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TWiV 183 Letters

Joe writes:

How cool is that to be listening to you all reading my emails with Peter Sandman while I am stuck in traffic.

I loved the discussion and want to send a big thank you to Michael for joining in and giving us the missing perspective of what the NSABB was thinking as they made their decisions. His efforts on the podcast are a perfect example of risk communication done well. You don't have to have all the answers, just be able to articulate the process that went into valuing the things that created the decision in an honest way.

I apologize to Michael for my blunt technical description of them as a Nameless Faceless Government Committee, but it is an accurate description of how they were viewed by outsiders not aware of their existence prior to them making a significant decision with little public involvement in the process prior to the decision. I wrote it to reenforce the following point:

It is a critical and sometimes frustrating reality for every risk manager that when making public risk communications, if you communicate based on who you think you are things will not go well. If you communicate based on your audience's perception of you then you have a chance to actually finish a sentence!

I was surprised to hear Michael say that there were some research that he did not think we had a right to know. I would appreciate hearing more details on his thoughts. In the world of basic science I can't think of any that I would agree with. I agree that we should not publish the specs and construction steps for building a cruise missile in your garage, but that is different than the kind of science we are currently discussing.



Josh writes:

Dear TWiV Doctors,

I would like to thank Dr. Imperiale from the NSABB for being on the show. It was very illuminating, and he spoke clearly about the struggles that have surrounded this situation.

He said that the WHO meeting came to a different conclusion because it was "mostly made up of flu virologists". Isn't that kind of the point? Experts in the field of flu virology came to different conclusion than the NSABB. Shouldn't the NSABB defer to this group of experts on the matter? Does the NSABB dispute their expertise?

Bioterrorism is largely a fantasy of crazies and the bio-defense crowd. The real threat is Mother Nature, as Dr. Imperiale said.



Mike responds:

Dear Josh,

Vincent asked a very similar question during the podcast, and I think I clarified at the time that my point was that it wasn't surprising that the two groups might come to different conclusions. But let me answer your questions more directly.

The first thing that I want to make clear is that there is a flu expert on NSABB (Michael Osterholm) and we also consulted with other flu experts as we were discussing the original manuscripts last fall. Thus, we did not make our first recommendation in a vacuum. Second, I do not dispute the expertise of those who participated in the WHO meeting. However, they have not spent the past seven years together discussing the dual use issue, as NSABB has. NSABB's expertise is much more broad, including microbiology, infectious diseases, biosafety, public health, veterinary medicine, plant health, national security, biodefense, and scientific publishing. One of the things NSABB has been stressing is that the scientific community needs to be more engaged in discussions of dual use.

Regarding your statement about bioterrorism being "largely a fantasy of crazies and the bio-defense crowd," I strongly disagree. I think the Native Americans who were deliberately infected with smallpox by the British in the 1700's, or residents of The Dalles, Oregon, who were poisoned by the Rajneeshee sect with Salmonella in 1984, or the relatives of those who died from the anthrax letters in 2001, among others, would also disagree with you. Bioterror is very real, and groups like Al Qaeda have publicly expressed their desire to use it. That is not classified information: it is freely available. Here is an example that was just reported a week ago by CNN:



Kim writes:

Hello TWi hosts!

I'm studying the bachelor program in biomedicin at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm. I found these lovely podcasts (TWiV/TWiM/TWiP) during our course called "Infection & immunology". We were working with Semliki forest virus and supposed to do calculation involving the infected cell cultures, to which I found help from your website. I then discovered the podcasts, which I used for support when studying for the exam. From that day I was hooked. I've continued to listen to your podcasts, both old and new, and I absolutely love them.

Now for my question! I'm curious to what your opinions are on pre-postdoctoral studies (meaning bachelor, master and PhD studies) and their importance for someone who is pursuing and dreams about a career in research. As an example I can use myself, because I should soon choose how to continue my studies. I'm not sure if the structure is the same in the States as in Europe, but the crossroad I'm at is which master program should I choose that would help me the most in continuing my studies. I'm weighing between a program in microbiology and a program in biomedicin, both resulting in a master's degree, and wondering what implications might this decision have for my future. I feel that I would love to study only microbiology for two years, but I also feel that it might give me a "tunnel vision" in a way because I would only focus on one thing. In contrast, biomedicin would provide a wide knowledge of many fields, but less specific and in depth. Do you think this decision really matters in the end if I aim at a career in research. I've heard that ones postdoctoral work is in a way the research which defines one the most.

Please do tell us about your own studies and how you feel they shaped your future resulting in a career in research or something else (depending on which hosts are present while reading this). Thank you very much for your answer and keep up the good work! And the weather has been around 5 Celsius for many weeks now, so almost summer!

Best regards,


Todd writes:

Even though it's not something you'll likely put on your resume, but I just wanted to congratulate Vincent on being quoted in Maxim magazine for clarifying that, contrary to the TV show Lost, you cannot disinfect a wound with vodka due to less than 66% alcohol content. (Channeling Alan) You could have enhanced your viral sex appeal if you had also mentioned that research shows cleavage is utilized in some viral reproduction.

Tyler writes:

Just as a quick FYI, I wanted to let you know that I will be staying at the Dengue Branch in a permanent position once EIS is over in June. One factor that motivated my bosses to find the money to keep me here was my TWiV interview, which garnered a lot of attention for the Branch in a variety of capacities. I therefore wanted to thank you again for offering the interview and helping to make it such a positive experience.

Peter writes:

One minor point on episode 181, we've seen a few cases here in the UK where sheep farmers have picked up skin lesions on their hands after vaccinating their sheep against ORF. Another route of infection to add to your list. Of course here in the UK parapoxviruses are all about the poor old red squirrel.

All the best,


HCV Group : School of Immunity and Infection :College of Medical and Dental Sciences : University of Birmingham

Matt Evans writes:

Hello Vince and all the TWiV hosts,

I am interested in adding people to my lab and it occurred to me that there may be no better place to find motivated young virologists than TWiV! If you think it would be appropriate, please post this on your website or even read it on the program.

My lab studies the hepatitis C virus and how host factors influence entry and replication of this virus in host cells. I am currently looking to hire a postdoc with a strong research track record. I am also interested in hiring a technician, who will help maintain the lab and conduct their own research projects. I am sure that successful applicants will find the Department of Microbiology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York a terrific place to study viruses.

Those interested in applying can find my contact information on my Mount Sinai webpage:

Many thanks,



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