On this day in 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States released the first report linking cigarette smoking with cancer. The report was based on over 7,000 articles that correlated smoking with disease. Acting on the report’s findings, Congress acted, passing The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 which required cigarette packages to carry the following Surgeon General’s Warning: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health” (1).
Just as that first Surgeon General’s report on smoking caused Americans to consider the dangerous consequences of smoking, another event that happened on this day in 1918 led generations of people to apply prudent forethought when putting together a plan of action.
On January 11, 1918, Edward Aloysius Murphy, Jr. was born, the man behind Murphy’s Law, which reminds us that, “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong!”
A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Murphy served as a pilot in World War II. After the war, Murphy became an aerospace engineer, and in 1951 he was assisting U.S. Air Force scientists in California’s Mojave Desert where they were conducting tests to study the effects of the force of gravity on pilots. To simulate the force of an airplane crash, the project team mounted a rocket sled on a half-mile track. At first, the tests were conducted using a dummy, which was later replaced with a chimpanzee. Then a physician named Colonel John Paul Stapp volunteered to ride the sled, nicknamed “Gee Whiz,” as it raced over 200 miles per hour across the desert floor and suddenly came to an abrupt stop.
Murphy’s contribution to the experiment were sensors that were attached to Dr. Stapp to measure the G-force as the rocket sled braked.
Although Murphy’s name became attached to the law, the person credited with first uttering the law and spreading it was Dr. Stapp. During a press conference after the tests, Stapp was asked how the team avoided any serious injuries during its experiments. The doctor responded by saying that they were able to anticipate mistakes by applying Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will” (2).
Today’s Challenge: Contingency Plans & Cautionary Notes
What are some mistakes you have made, some failures you have experienced, or some accidents you have been the victim of in your life so far? What specific advice would you give others to help them avoid these mistakes or accidents? Write the text of a public service announcement (PSA) that focuses on a specific danger that might be avoided by exercising caution or by applying Murphy’s Law. Give details on what specifically might go wrong as well as detailed steps on how to avoid it. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: A thousand people will stop smoking today. Their funerals will be held sometime in the next three or four days. -Surgeon General C. Everett Koop
1-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. History of the Surgeon General’s Reports on Smoking and Health.
2-Hluchy, Patricia. The Man Behind Murphy’s Law. Toronto Star. 11 Jan. 2009.