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January 1, 2014

The Axillae of San Stefano

I have only ever attended two scientific meetings, both of them annual conferences of AAAS, The American Association for the Advancement of Science. The first meeting was in 1982 and it was held in Washington DC. 
The reason I traveled from Manhattan to attend that conference stemmed from the discovery of oncogenes which had recently been reported in several newspapers. I had begun writing in 1978 my theory about lethal juvenile cancer’s role in the origin and evolution of complex animals and by 1982 I had written seven or eight versions. In all of those drafts I postulated the existence of cancer triggers in all Bilaterians’ normal somatic cells and after reading that some cancer theorists (but no evolution theorists) had also postulated the existence of such triggers, I started to call them by the scientific term, oncogenes.  

Pleased to learn that my hypothesized genes had actually been identified, I sent a copy of my latest draft to the reporter at New York’s Newsday who had written one of the earliest reports. My hope was that he might publish something about my idea. A few days later I telephoned him and after saying he did not understand my theory he made a suggestion. He told me about the annual conference of AAAS which included something called a “poster session.” He explained that the standards for acceptance in poster sessions were not very high and that I could probably have no difficulty “posting” my theory which could then be read by conference attendees. It was too late for me to post my paper at the 1982 meeting, but he suggested I  visit it anyhow with a view of submitting something for the 1983 meeting. I took his advice and arranged to attend for a single day to find out what a “poster session” was all about. I picked a day on which several prominent evolutionary biologists would be giving presentations in commemoration of the centennial of Charles Darwin’s death.