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R.I.P. Steve Jobs, R.I.P Ralph Steinman: Two Great Men and Victims of Pancreatic Cancer

the one and twenty

the one and twenty

Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011
Ralph Steinman, 1943 – 2011

We all know Steve Jobs, but there is another prominent victim of pancreatic cancer: Ralph Steinman, researcher at Rockefeller University and Nobel laureate 2011 together with Bruce Beutler & Jules A. Hoffmann for their “discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity”:

Ralph Steinman died on September 30, days before it was announced that he was to share the Nobel Prize for Medicine. […] By unlucky coincidence, he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a disease that might benefit from the therapies he had spent his life researching. Usually, medical research proceeds at a glacial, thorough pace: cell studies lead to studies in small animals which lead to studies in larger animals, which eventually lead to small, highly-selective clinical trials in humans. But Steinman didn’t have that kind of time. He did, however, have access to world class facilities, cutting-edge technology, and some of the world’s most brilliant medical minds, thanks to his position as a researcher at Rockefeller University.

Ralph Steinman certainly isn’t as familiar to us as Steve Jobs; he certainly hasn’t had such an impact on the daily lives of so many; and we certainly don’t feel that illusion of familiarity and even intimacy toward Steinman as many of us, including me, feel toward Jobs. An illusion that arises to a great extent from the relentless and transformative diffusion of social-mobile-real time technologies that Steve Jobs helped to bring about—as a visionary, as a creative mind, and as an exacting and uncompromising manager and businessman.

But Steinman’s work is also transformative: in that more subtle, step-by-step way that is characteristic of scientific research. Science is our best shot at the universe, so to speak, and our new technologies have given us a vastly better aiming device than we’ve ever had before. Not just in terms of research technologies, but also in terms of communication technologies and especially what we have come to call “social media.” Which facilitates collaboration, sharing of data, and exchange of knowledge on an unprecedented scale, notwithstanding the fierce resistance of thoroughly bizarre and obsolete business models or the politics of anti-science by so-called “conservatives,” all proving toxic to knowledge and understanding on a global scale and on a daily basis.

Everything’s connected. Let’s raise a glass and make a toast to two inspiring men who passed away too soon.

Ralph Steinman, 2010: Dr A.H. Heineken Prize for Medicine

Steve Jobs, 2005: Stanford Commencement Address

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