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The Prince of Pain
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The Prince of Pain
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It was the students who collected the data, assessed its significance, then went to Liebeskind for context and judgment. This interaction worked, as a rule, the way it did with Mayer and his SPA results -- student and teacher talking and challenging each other until they discovered what it was they really thought. Liebeskind boiled those sessions down, stirred in his own magic dust and voilá -- you were in print. "If you found something you thought was interesting or intriguing in the lab, you worked like hell to convince John," said a student at his mentor's memorial service. "And if you could convince John, he'd convince the world."

Liebeskind proudly called himself a "discussion-section scientist," referring to the last section of a journal article in which authors put their results into a larger context and speculate about what they might mean. "He had a command of the literature, he could see the larger implications of students' work, and most of all he could make sure others understood those implications," says Marcia Meldrum, a science historian who worked with Liebeskind at UCLA on an oral history of pain research.

The conversations in Liebeskind's eighth-floor Franz Hall office weren't always about spinal synapses and pain pathways. "Whenever someone needed to see a professor, or had a problem, any problem -- their mother was dying, they were depressed, their mentor was treating them badly -- they ended up in John's office," says Krasne. "That's where they'd go first." It was one of the few places on campus where an anxious student could get good advice, a dose of therapy and the sensation of being in the company of the Scientific Community. If you had a question about endorphins, John would just as soon call Hans Kosterlitz in Aberdeen or Avram Goldstein at Stanford, one of those who'd done the original research. A question about the gate theory might be put to Ronald Melzack himself, at McGill University in Montreal. If a student had a question about reincarnation one suspects, Liebeskind would have tried to put a call through to Saint Augustine.

"The image I'll always have of John is this," says Gayle Page, a lead author on several of the early papers that came out of Liebeskind's lab and now a researcher at Ohio State University. "He's in his office, on the phone, talking us up, telling someone about the work we were doing, standing up and talking and looking out the window, his hands in his pockets. And there's student there, too, sitting in that chair."

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