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Giant Bird Flu Story Sighted

   Read it and cheep.

By Joel Achenbach  |  December 10, 2005; 10:09 AM ET
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I idly wondered a while ago why scientists had picked this virus as the next possible pandemic flu virus. With elegant simplicty, you have translated all the information and provided the answer.

This article was well worth waiting for, and has absolutely convinced me that if you chose to you could sell snowballs in a blizzard to a snowman.

Please send the good Doctor the link to the Cow Joke Kit and Kaboodle. They say a laugh is as good as a rest, and I'm thinking we do not want this man to burn out. Just warn him to empty his cup first.

Posted by: dr | December 10, 2005 11:17 AM | Report abuse

We're all going to die! We're all going to die! Eventually.

Okay, so I've only finished Page 1. Time for the rest. I'm helping my sprout, this pleasant Saturday morning, with meaasuring the height a lacrosse ball bounces above a wood surface. Digital cameras and nerdy software are very useful this way. I haven't yet figured out how to subtly clue the sprout to the term "coefficient of restitution."

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 10, 2005 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: mh | December 10, 2005 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article, Joel. And you'll be Live Online on Monday - cool. The most ominous part of the article to me was the funding - that programs will be cut, that money is spent on buildings rather than research.

mh, that's great. Everyone, please put down your coffee cups, etc, before viewing. Ha!

Posted by: mostlylurking | December 10, 2005 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Here is another viral topic worthy of your investigation. Maybe one day humans will use microbe vs. microbe to help us beat the odds of survival.

Posted by: retired nurse | December 10, 2005 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Joel, that was such a good article, I couldn't put it down. Fantastic!!!!


Posted by: Dolphin Michael | December 10, 2005 3:59 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: jw | December 10, 2005 4:05 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: jw | December 10, 2005 4:05 PM | Report abuse

As in to be married JW?
Or are you again in touch with reality???


Posted by: Dolphin Michael | December 10, 2005 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Wonkette is already married.

Impaled or engagee?

Posted by: cordova | December 10, 2005 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations, jw! And best wishes to you and your lucky girl!

Posted by: Slyness | December 10, 2005 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Great news, jw! I'm sitting here with a huge grin on my face. I'm glad it went well. My very best wishes to you and Kristen.

Posted by: pj | December 10, 2005 6:36 PM | Report abuse


You did it!

And I'm so glad to know that the first thing you did after she said "Yes!" was to sit down and tell your Achenbuddies the good news. You can go ahead and call your parents now!

Woo hoo!

Posted by: TBG | December 10, 2005 8:44 PM | Report abuse

Great article, Joel! It took a while to digest and I will probably have to reread it, but I agree with dr about "elegant simplicity."

I had an uncle, and his wife and daugher who died from the infuenza epidemic in 1918 so have an interest in learning more about it - book about it is on my to read list. This lab seems to be a base that shouldn't close. Hope your article opens some eyes on the subject, Joel.

Congratulations, jw! To you and your lucky finance. (didn't save directions for putting on the tilde.)

Snow and cold in the boondocks, but they finally got the plane out of the intersection in the "Big City." Lucky that one was. It could have been much worse.


Posted by: boondocklurker | December 10, 2005 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Taken from the WaPo blog, Focus on Fairfax:

Posted at 05:51 PM ET, 12/ 8/2005

Note From the Editor

Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) did NOT post a blog item today about the planned changes on Route 7 (Leesburg Pike). The post has been deleted. If you happened to read it, the post was a failed attempt at humor. Please respect the integrity of the blog and refrain from posting bogus items.

Thank you.
Steve Fehr
The Washington Post

[I especially like the reference to the "failed attempt at humor." It's a good thing Steve Fehr isn't in charge of the Achenblog or yesterday's cow jokes would have also been deleted.]

Posted by: TBG | December 10, 2005 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Don't you just love it when Joel says, "I'm going to interview some scientist today" and then you discover that the scientist whom Joel has interviewed is one of the most important men of science of the day--the individual working on the current hot-button virus.

And now we understand why Joel was reading Jim Watson's "The Double Helix." I have many ways to make comments about Joel's excellent feature story (and a reread is necessary).

