The Prince of Pain
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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."
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.
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.
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."