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Brainstorm Health Daily: April 24, 2017

They gathered at a biomedical research park in Barcelona, outside the Queensland Parliament House in Brisbane, and in a 70-person huddle in Blantyre, Malawi, chanting “Taima nji” (“We are standing strong”). They stormed the capitals of London, Paris, Tokyo, and Mexico City; assembled in cities accustomed to activism (San Francisco, Geneva, New York) and in those not so much, like Morgantown, West Virginia.

What began as a “throwaway” post on Reddit grew into a bullhorn of a message sounded from seven continents—from 610 cities and a frozen research station at the bottom of the world. On Saturday, untold numbers of citizens who support the idea of free scientific inquiry, and enough public funding to pursue it, took to the streets to tell everyone else on the planet they did.

In some ways, it was that simple. The March for Science, which turned traditional Earth Day celebrations into a kind of celeprotest, was a coming-out party for the STEM set—a chance to showcase a significant, if overlooked, constituency of innovation-makers (and voters) and, at the same time, an opportunity to vent some long-simmering frustrations. In that regard, it was like any protest march, except with intellectually funnier signs: “There is no Planet B,” warned one. “Less division, more mitosis,” pleaded another. And this one—which was magic-markered below a giant parabola—was there, it seems, just to make the math-minded masses snicker: “I was told to bring a sine.”

Though billed and organized as a nonpartisan affair, some in the protest—particularly in the huge centerpiece rally in Washington, D.C.—had a particular protestee in mind—and that, of course, was President Trump, whose efforts to cut funding to the NIH, the EPA, and other science-supporting agencies have been met with stunned outrage by many. But here, too, the signs were more clever than angry: “Mr. President, I know bacteria more cultured”; and “Dear Trump, are you an atom? You make up everything.”

I thought a lot about that smart signage—the flowering of left-brained whimsy in a sea of supposedly right-brained thinkers—as I spent way too much of my Saturday on a Twittertrek of marches around the planet. And I would venture that this undercurrent of cleverness tells us something important about the demonstrations. For the most part, the scientists and science lovers who marched around the world on Saturday weren’t—and aren’t—protesting a specific person, or party, or policy. Even President Trump isn’t their main target. No, they’re taking on a core driver in the human psyche: fear.

The very existence of science is disruptive—because the tool is designed to undercut belief, to challenge both the sacred and the prosaic. The aim of science is disprove the comfortable assumptions of life, not to reinforce them. And since the time of Galileo, it has been seen as a threatening interloper to those in power and to everyday existence.

The notion of human-caused planetary warming threatens the status quo, no less than the notion of a solar-centric universe dislodged the consecrated cosmology of the 17th century. The unavoidable message today: Governments, businesses, and consumers can’t keep doing what they’re doing without the risk of having an iceberg float into New York Harbor.

So, too, the latest fruits of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—from artificial intelligence to self-driving vehicles to advanced robotics—threaten existing industries and the people who work in them even as they promise to create brand new industries and jobs to replace them. No matter that more Americans now work in the solar power industry than do in the production of natural gas or coal: Science is unsettling to millions nonetheless. It’s still frightening. Indeed, it’s hard to overestimate how much.

Which is why, in my view, Saturday’s global March for Science was so effective. The organizers and participants didn’t try to counter fear with stridency. Their antidotes were humor, cleverness, and the celebration of human ingenuity. They understood that one of the most ancient and potent forces of the brain—fear—could be overcome only by its most developed and fertile force: creativity.

And if that failed, they had a backup. As one sign read: “No science, no beer.”

The news below.

Clifton Leaf, Editor in Chief, FORTUNE
@CliftonLeaf
clifton.leaf@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

Becton Dickinson to become med tech titan with $24 billion Bard acquisition. Medical technology giant BD has snatched up C.R. Bard in a $24 billion deal that will create one of the largest med device outfits on the planet and provide BD an opportunity to expand beyond its diabetes focus. Specifically, the company will start focusing on tech to treat peripheral vascular diseases, urological disorders, and even cancer. “We are confident that this combination will deliver meaningful benefits for customers and patients, as we see opportunities to leverage Becton Dickinson’s leadership, especially in medication management and infection prevention,” said Bard CEO Tim Ring in a statement. (Fortune)

Elon Musk has a pretty amazing reason for creating Neuralink. Elon Musk, in typical Elon Musk fashion, boldly declared that his latest project, Neuralink, would create successful brain-machine interfaces within four years. This could theoretically be used to both grapple with serious brain injuries and, eventually, enhance human thinking speed. And Musk has a pretty serious motivation: fear of a Skynet-like artificial intelligence uprising against humans. “That is the aspiration: to avoid AI becoming other,” wrote Musk in a tweet on Sunday. (Fortune)

INDICATIONS

FDA approves Samsung Bioepis’ copycat of best-seller Remicade. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Samsung Bioepis’ Renflexis, bringing yet another generic competitor to Johnson & Johnson’s best-selling arthritis and psoriasis drug Remicade to the U.S. market. Remicade brought in a whopping $7 billion in sales for J&J last year alone; the other so-called “biosimilar” of the drug available in the U.S. is Pfizer’s Inflectra. Biosimilars are fairly new in America. The hope is that they’ll be able to bring down prices by introducing more rivals to pricey biologics. But Pfizer offered just a modest discount to Remicade for Inflectra. Now, with another available competitor, there’s a chance that prices will come down more significantly.

Marathon and Mallinckrodt resign from PhRMA. Marathon Pharmaceuticals and Mallinckrodt, both under fire for massive drug price hikes, have left the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of American (PhRMA) trade association. The lobbying outfit has been on a mission to repair its (and the industry’s) image amid an onslaught of price gouging scandals; for one, it’s launched a campaign called GOBOLDLY which aims to remind consumers of the groundbreaking science being pursued by many of its member companies. PhRMA is also reviewing its membership criteria and is expected to announce a number of reviews in the coming weeks.

THE BIG PICTURE

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy asked to resign. Murthy, a holdover from the Obama administration, has been removed from his post and replaced by his deputy, Rear Adm. Sylvia Trent-Adams, in an abrupt move by the Trump administration. “While I had hoped to do more to help our nation tackle its biggest health challenges, I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to have served,” wrote Murthy in a lengthy Facebook post. Murthy had made tackling childhood obesity one of his main priorities as Surgeon General; his confirmation process was contentious due to his position on gun violence, which he has singled out as a major public health crisis.

Paul Ryan: Temper your expectations on an Obamacare vote. President Donald Trump desperately wants to notch at least one major legislative success by his 100th day in office and has been urging House Republicans to finally make good on legislation to supplant the Affordable Care Act this week. But House Speaker Paul Ryan is in no rush—in a members-only conference call, he signaled that wants to make sure the votes are there to pass any bill before it’s brought to the House floor. Last month, Ryan was forced to pull the American Health Care Act from consideration after it became clear it didn’t have the necessary support to clear the chamber. (Politico)

REQUIRED READING

Plaintiff: Theranos Used Shell Companies to Buy Outside Testing Equipmentby David Z. Morris

Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak Talks Innovation, Microsoft, and Being Introvertedby Jonathan Vanian

Stop Freaking Out About That Study Linking Diet Soda to Alzheimer’s and Strokesby Sy Mukherjee

Alibaba’s Jack Ma Expects the World to Experience Decades of ‘Pain,’ by Scott Cendrowski

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

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