Advances in Clinical Chemistry

Carl Wittwer Profiled in Clinical Chemistry

My second-most-favorite magazine of all time is Clinical Chemistry. Like my first-most-favorite magazine, I pretend to read it for the excellent articles, but mostly only look at the pictures.

If that’s not entirely true, it’s only because the images in Playboy (do they still publish Playboy?) are considerably more interesting than those in Clinical Chemistry, which tend to run toward crazy-shit-complicated graphs and conceptual layouts of brain-melting science. So, alas, I do struggle through the articles — which take me several hours for six to eight hard-won pages — with a Googleload of reference help.

No one will ever adjudge the literary merits of Clinical Chemistry to be on a par with Granta or the quality and usefulness of the science it contains to rival that of Cooks Illustrated. Still, the rag has its own nerdy charm.

Imagine my delight, then, when Clinical Chemistry finally published something that not only covers my favorite subject in all of science, but does so in an article I could read without feeling like a third-grader: a profile of Carl Wittwer.

In truth, it’s not a fabulous article; it is a half-assed article about a fabulous person. An astonishingly wonderful, mind-blowingly brilliant, down-deep lovely, just-nice-to-be-in-the-same-room-with person.

Carl would be one of the great people on this earth to know, even if he were not a renowned innovator and leading light in the esoteric field of molecular diagnostic instrumentation and technique. (In other words, Carl figures out ways of getting a meaningful peek at the ways genetic materials and other chemical structures in our cells might cause, define, or predict illness, wellness, and the transitions between those two states. He runs a world-famous laboratory at the University of Utah, where he is on the Med School faculty in the Department of Pathology, is a Director of Advanced Study at ARUP Laboratories, and pioneered quantitative PCR and many other techniques that have changed the face of diagnostic medicine and medical research.) He is one of those rare people whose natural humility, deceptively understated humor, and clear-eyed take on the world elevate non-scientific conversation to a deeply satisfying experience.

Of all the amazing details of Carl’s professional life, there are none more jaw-dropping than this: over the last couple years, Carl has been my mentor in all-things-molecular-biology. I’m hardly a deserving disciple. Until very recently, I knew so little about the life sciences I couldn’t have given a competent definition of a cell. And yet, the same guy who teaches a class in “The Mathematics of RNA” (Can you imagine! No you cannot.) will sit with my dumb ass and patiently, meticulously make sensible the most complicated workings of medical science.

Because some of you may not have been keeping up with recent issues of Clinical Chemistry as conscientiously as you should (I guess they do still publish Playboy), here’s a link to a PDF copy of the article. I only wish that the journal had followed its normal editorial policy of requiring peer review before running this piece. Had it done so, the glowing testimonials and compelling stories would have filled an entire issue. Scientific rigor requires nothing less.


7 Responses to “Advances in Clinical Chemistry”

  1. 1 Donna 15 October 2009 at 7:13 am

    Ahem. Yes, I CAN imagine. And it sounds hella interesting!

  2. 2 mbjesq 15 October 2009 at 10:38 am


    The “you” in my parenthetical was the non-royal you. Dispensation, indulgence, and pardon requested.

    I actually ache with regret; not about my faux pas, but that more people actually do not (and will never take the time to) understand the probabilistic aspects of protein synthesis or of the ways we wring knowledge from the information our so-called analytic tools provide us. It is a long leap from data to insight. And you are right: the process is fascinating!

    It is also important. As we’ve learned from the recent Wall Street calamities, it is very hard to regulate an industry if we cannot appropriately model and predict its behavior. This is as true for the “protein industry” as the financial industry.


  3. 3 millyonair 15 October 2009 at 4:41 pm

    You’re friends with a molecular biologist, and I was once friends with a Playboy Bunny.

    Well, she was an aspiring Bunny. But I think she got into Perfect 10.

  4. 4 mbjesq 15 October 2009 at 5:06 pm


    Both excellent publications have tried to advance the state of their respective arts. Clinical Chemistry couldn’t do it without great scientists (and editors) like Carl. Playboy would have had no basis for innovating the double-page “centerfold” without folks like your friend. She and Carl are the giants on whose shoulders we stand to see farther.



  5. 5 naren 15 October 2009 at 8:45 pm

    You do know the most amazing people! Enjoyed reading this!

  6. 6 mbjesq 1 March 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Update: It turns-out that Playboy still exists, but maybe not for long. Meanwhile, Clinical Chemistry keeps going strong.

  7. 7 Donna 1 March 2010 at 10:12 pm

    There are more nerds than “article” readers? Who knew?

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