The Great Influenza

Topics: Scientific method, Science, Influenza Pages: 3 (862 words) Published: February 15, 2012
 In one of the most recent outbreaks of infectious disease since the Black Plague, The flu epidemic of 1918 caused mass hysteria around the world. During the 1918 flu outbreak, it became evident that challenging aspects of scientific research required different characteristics of scientists. In this excerpt from “The Great Influenza”, John M. Barry describes in detail about many ideas relating to this event, including the side of a scientist and the methodologies of research.  The author analyzed the tactics and qualities of scientists of the time to paint a picture of uncertainty and certainty that faced the early 20th century affected by the flu. To convey to his audience what a scientist’s or researcher’s role consists of, Barry uses syntax, exemplification, figurative language, and diction to elaborate.      Barry begins the excerpt by conceptualizing certainty in the minds of scientists.  The passage begins with “A scientist must accept the fact that all of his or her work, even beliefs, may break apart upon the sharp edge of a single laboratory finding.” He continues by stating that "certainty creates strength... uncertainty creates weakness" (1-3).  By using syntax and parallel structure the author indicates that mental inquiry and understanding of the subject in question is a necessity for the scientist.  This contrast of certainty lays the framework for the succeeding paragraphs.  The second and third paragraphs build on this assumption by putting forth the basic qualities and describing the difficulties of a scientist and their work.  He continues to explain scientists in a metaphor as ones merely existing on the frontier or precipice of technology, taking experimental steps into the unknown which may lead to their downfall.  Barry describes the innovation of the scientist as “seeing through the looking glass into a world that seems entirely different”.  However, he cautions the formulation of new theories by saying that “science teaches us...
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