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TWiV 144 Letters

Mary writes:

What's the deal with the embargos anyway? I know it's called the NEJM rule, and I suspect it has to do with perhaps the press or big business somehow taking off with an idea before it's time, but I haven't seen that ended by this practice.

In my fields (history and economics) (Ph.D. JHU 1984), we freely discuss research in progress - in fact, that's when the most good work happens, when you have to answer questions, or deal with stuff you hadn't yet thought of, or somebody has a new idea or new evidence or knows about a pertinent study you missed.

It's very common to cite "published manuscript" or "work in progress," or if I get a good idea and some leads from someone else's work and they haven't published yet, we would make up a name of a working paper I could cite in case someone wanted to know more about that person's work - and since I've been very sick for two decades now, a lot of my work circulates in that form, with my permission.

Why is medical science so different from other fields?

I guess I've seen some of what can happen - a chance comment by Dr. Alter at a conference somewhere in central Europe ends up in a story in a Dutch newspaper and suddenly all hell's breaking loose in the United States. But I guess I'm not sure that it should have led to all hell breaking loose.

Maybe it's nothing more than that the press, and the insurance industry and Big Pharma, and policymakers, all care about your work and really don't give two hoots about economic history. So you have to be more careful.

But I still don't understand it.

Thank you.


Peter writes:

hendra - all the dummies come out of the woodwork

kill all the bats

cut down all the trees

Matt writes:

I have been following the latest outbreaks of hendra virus in Australia, it has killed several horses without any positive results in humans so far . It appears that the virus may be able to infect dogs, or at least can cause an immune response in this species. Not sure if this is a case of “if we look hard enough we will find it” or the detection of hendra moving into a new species for the first time.

Enjoy the show,



Ai-Lin writes:

It’s fascinating that a virophage would so benefit algae populations in Antarctica, as discussed in TWIV 128. I wonder to what extent these virophages can be used in conjunction with current environmental science studies to mitigate global carbon dioxide levels. As you may know, carbon dioxide concentrations are fast approaching 400 ppm in our global atmosphere, as measured in labs in Mauna Loa, Hawaii. One of the mitigation options environmentalists have proposed to use involves the cultivation of algae blooms in suitable bodies of water to not only fix CO2 from the atmosphere, but also perhaps use the biomass as a form of fuel. Of course, the dilemma lies in algae proliferation in the absence of excess phosphate and nitrogen. What are the possibilities that a strain of this virophage can be created so that it can be used in temperate zones to help this CO2 mitigation option?



Environmental Biology

Barnard College 2011

Ann-Marie writes:

My question to you is related to the many posts you have had about poor coverage of scientific issues in journalism. Although David Tuller is beginning a new dual program at UC Berkley, do you think undergraduate courses could also give the needed scientific background instead of a masters in public health? Clearly every journalist writing about health related topics will not have a major in biology, but do you think that perhaps requiring science classes in a school's core as an undergraduate could also help minimize this problem? And if so, what specific science classes would be most useful (either as an undergrad or while pursuing a MPH)? I suppose my overall question is do you think that this dual program is really the best option, or is there a better way for journalists to acquire a scientific background?

[Here is Dave Tuller's reply]:

Vincent, that's interesting, thanks for sharing. my answer would be, any educational work in these areas would be helpful--adding on the MPH is just one way to do it. Certainly if a student was a public health major as an undergraduate or had a lot of biology/microbiology coursework, that would be a good basis for covering public health, infectious diseases, etc. as a journalist. The MPH I think does add a professional component--you start to think the way someone working in public health would, and that's a very helpful ability to have as a journalist.

Neva writes:

Yes! More tracking initiatives. I notice they do not mention tracking dengue in Central America though.

Blog: Official Google Blog

Post: Using search patterns to track dengue fever



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