In the summer of 1985 Washington Post reporter Phil McCombs, whom I had met socially, approached me about being interviewed for a story he was planning. He wanted to profile a scientist who did biomedical research with animals. Although I was flattered, all my instincts screamed “NO! Don’t do it!” Being an untenured assistant professor building a laboratory at an emerging research institution, I felt there was nothing to be gained and everything to lose professionally if I granted such an interview. Besides, I wanted to be known for my research and not for having my opinions recorded in the popular press. I suggested the names of several well-established scientists and Nobel laureates who might be willing to be interviewed.

But McCombs was not interested in celebrities—he wanted a person who could be “the reader’s neighbor.” Therein lay the attraction of the project for me: an opportunity to speak candidly...

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