But yesterday, hubby and I played hard and stayed out late, and today we worked hard, ending late, so I can hardly see straight. Mudge, I did get your e-mail, but fatigue has done me in. (Thaks, bc, for doing the deed.)

One thing I noticed right off the bat, Mudge, is that your real-life last name is my mother's real-life birth name. A huge coinky-dink! It's beginning to feel like a quasi-family reunion on the Boodle.

jw, I just had a feeling...hope I didn't ruin any surprise by my conjecture? Congratulations! Two Boodle engagements in as many months, plus Nani's Boodle birth! The joint is hoppin'! So, jw, when's the wedding?

Posted by: Loomis | December 10, 2005 9:22 PM | Report abuse

If all of my failed attempts at humor were post-edited away, I'd be a lot younger!

Posted by: Bob S. | December 10, 2005 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Great article. Classic Achenbach. Is anyone aware of any group doing research between the inherent evolutionary tradeoffs between virulence and contagiousness? It seems like such a key issue in understanding how viruses and human populations interact. (I would ask this during Mondays chat, but, unfortunately, I work in an environment that frowns on such things).

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 10, 2005 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Great article. Classic Achenbach. Is anyone aware of any group doing research on the inherent evolutionary tradeoffs between virulence and contagiousness? It seems like such a key issue in understanding how viruses and human populations interact. (I would ask this during Mondays chat, but, unfortunately, I work in an environment that frowns on such things).

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 10, 2005 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Hey! Who changed the software!

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 10, 2005 9:27 PM | Report abuse

RD - Isn't that very trade-off the entire point of modern game theory mathematics?

Posted by: Bob S. | December 10, 2005 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Bob - I am characteristically ignorant of game theory, although one of my coworkers has mentioned it in another context. I'll ask him about it. Thanks for the insight!

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 10, 2005 9:40 PM | Report abuse

Glad to hear you closed the deal, jw! Congrats (again).

You're welcome, Linda.

I got as far as: "He will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m. at"

Huh. Like the 'boodle's chopped liver or something...


Posted by: bc | December 10, 2005 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Just finished the article--nice job, Joel. By coincidence, I'm about 2/3 the way through a book called "The Great Influenza," by John Barry, which is about the Spanish flu. Really great book, well written and very accessible, and covered all thr ground Joel did. Hope this is the one on your list, boondocklurker.

If I have got it right, RD Padouk, the book seems to indicate there isn't much (if any relation) between virulence and contagiousness. Among other things, the degree of virulence of a flu varies pretty wildly over a short period of time (the Spanish flu "morphed" considerably in virulence, but its rate of contagion seemed fairly stable).

---news flash--

At this moment, MPT is re-running the great Roy Orbison "black and white" concert that also features about 10 or 15 other notables performing back-up (Bruce Springsteen, T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Jackson Browne, K.D. Lang, J.D. Souther, Marshall Crenshaw, Jackson Browne, James Burton, and Bonnie Raitt, and I might have missed a few).


OK, back to the world. Gotta do an R.I.P. for Richard Pryor, and one for Eugene McCarthy.

Ah, Loomis, if only we were related to the famous people who had that somewhat famous last name I have and your mother had. Don't know about you, but I'd be sitting on a tropic isle somewhere sipping beverages with little umbrellas.

Can hardly hold my eyes open...will fall asleep listening to Roy. Jeez, how strange it is to see the camera pan across the people behind Orbison, and there's Springsteen quietly playing the guitar like he was some nameless studio guy they brought in for the gig. And Brown on the piano, and Raitt and lang as a couple of backup chirps.

'Night all.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 10, 2005 10:17 PM | Report abuse

bc, Joel's mentioned it before - the blog is beneath contempt...I'm not sure I can formulate an intelligent question to ask, but I'll try, since the chat is on my day off.

I was a Gene McCarthy supporter, although I was too young to vote - wow, what a bad year for Democrats (and America) 1968 was. And Richard Pryor - I remember how shocking he was at first (and how funny!).

Mudge, the Roy Orbison concert is great. I'm looking forward to the Cream reunion concert Jack Bruce.

jw, congrats! I assume we're all invited to the wedding (in a virtual way, at least).

