NULLIUS IN VERBA: thoughts on a cure for Parkinson’s

cure test tubeBecause I have a background in neuroscience in addition to my earned experience as a person with Parkinson’s, I’m often asked whether I believe there will be a cure for Parkinson’s. Sometimes I’m asked openly in Q and A sessions at public meetings. Every so often though, someone will sidle up to me, at say a reception, and whisper the question discreetly in my ear, like spies making contact. “Jon, do you think there will ever be a cure for Parkinson’s” they say “oh, and the cranes fly south from Vladivostok, comrade”.

Being asked my opinion is not perhaps very surprising. Much more surprising is the reaction of people to my answers. Many seem disappointed. And if I were oppressively negative or painted a bleak future for people with Parkinson’s, their reaction would be understandable. But, on the whole, my responses are firmly positive. I believe there will be a cure for Parkinson’s. For a long time I failed to understand why people should react so negatively to my positivity. But one day, a couple of years ago, after I had given my thoughts and explained my reasoning, a patient let slip a rather telling remark.

“Oh but you have to say that, don’t you”.

Suddenly it all made sense. She felt, since I was an employee of The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, that I was either contractually or morally obliged to say that or had been brainwashed into believing it. Perhaps she thought it was part of the contract I signed when I joined the charity. Or perhaps she felt that I had a chip implanted somewhere in my brain so that my thoughts were controlled from the CPT office in Baker Street and all I could say, Dalek- like, was “there…… will….. be…… a…… cure…… for…… Parkinson’s”.

People who know me well and for a long time know that nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody tells me what to think.

A couple of decades or so ago I was a Royal Society research fellow and, if I learnt nothing else from the experience, their philosophy was persuasive.. The motto of the Royal Society is “nullius in verba” which, for those of you without a knowledge of Latin, translates broadly as “take nobody’s word for it”. For a scientist, these are words to live by.

I’m a scientist and proud of that. We weigh evidence, examine data and draw conclusions. That’s what we do. We trade in facts not fancies. We build our knowledge on hard earned evidence not dinner party chitchat. We listen to well constructed argument not idle prejudice.

So be clear on this. My thoughts are my own. My opinions on a cure are built on a calm dispassionate assessment of the evidence, not on desperation or hope. If you believe my thoughts to be somehow owned by my employers, you don’t know me. Or my employers for that matter.

So, for the record, let me give you my thoughts.

Yes, I believe there will be a cure for Parkinson’s or, more accurately, a number of ways of curing Parkinson’s. I further believe that this will occur within a meaningful timeframe such as the next decade. Moreover I believe that it will be possible, in a similar timeframe, to know what causes Parkinson’s and to protect people at risk from developing Parkinson’s. And I say this not because I want it to be true for the sake of hope. I have worked in the field of dopamine, the basal ganglia and Parkinson’s for more than three decades. I believe it to be true on the basis of evidence.
But don’t take my word for it.

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