Although Intuition’s subject is scientific fraud, this topical issue is also the occasion for a series of character studies of various scientists whose work is inevitably shaped by the nature of their personalities. Of particular interest is the character of Cliff Bannaker, whose lucky discovery of a possible cancer-curing virus sets the plot in motion.
Cliff is about to lose his position at the Philpott Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because his work has come to nothing. Bitter and at the end of his rope, he gains a sudden reprieve when “his” virus, R-7, begins suddenly to arrest the growth of tumors in his mice. The laboratory, which had been concerned about its future federal funding, revels in the discovery. Its future and Cliff’s seem assured when his paper, coauthored with the laboratory heads, appears in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. This results in new funding and leads People magazine to trumpet the possibility of a giant step in the treatment of breast cancer.
The two codirectors of the laboratory, Sandy Glass and Marion Mendelssohn, eagerly embrace Cliff’s findings. Sandy, an ebullient oncologist, likes to live well and think big, and he is certain Cliff’s findings represent a tremendous breakthrough that will both make a genuine contribution to the field of medicine and bring success to all concerned. His shyer partner, Marion, on the other hand, suggests restraint and emphasizes the importance of careful, methodical research. While the flashy, freewheeling Sandy arranges to have Cliff’s preliminary findings published and encourages the popular press to take an interest, Marion begins to feel that she has been asked to believe in Sandy and in Cliff in the teeth of the actual evidence. She wonders whether her high standards will be compromised by Sandy’s educated guess that Cliff’s findings are sound. It is over this issue that the successful workplace collaboration of Marion and Sandy begins to fall apart.
To further complicate matters, Marion and Sandy do not share the same religious perspective. Sandy, whose original name was Sam Glazeroff, is a Jew who has married an upper-class Episcopalian; the only holiday he is seen celebrating is in the context of his hosting a splashy Christmas party that is far more social than it is spiritual. Marion’s religious life, on the other hand, is demonstrated by her celebration of a traditional Passover with her family and coworkers.
Marion and Sandy ask Cliff’s girlfriend, Robin, whose research is not going well, to abandon her own project and work on replicating Cliff’s results, even though she officially outranks Cliff. Feeling both envious of Cliff’s new status and unable to confirm his results, Robin is beset by a sense of failure. In her role as mother hen, Marion attempts to cheer Robin up by offering her a position as a teaching assistant to Marion’s husband, Jacob. Jacob, who has always felt that his brilliant wife has been required to play second fiddle to the charismatic Sandy, stirs things up by having a quiet word with Robin about the possibility that Cliff’s results are fraudulent. Jacob’s sly conversation encourages Robin to bring her suspicions to Sandy and Marion. When the two directors choose to side with Cliff, Robin has no choice but to leave the institute. She also breaks up with Cliff, who is hurt that Robin has no faith in him or his work. He refuses to entertain the idea that his findings may be the result of sloppy work, and he denies any deliberate fabrication. Robin herself wonders if her scrutiny is simply schoolmarmish and whether it has led to the inhibition of a gifted scientist’s natural creative processes.
Thoroughly alienated from the institute and from Cliff, Robin cannot leave the issue alone. She takes her suspicions to a watchdog organization, the crusading but questionable Office for Research Integrity in Science. Soon a windy local congressman holds public hearings on the issue in order to fuel his political agenda. As a result, the entire institute is made suspect, and Robin finds herself responsible for a ridiculous public interrogation not simply of bad science but also of the legitimacy of science itself. Because Robin’s actions have resulted in a full-fledged scandal, Cliff’s partner Xiang Feng, who had been made into a star by People magazine’s article on Cliff’s experiments, is suddenly facing deportation back to China. As the scientists at the...
(The entire section is 1838 words.)