After reading the short introduction to Richard Harris‘s Rigor Mortis, the least I can say is that I was surprised (No, this is not the Richard Harris who played Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies). I did not realize how fact-based the PREFACE of this novel would be, nor the beginning chapter. The more Mr. Harris spoke about the faults and errors in the medical research that is produced in our society, the more I began to wonder how many of my own projects that I’ve submitted were turned in without a second thought. Much like the scientists mentioned throughout this chapter, it never dawned on me that I might have to return to my research and reproduce the same effects.
An addition to the novel was Harris’s humor. “My use of the term ‘rigor mortis,’ or the stiffness that comes after death, is of course a bit of hyperbole in the service of wordplay. Rigor in biomedical science certainly isn’t dead, but it does need a major jolt of energy.” (pg. 3) He maintains a sense of sarcasm through the use of parenthesis, in which he adds his own commentary. “I’ve noticed that people are generally more willing to admit a problem exists when there are some concrete solutions at hand.” (pg. 4) This is said just after explaining a strange find. He noted that scientists were actually eager to correct past errors, whereas he expected them to be reluctant about having to change their already proven method or cure.
Chapter One of Harris’s novel, titled “Begley’s Bombshell”, mentions a specific cancer known as Glioblastoma Multiforme (shown in the picture above) as well as the years of research that C. Glenn Begley dedicated to the hunt for cancer’s cure. He and Lee M. Ellis published many articles pursuing this cure, even though it holds the world’s highest failure rate in biomedical research. The results and specificities are listed within this link, where Nature journal also states “only about 25% of published preclinical studies could be validated to the point at which projects could continue. Notably, published cancer research represented 70% of the studies analysed in that report, some of which might overlap with the 53 papers examined at Amgen (Begley and Ellis’s research center/workplace).”
During some of my own research, I came upon Nature journal’s very own article about Harris’s Rigor Mortis. It provides a very clear summary of this chapter itself, but also on the chapters to come. I applaud Harris for such an insightful first chapter, and I’m delighted to follow on his path of research as he continues to open my eyes to more errors and possibilities.