Exploring Human Potential

The Drip, Drip, Drip of Change.

Posted on | June 17, 2020 | 3 Comments

Thomas Parnell and his experiment.

Mike Magee

If you look in the Guiness Book of Records, you will discover that the record for the world’s longest running laboratory experiment is held by the Pitch Drop Experiment at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. The experiment was begun in 1927 by physics professor Thomas Parnell who wished to demonstrate how viscous a liquid could be and still be “liquid”.

Dr. Parnell poured hot tar pitch into a glass vessel and let it cool for three years. He then cut open the funnel shaped bottom of the vessel and allowed the tar to flow.

Demonstrating that patience truly is a virtue when it comes to observational science, the first drop fell eight years later.  Since then, eight drops have fallen, roughly one drop per decade. This has allowed physicists to calculate the viscosity of this black goo to be 230 billion times the viscosity of water.

Over the years, many individuals have reflected on the lessons learned from this experiment. For example, “change does occur, but often at its own pace” or “what will happen next is easier to predict than when it will happen” or ” there is only “time before and time after.”

Professor John Mainstone, who helped oversee the experiment for half a century, commented in 2012 that, “It is only when the drop has happened that what has gone before makes sense in the flow of time. That is I don’t become aware of what was going on just before the drop until after the drop occurs.”

These drops were large, accumulating mass over time. And their relative infrequency added to their dramatic effect. But what of a constant flow is smaller, more viscous, more ordinary droplets? Do they create a “before” and “after” reality change. Or do they simply cause a series of relatively non -transparent counter-droplets designed to re-establish the status-quo?

For roughly the same amount of time as the Pitch Drop Experiment has existed, modern health care delivery in the United States has conducted its own experiment. I captured many of the major milestones in “Code Blue: Inside the Medical Industrial Complex.”

The most recent “drops” include Medicare Part D passes; PDUFA reauthorization means industry funds 20% of the FDA budget; Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passes and states mount legal challenges; Trump undermines federal health preparedness; Covid-19 pandemic exposes the weaknesses of a profit-driven, employer based health care system in America; Black Lives Matter shines a light on racial prejudice and massive inequities in policing, health care, education, and housing in America.

Time and effect of single drops are hard to predict. Drops of cruelty, discrimination, inequity and greed have gone largely unnoticed, dispatched and buried for many years.

Then a knee to one man’s throat on May 25, 2020 dropped with resounding effect. It has clearly marked a “before.” It remains to be seen whether it will finally mark an “after” for our beleaguered society


3 Responses to “The Drip, Drip, Drip of Change.”

  1. Denise Link
    June 17th, 2020 @ 12:37 pm

    Thank you for this insightful column. For a long time, one of my advocacy memes has been what I learned in high school physics; Time + Pressure = Change. What that change is and when it occurs in retrospect. You have given me a lot to think about, and maybe material for my own column 🙂

  2. Mike Magee
    June 17th, 2020 @ 2:48 pm

    Time + Pressure = Change says it all! Thanks! Mike

  3. The Drip, Drip, Drip of Change. – Health Article – Health & Wellness Blog
    June 20th, 2020 @ 6:56 pm

    […] This is only a snippet of a Health Article written by Mike Magee Read Full Article […]

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