Posted by: mostlylurking | December 10, 2005 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Bob S. - I acknowledged your wisdom at the end of the last boodle. Just thought you would like to know that you held the winning cards...

Side Note:
Geez, how's a drunkard supposed to see those letters in the typepad security feature. I hope this is a temporary issue!

Posted by: Kid Shelleen | December 10, 2005 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Certainly you're not referring to the actresses or the acrobats, but to Gilbert and Clarke you-know-who.

Posted by: Loomis | December 10, 2005 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Lee/Kid - Yuk, yuk! When the time is right, you can introduce the young'uns to these finer things of life.

R.D. - I misspoke about game theory having too much to say about trade-offs of contagiousness & virulence. There are a number of factors involved. If humans are the primary host, then something that's particularly damage-causing had better be DARNED contagious if it's to last long. This is exactly what happens with the occasional awful outbreak of flu. Between immunity buildup and pathogen mutation which leads to selection for less damaging forms, at least a few of us muddle through to wait for the next outbreak.

Leprosy gets by O.K. because it's got a few things going for it. It (like anthrax and any number of mycobacterial tuberculosis relatives) apparently can survive in the environment for a while in encapsulated form. But it also isn't dramatically lethal, and therefore needn't be especially contagious. I think that it has been called (almost certainly with intentional overstatement) the least contagious of all contagious diseases.

But if there's a host reservoir which isn't too negatively affected by the organism (this is the case with Ebola [presumably, anyway. The host hasn't been identified, I think], malaria & numerous others), then all simple trade-offs are out the window. Ebola is pretty darned contagious, and way up high on the lethality list. Rabies is not especially contagious between humans, but is also a thing well worth avoiding. Malaria, on the other hand, (which, in its most familiar form, requires both humans and mosquitoes in its life cycle, except not exactly, because the gametocyte which infects the mosquito can reproduce on its own, and at any rate is extremely difficult to pass between humans) doesn't make mosquitoes sick at all, and has human effects which are widely variable, depending on a number of things, including whether or not one (a human, I mean) carries the sickle-cell trait.

So, was that a long-winded enough way to say, "Forget the whole game theory analysis?"

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 1:30 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of rabies - I feel like I haven't made people nervous enough if I don't remind them periodically that it has an incubation period in the human body that can be more than two years!

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 2:21 AM | Report abuse

Bob - I must admit I was confused by the game-theory reference. But I get confused frequently. Thanks for the very insightful boodle. I was especially interested in your comments about Malaria. I have something called "Thalassemia minor," a totally benign trait that exhibits itself solely in my having odd-looking red-blood cells. Although I knew this trait is rumored to give me greater Malaria protection, I had never thought about it in terms of virulence verses contagiousness before. Wow. A pretty deep thought to have over coffee.

Posted by: RD Padouk | December 11, 2005 7:55 AM | Report abuse

During the Vietnam War, there was a Flu Pandemic in 1968, a lot of Vietnamese got sick, & some American soldiers also got sick. During the Spanish War, our gov't. kept the Flu epidemic overseas secret, didn't tell the public back home.

This proved to be really, really stupid, as it helped spread the epidemic. But don't panic, our gov't. is much smarter now, right? FEMA will do a great job!
Maybe there's some link between human wars & pandemic flu outbreaks. I read that soldiers living in such close quarters provided an ideal environment for spread of the flu. The crowded cities of Asia, where the current bird flu cases are occurring, are also ideal. MAD TV had a funny sketch about Big Bird getting bird flu Saturday nite. Poor Big Bird!

Posted by: Pollyanna | December 11, 2005 7:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm definitely bummin' over Richard Pryor.

When I was in High School in the late 70's he was an oddly unifying figure in my ethnically diverse school. Everybody loved his comedy; there was that overarching anger and sadness tinged with mirth over our very vulnerable human condition that seemed very accessable to teenage boys no matter what their background...

I'm gonna miss that m-effer.


Posted by: bc | December 11, 2005 10:49 AM | Report abuse

McCarthy's death brings back a lot of memories. We recently found this article in a 1976 American Heritage.

It's called "Machismo in the White House: LBJ and Viet Nam" by Larry L. King.

