I don’t pretend to understand everything that Haresh Lalvani Gr’81 has to say about himself and his work in senior editor Samuel Hughes’ cover story on the experimental sculptor-architect and design theorist. (Sam kind of throws up his hands at times, too.) But when your Penn mentors are the legendary Buckminster Fuller Hon’74 and “father of spatial structures” Robert le Ricolais, your conversation is likely to attain a pretty rarefied altitude. The latter once asked Lalvani to name his “favorite polyhedron,” leading him to “realize that the only polyhedron I liked was the one that kept changing,” an insight that has reverberated through his work ever since.
According to a longtime collaborator of Lalvani’s, other geniuses also have a hard time keeping up with him, so I don’t feel that bad. But what does come through clearly—in the article text, as well as the examples of Lalvani’s designs reproduced alongside it—is that his ideas about sculpture, architecture, and their connections with timeless patterns in nature and the furthest reaches of new fields like nanotechnology are both eye-opening and mind-expanding. See for yourself in “The Shapes of Things to Come.”
As anyone who’s ever Googled any medical symptoms and watched their ad-feed afterward knows, we live in an age of warning signs. Visiting the doctor has become a numbers game, with reference to lab results likely to figure much more prominently than old-fashioned medical prodding and poking (or talking).
While there’s no doubt we’ve learned an enormous amount about disease mechanisms in the last half-century or so, the rise of “risk-factor medicine” has a downside, too—which Robert Aronowitz, a physician and professor and chair of Penn’s Department of the History and Sociology of Science, lucidly examines in his new book, Risky Medicine: Our Quest to Cure Fear and Uncertainty.
“Our Labs, Our Health?” by freelancer Kevin Hartnett, lays out Aronowitz’s argument that the current medical approach leaves many patients stressed and anxious; leads to over-diagnosis of conditions; and results in unnecessary and sometimes harmful prescriptions, tests, and treatments. Aronowitz emphasizes that his critique is not meant to second-guess any individual’s healthcare choices, but aimed at the system as a whole, a reminder that we may not have all the answers.
The article opens with the story of George Washington’s death, in which his doctors, employing the best medical expertise of the day, subjected the nation’s first president to a series of what were essentially tortures. Aronowitz wonders whether people in the future will ask, as we do of those benighted times, “Why were people living like that?”
Some years back, when we were celebrating the Gazette’s centennial, we ran a story on Scott Nearing C1906 Gr1909, whose controversial firing in 1915 from a faculty position at the Wharton School helped give rise to the tenure system. To mark the 100th anniversary of that event, a panel discussion titled “Academic Freedom Now” was held on campus. Sam Hughes, who wrote our original Nearing story, reports on the panel in “Walking on a Wire” (he’s been busy).
Earlier this fall, Anthony A. Lyle C’61, who edited the Gazette from 1971 till 1995, died. (In addition to his formal obituary, Sam—who worked with him—has a personal remembrance in “Obituaries.”) We met only briefly, and from what I’ve heard he could be a difficult character, but he put out many remarkable issues of this magazine, some of which received well-deserved awards and all of which richly repaid a reader’s time. Our condolences to his family and friends.
—John Prendergast C’80