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What defines an individual’s success? In most cases than not, one examines the person’s IQ, their personality, or what sort of special talents that they were graced with since birth as factors that influence ones success. However, this is the exact process that Malcolm Gladwell scrutinized in his bestseller The Outlier’s. Gladwell examined cases studies that exemplified that the opportunities and the cultural legacies of the individuals were in fact the defining factors of their success. In the case of Jonas Salk, nobody would have suspected that a son of an impoverished Jewish immigrant family to be the first scientist to formulate a successful polio vaccine in 1944. In fact other people in the scientific community like Albert Sabin believed that Salk “never had an original idea” in his life. However, surprisingly regardless of his IQ or genetic predispositions Jonas Salk’s path to success follows Gladwell’s theory seeing that his life validates the importance of the timing of his birth, the cultural legacy, and the 10,000-hour rule.
Jonas Salk’s great success in discovering first vaccine for polio is framed by the era that he was born into, which Gladwell deems to be almost one of the most quintessential components in ones success. To Gladwell, even being born at the beginning of the year proves to provide opportunities unseen to those who are born during any other time of the year. Jonas Salk was the first born to a Jewish Immigrants in at the beginning of 1914, a time of tremendous strife and struggle for the entire Jewish community, however he was able to develop the ability that Gladwell coined to be “practical intelligence”. Salk’s parents were among the tremendous wave of Jewish immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century who fled from their country because of religious perjury. Many Jewish immigrant families, like Salk’s family, settled along the eastern seaboard, doing the only business that they knew: working in sweat shops and textile factories. Regardless of how arduous the task might have been to watch their parents work, the children of immigrant parents became successful because of the humbling experience. According to Gladwell, “it was the practical intelligence and savvy you get from watching your father sell aprons on Hester Street” (153). Salk, with his parents being garment workers in New York, was brought up in a household, which was exposed to the grueling tasks, learning and inheriting the complex relationship between effort and reward.
As an individual rose in a household, which developed his skills of practical intelligence, this skill proved to be helpful as Salk climbed his way towards his discovery. According to Gladwell, these individuals learns “teamwork and how to cope in highly structured settings… taught how to interact comfortable with adults, and to speak upp when she needs to” (103). At a young age, Salk showed signs of practical intelligence, when he would constantly questioned known facts and “often as not he’d change the way he’d been instructed to perform something, flipping its sequence or modifying a step” (Kluger 26). Learning the lessons of self-entitlement and curiosity manifested as a crucial part of his personality that lead to his success. During his years at New York School of Medicine, his scientific inquiry about the affectability of live vaccines vs. heat killed vaccines scored him a remarkable research opportunity with Dr. Francis’s which not only taught him the ropes of virology but also gained him another valuable opportunity that Gladwell coined to be the 10,000 Rule.
According to Gladwell, the 10,000 Rule is an important opportunity that defines the individual’s success. Gladwell mentions that individuals like Bill Gates and the Beatles weren’t successful just because they were born into a life of success, but it was because they spent copious amount of hours honing their skills, which would define their success. In Salk’s case, if it wasn’t for Dr. Francis’ research opportunity Salk would not have been given the chance to explore his scientific curiosities in science and would not have been able gain the needed laboratory skills that would prove to be useful through his career. Thankfully during the last year at New York School of Medicine, Dr. Francis was impressed by Salk’s scientific inquiry and offered Salk an internship at the University of Michigan where he could not only teach a class in epidemiology to incoming students but he could also help assist Francis with the task of finding a vaccine for influenza. Charged with the decision of choosing between a military physician or working on the vaccine, Salk was convinced to work on the vaccine for he could help save millions of lives rather than attending to single patients in the army.
Such decision to stay and work on the vaccine presented itself as a turning point in Salk’s research career. During the 4 years that he worked on the vaccine, he discovered that his hypothesis about heat killed virus vaccine actually worked, a crucial component of the influenza vaccine’s success. Such results from this successful influenza vaccine became a key difference that set Salk apart from all the other scientists in the research field. Seeing that most vaccines during the time were live virus cultures, the chance of infection outweighed the benefits of the cure, derailing many scientists off course. Therefore, Salk with the knowledge and techniques that he gained from his internship that a heat killed virus was effective enough to trick the body in producing the necessary antibodies to ward the virus off was a priceless and unparalleled advantage. Such discovery in virology was essential for it lowered the risks of infecting the patient and can be rapidly produced.