In writing about the Tet Offensive, King says:

"These and other optimisms [that the "Vietcong could not survive superior American firepower"] were repeated by the President, by General Westmoreland, by this ambassador or that fact-finding team. Now, however, it became apparent that the Vietcong had the capability to challenge even our main lair in Asia--and there to inflict serious damage as well as major embarrassments.

"It was a time demanding utmost candor, and L.B.J. blew it. He took the ludicrous position that the Tet offensive (which would be felt for weeks to come) had abysmally failed. Why, we'd known about it all along--had, indeed, been in possession of Hanoi's order of battle. Incredible. To believe the President, one had also to believe that American authorities had simply failed to act on this vital intelligence, had wittingly and willingly invited disaster. The President was scoffed at and ridiculed; perhaps the thoughtful got goose bumps in realizing how far Lyndon Johnson now lived from reality. If there was a beginning of the end--of Johnson, of hopes of anything remotely resembling victory, of a general public innocence of official razzmatazz--then Tet, and that press conference, had to be it.

"Even the stubborn President knew it. His Presidency was shot, his party ruined and in tatters; his credibility was gone; he could speak only at military bases, where security guaranteed his safety against the possibility of mobs pursuing him through the streets as he had often dreamed."


Brings a little meaning into the phrase, "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it," doesn't it?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 11, 2005 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Sorry to post anonymously.. the American Heritage quote is from me. The entire article can be found here...

Posted by: TBG | December 11, 2005 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Great "Bird Flu" Story Sighted. Ha! Great story indeed. I especially liked this part:

"The success of viruses implies that the fundament of life is not liquid water, or carbon molecules, or some mysterious essence, but rather information."

Indeed. As Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., says in -- you guessed it -- "What the Bleep Do We Know!?":

"We like to think of space as empty and matter as solid. But in fact, there is essentially nothing to matter whatsoever. It is completely insubstantial. Take a look at an atom. We think of it as kind of a hard ball. Then we say, 'Oh, well, not really. There's this little tiny point of really dense matter right at the center surrounded by a kind of fluffy probability cloud of electrons popping in and out of existence.' But then it turns out that *that's* no even right. Even the nucleus, which we think of as so dense, pops in and out of existence just as readily as the electrons do. The most solid thing you can say about all this insubstantial matter is that it is more like a thought. It's like a concentrated bit of INFORMATION."

And as Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D., says in the film:

"What makes up things are not more things. What makes up things are ideas, concepts, INFORMATION."

[Orange you glad I made this comment here, instead of saving it up for Monday's chat?]

[Actually, I don't think I'll be able to participate in the chat. I just wouldn't know how to relate to Joel in that format. Here on the 'blog, he's free to ignore our silly comments; in a chat, he's under some sort of obligation to respond to the comments that get posted. I don't think I could bring myself to put him on the spot like that.]

Posted by: Dreamer | December 11, 2005 12:18 PM | Report abuse

D'oh! It's GIANT Bird Flu Story, not GREAT. I could have sworn it said "Great."

Oh well, it *is* a great story. And a giant one too, I suppose.

Posted by: Dreamer | December 11, 2005 12:20 PM | Report abuse



:) :) :) :)

Posted by: Achenfan | December 11, 2005 12:22 PM | Report abuse

jw - congratulations! I just received (two days ago) an e-mail from an old high school friend who's been going through a years-long, drawn-out divorce. (Wait, it gets happy, I promise!) Part of her message was the following:
"I am dating. The most wonderful man on this planet. I have known him for 12 + years now! And we have been going out since September I believe. No, we had a few excursions in August! I have never in my life felt so much love from or for another human in my entire life. He is quite the gentleman, gracious and kind; fantastic with kids. He actually coached Jeremy pitching a few years back. He does not have a critical word toward or about me. If there is something he wants to critique, he puts in good and maybe a suggestion or I don't know how to describe it. I must say, the both of us have admitted to physically aching when we can not spend time together. Not just miss, Hurt. To talk, hold hands, share ideas, thoughts, I never knew this is what it could be. Oh how I wish I had waited till he crossed my path!!!"
I hope for you (and everyone!) a relationship that holds this much joy.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: maddy | December 11, 2005 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Dreamer, I'm trying to come up with a suitable question, but I thought maybe I'd say I was from Boodleville, WA...

