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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Intuition by Allegra Goodman, 2006, * * * *

Sandy Glass, a charismatic publicity-seeking oncologist, and Marion Mendelssohn, a pure, exacting scientist, are codirectors of a lab at the Philpott Institute dedicated to cancer research and desperately in need of a grant. Both mentors and supervisors of their young postdoctoral protégés, Glass and Mendelssohn demand dedication and obedience in a competitive environment where funding is scarce and results elusive. When the experiments of Cliff Bannaker, a young postdoc in a rut, begin to work, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectations. But Cliff’s rigorous colleague — and girlfriend — Robin Decker suspects the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As Robin makes her private doubts public and Cliff maintains his innocence, a life-changing controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it.   With extraordinary insight, Allegra Goodman brilliantly explores the intricate mixture of workplace intrigue, scientific ardor, and the moral consequences of a rush to judgment. She has written an unforgettable novel.  If you’ve read about Intuition in the media, don’t be fooled. Yes, there are parallels between its plot and high-profile scientific scandals, but at heart it’s not about fraud. It’s about blurred lines: What is scientific genius, and what is leaping far beyond the data into the universe of imagination? Which mini-deviations from protocol are troubling and which are not? How can we tell if someone has crossed the line from embracing intuition for scientific good or departed the world of science altogether?  A novel that sparks questions like these would make good fare for students in Ph.D.-granting science programs but Intuition is for everyone.

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