The experience that he gained from working with Dr. Francis, allowed him to refine his skills as a scientist, however his analytical skills alone didn’t not attribute to his success in the research field. According to Gladwell, regardless of the individuals IQ and critical thinking skills, the ability to know to do and say, and use it to its greatest effect which he deems to be practical intelligence is a quality that separates the successful individuals from the geniuses. Because Salk’s parents were garment workers in New York, Salk learned the valuable lessons of practical intelligence. At a young age, his mother wanted Salk to pursue the life of a Rabbi, however, Salk with such a strong sense of entitlement knew that he wanted to pursue a career where he could be widely felt. Being able to sway his mother to support his career was the origin of the development of his practically intelligence that proved to be very helpful in his research ventures.
The remarkable skill of persuasion surpasses the analytical skills in the Salk’s field of research for it earned him the economic backing to support his polio research project. Unlike other scientists who slaved over vaccines for polio for many years, Salk had the financial advantage due to the support by the National Infantile Paralysis Foundation. The head of this foundation was a dogmatic and profit seeking businessman, Daniel Basil O’Connor. Feeling the pressures to find a research group to head the Foundation, O’Connor instantly favored Salk’s Polio Research Group. Salk sent O’Conner a letter asking for financial assistance for the new polio vaccine project that he was trying to develop. O’Conner was instantly attracted to Salk as a researcher and the goals and risks that he was willing to take. Both men both had the same goal in mind which was the importance of time: Salk wanted to find the safest and fastest vaccine for polio before it could claim more lives while O’Conner wanted to reap the profits of this vaccine. Therefore, satisfied with what he saw O’Conner agree to financially support Salk, providing any necessary resources that were needed for the project. Salk’s financial support that he earned with his practical intelligence allowed him to develop a vaccine in a timely manner, beating all the other scientist in the field, with such vaccine being the first step in eradicating the polio virus from the nation.
Aside from the practical intelligence that he gained from his parents, Jonas Salk was raised in a Jewish household, which provided strong cultural influences on his success. In the Outliers, Gladwell openly asserts that importance of cultural legacy. He deems this hypothesis of “culture of honor” to be a hypothesis that says “it matters where you’re from…in terms of where your great-grandparents grew up” (Gladwell, 170). When examining a cultural experiment by Cohen and Nisbett, psychologists at the University of Michigan, he discovers that there’s a high correlation between the behaviors of the individual and that of their forebear. Their experiment was to test their theory about the violence in Harlem, Kentucky, a likely product of vindication habits dating back to their English ancestors. From such an experiment, Gladwell concludes that cultural legacies have deep roots for “they persist…virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions…have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior…” (175). These persistent behaviors of the Jewish community during early times are esteem qualities that were prevalent throughout Jonas Salk’s life.
Even though Jonas Salk was born in an era of tremendous strife, his Jewish cultural background proved to be beneficial in developing a heighted goal towards higher education. Salk was born into a household of Jewish-Russian immigrants in 1914, raised strictly with Jewish traditions. Embedded into their cultural history, those who studied the Torah became Rabbis, who were considered intellectuals endowed with privileges to improve their socio-economic status. It was this ideal of the importance of education that would permeate throughout the Jewish culture, which was also prevalent in Salk’s development. As a young child, his mother Dora Salk was a steadfast proponent of the Jewish culture and the quest for higher education, making it clear that she expected great things from all her sons. As a result at young age, his mother constantly tested his abilities and facilitated his mental growth, for she wanted her son to also enter a rabbinical school. However Salk thought otherwise. According to Jefferey Kluger’s Splendid Solution, Salk felt as though his voice would be lost amidst such arena, for “he wanted his work to be widely felt and needed something with greater reach that would allow him to make the most of his bigger skills.” Even though he refused the path of a rabbi, his thoughts about serving his community stemmed from his Jewish background. According to Abraham Fox man, the Jewish community is heavily influence about charity and helping ones neighbor. Jonas Salk always had the drive to help people on the greater scale, which launched him into the field of research on infectious diseases. It was his Jewish backgrounds and the fundamental philosophy about charity that which eventually lead him on the path toward endless discovery.
Jonas Salk’s success has been in refute for years. Unlike other scientist whose success were rewarded with a Nobel Prize, Salk’s development of the first successful polio vaccine did not earn him such award in the eyes of the scientific community. In fact, Salk was indifferent to the fame that he gained such discovery. When asked why he did not put a patent on his formulate, he responded with “you can’t put a patent on the sun”. Such qualities really showed the amount of compassion that he had towards helping the greater good. So even though his success was not accounted for with a Nobel Prize, his success was one that can be recognized as one of self-fulfillment and duty to his community.
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