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The Prince of Pain
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Full 1997
The Prince of Pain
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Liebeskind was dumbfounded. He had proof the brain could block pain itself, from the top down. But the nameless reviewers couldn't see it. So he did what came naturally: He picked up the telephone and dialed Science editor John Ringle, who answered on the first ring. After introducing himself and making a few gentle inquires, Liebeskind made his pitch. "Mr. Ringle," he remembered saying, "I don't know if you're a Mister or a Doctor, and if you are a doctor, I don't know what field you're trained in. But I really believe that this is an important piece of work, and rather than just rewrite this and submit it and have you send it out for review again, I would like you to look over it yourself. If you don't think it's really interesting and important, then you tell me that and you won't hear from me again about it."

After spicing up the introduction and adding a lengthy discussion section, Liebeskind and Mayer resubmitted the article. Shortly thereafter, in the December 24, 1971 issue, their reputations were launched. So, too, was what came to be known as "The Ringle Wrangle": the persistent application of Liebeskind charm to the gatekeeper of America's most august scientific forum. "It was the first," says Mayer, "of many Ringle Wrangles."

In contrast to the archetypal modern lab portrayed in Bruno Latour's Laboratory Life -- a hierarchical, political, suspicious, cutthroat congregation of egos -- Liebeskind's UCLA shop was an oasis for freethinking. Huda Akil joined the team in 1969, newly arrived from Syria and not long out of college. "I learned a great deal from John, but also from Wolfe and Mayer, who were very generous," she says. "In turn, I fixed pots of Turkish coffee, told them weird tales from the Middle East and, as I gained more knowledge in the field, argued with them about experiments and interpretations."

Former students credit Liebeskind's success to style as much as scientific instinct. "There's a lot of false modesty in successful research scientists," says UCLA psychologist Frank Krasne, a friend and colleague of Liebeskind's. "They'll say, Oh my students did it all,' or I've been lucky to get good help.' But in John's case, he really believed it. He felt his students had done it all. At the same time, these great results kept happening and happening in his lab. I mean, most labs just aren't like that."

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