Posted by: mostlylurking | December 11, 2005 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Ha ha, mostlylurking! That brings back memories of the Runaway Boodle . . .
But yeah, unfortunately I've got more ideas for Achen-related cities and towns than I have for actual questions.

How SCC of us, to think ourselves Not Good Enough for the Chat.

Posted by: Achenfan | December 11, 2005 1:43 PM | Report abuse

bc - I guess I'm probably about your age, and I echo your thoughts about Pryor completely. Every now and then I'm taken aback by how hurt I am when someones passes away that I really hadn't thought about very often.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that Joel is viewing the chat with some trepidation as well. His first couple of shots at it didn't go quite as he'd hoped, if I recall correctly.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

There's an interesting article by Deborah Howell about the differences between The Washington Post in print and online -

Joel gets a brief mention...Hmmm, I didn't know Froomkin caused such consternation - I like his column.

Boodle Boodle, WA

Posted by: mostlylurking | December 11, 2005 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I saw that. The brief mention of Joel made me chuckle:

"The site also has Web-only multimedia reports and blogs written by Post reporters, such as Howard Kurtz on the media, Mark Maske on the National Football League, Fred Barbash on Supreme Court vacancies and Joel Achenbach on just about anything."

Just about anything! Ha!

Posted by: Achenfan | December 11, 2005 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Dreamer, we physicists taught those MDs. We graded their homework and their exams. Whenever they presume to speak on the subject of physics -- like, for instance, the structure of matter at the atomic and subatomic scale -- we become very, very concerned, because we know that most of them didn't learn squat and didn't appreciate the meaning of physics. They just wanted a set of magical formulas that could make problems get solved and make A's appear on transcripts.

Ironically using a metaphor from an area in which I know, bascially, squat: I recall reading a jazz musician's comment (I can't recall who it was) that the secret to jazz isn't to play the notes, it's to play the rests. Matter consists of more than just 'matter' -- the nominally empty space between matter is just as important to its existence and to what it fundamentally 'is.' It is not correct to say that matter is insubstantial, that it's actually empty space. If there is anything that does not exist, it is 'empty space.' Matter exists just fine.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 11, 2005 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Joel mentions Jenner is his feature story. I want to get started, so to speak...

Does Jenner really deserve the credit he receives for "inventing" inoculation for smallpox? Or did he just capitalize on "folk wisdom" already resident in women? And because Jenner was educated--as compared to how many women at the time?--does the credit fall to him simply because he could read and write? And because he recorded his observations as a result of conversations with the women who milked the neighborhood cows? Was Jenner simply a gravy-grabber, who stole the limelight from the lowly milkmaid (somewhat analagous to the Watson/Crick and Rosalind Franklin scenario)?

"Jenner did not discover his vaccine as a result of long and arduous work in a laboratory. At the age of 19 years he was told by a former milkmaid that she could never have smallpox because she had had cowpox. Jenner recalled this statement when later, as a physician, he realized the futility of trying to treat the disease. He investigated and found that milkmaids almost never had smallpox, even when they helped nurse those who were ill with the disease. The idea of inoculating patients with cowpox in order to prevent them from having the more deadly smallpox occurred to him. This was true serendipity. The fact that cowpox gave immunity to smallpox came to him without effort on his part. He had the good judgment to recognize its value and make use of it."

"Research, Serendipity, and Orthopedic Surgery," Dr. E. L. Compere, 1957 article.

"Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, in 1749, the son of an English vicar who died when Jenner was six years old...He began his study of medicine under Daniel Ludlow, a surgeon of Sudbury, near Bristol. During this time, the milkmaid told him about the relationship between cowpox and smallpox."

"Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science," Royston M. Roberts, 1989.

The list of rewards and recognition for Jenner is a long one, including an honorary degree, a feast day in Germany, as well as statues in London and Paris. Where is the statue to the lowly milkmaid?

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Bob S. writes:
"Rabies is not especially contagious between humans, but is also a thing well worth avoiding....Speaking of rabies - I feel like I haven't made people nervous enough if I don't remind them periodically that it has an incubation period in the human body that can be more than two years!"

