It's tough to please an elite crowd of scientists, financiers, and other luminaries. But that's just what the organizers of the annual Lasker Award luncheon need to do year after year, in addition to handing out the honors that are often referred to as the American Nobel Prizes. Previous themes have been lofty. In 2001, the event did a great job making a case for keeping science a top priority in the United States just a few weeks after the September 11 terror attacks. In 2003, they built a message of hope when winner Christopher Reeve – a.k.a. Superman – introduced.

How do you follow up on that? This year, the theme was scientific patriotism, but the event also featured dead chefs and a bad joke saved since the Clinton presidency. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) opened the event with a keynote address in which she called for America to...

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