I was reading something about redwood the other day and it got me thinking about how discoveries are made.
Early in my "woodworking career" (in quotes because I was probably around 12 at the time) I was helping my father with some projects involving redwood, planter boxes or a fence, I don't remember exactly what. But one morning I woke up with a bizarre feeling in my left hand. It felt like my ring finger was missing. I just could not feel it. But when I looked at my hand, saw that the finger was not only still there, it was at least twice the normal size, red as a beet and totally numb. There was also a red streak that ran half way up my arm.
I won't go into too much detail but it turned out that I had a tiny splinter that had festered overnight. My parents got me to the doctor and the finger was lanced and drained, the splinter removed and all was well.
That's how I discovered that redwood is toxic and there is a reason bugs won't eat it and why it is used when direct contact with the ground is unavoidable. Later when I got my first job, working in the local building supply yard, I had a healthy respect for redwood and always wore gloves and long sleeves when handling it.
Every once in a while I think about the unsung heroes of human development who discovered things like which mushrooms are poisonous and that a redwood splinter can kill you. Fortunately, we have access to enough information at this point that we do not need to discover everything the hard way. We just need to be aware of the sacrifices of those who went before.