out to “make Barack Obama a one-term President.” That’s kind of the game now. There is no in between. You are either for Trump or against him, which is foolish, of course. Everything he has done is not bad. Just most of it.

I also believe Mr. Trump is overstepping his authority when mixing the affairs of America with those of Donald Trump and he has been doing such things since he was elected in the payoff of Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence and his frequent violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution in lining his pockets with money from his hotels and other properties. He is what Joe Biden said he is. He’s the most corrupt President in modern history or at least since Nixon.

But Biden shouldn’t be pointing fingers. His son should have known better than to get involved with a foreign oil company at $50,000 a month while his father was vice president. That smells, too.

I don’t know how this all shakes out. I can’t tell if it is going to go fast because the House Dems limit their articles of impeachment to the Ukrainian stuff or decide to drag this out to include everything Mr. Trump has ever done to which they object.

I think that the party that sticks to the facts and dissects out the case for or against the President will win the day with the American people. They are waiting to be shown the truth. Me too.

What is surely true is, that like me and my lab colleagues, you find what you are looking for when you look at Trump. I personally am much more concerned about his decisions around foreign affairs, international trade and climate change than I am with what he said to a Ukrainian president on the phone.

While I support an impeachment inquiry, I have yet to be persuaded that impeachment is the way to go. BUT—getting the facts out may require this and that I definitely support.

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