And I feel like I haven't made people nervous enough if I don't explain that the airdrops over the past decade or so to prevent rabies in critters who live in the wild uses, as a result of genetic manipulation, the rabies virus tucked onto the vaccinia virus. The vaccinia virus is the virus used against smallpox--which is definitely not your mother's measles vaccine. Vaccinia is now an enigma virus, mutated and changed over time since Jenner's day so that it hardly bears a genetic resemblance to its cowpocks precursor anymore.

Nasty case reported in the New England Journal of Medicine of a pregnant women in her late 20s who took her dog for a walk in the woods in northeastern Ohio. The dog got the rabies pellet stuck in his teeth. The woman tried to extract the pellet with her hands, and the dog inadvertently bit his mistress's hand and arm. The woman got home and washed her hands, but not the superficial bite on her arm, the opening for the vaccinia virus to enter her tissue. The woman's arm is hardly the pretty, plump fair appendage it once was.

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 3:42 PM | Report abuse

And the politicization/media manipulation of vaccine liability just about makes me scream...

Searching for Support

The trial lawyers' lobby has a new technique for pressing its opposition to proposals that would reduce or eliminate liability for drug companies to manufacture vaccines.

Run a Google or Yahoo search for such terms "bird flu" or "avian flu" and a sponsored link will pop up, leading to ads by a group called People Over Profits--which is actually a unit of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. They bear such headlines as "Bird Flu and Viagra: What do they have in common?" and "President Bush and Bird Flu: What Bush is not telling you." (The group also purchased "Rafael Palmeiro," not because he has anything to do with the issue but because the ballplayer gets Googled a lot in the steroids controversy.)

Now even Web searchers aren't safe from lobbying! And since sponsors can monitor the traffic, says ATLA spokeswoman Chris Mather, "you can change your message during the day if it's not working."

Media Notes: Another CIA Leak Probe?
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 14, 2005; 11:08 AM

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 3:46 PM | Report abuse

regrets for my previous post. I thought jw was a female.

what about scotty?

Posted by: cordova | December 11, 2005 3:55 PM | Report abuse

re: "What the Bleep"
"Jeffrey B. Satinover, M.D. has practiced psychoanalysis for more than nineteen years, and psychiatry for more than ten. He is a former Fellow in Psychiatry and Child Psychiatry at Yale University, a past president of the C.G. Jung Foundation, and a former William James Lecturer in Psychology and Religion at Harvard University. He holds degrees from MIT, the University of Texas, and Harvard University. He is the author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker Books, 1996)."

No doubt, a very learned man. But NOT my go-to guy when I'm looking for insight into the nature of matter!

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Loomis - You'd probably enjoy the little tidbit in the link below, which makes that point that the belief that cowpox exposure prevented smallpox infection, and also mentions lady Montagu's contribution to introducing variolation (early innoculation, practiced in Asia long before its introduction to the West) to England.

That said, I doubt that this knowledge was so widespread and widely believed as you think, and I don't believe that Jenner was just a fame-seeking hack. He published research (both collected anecdotal evidence and clinical tyrials) in order to convince doubters, and intentionally chose not to patent the process in order to aid in its availablility.

Here's a link to three of the papers he published on the subject (collected in the 'Harvard Classics'):

I'm just saying, maybe you shouldn't be so hard on the man. He really DID have something to do with a decrease in the incidence of smallpox.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Hmmm... left out part of a thought there. First sentence should begin:

"You'd probably enjoy the little tidbit in the link below, which makes that point that the belief that cowpox exposure prevented smallpox infection existed well before his time, and ..."

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Bob S. writes:
"That said, I doubt that this knowledge [of vaccination] was so widespread and widely believed as you think."

Vaccination experiments were conducted in England either before or concurrently with Jenner, time-wise--have to check my notes to get you the name of the other person toying with vaccination.

In other non-European cultures, knowledge of how to variolate was fairly widely known. Rev. Cotton Mather didn't "interview" his slave Onesimus just because he wanted to know about Onesimus' previous life in West Africa.

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Pollyanna writes:
"The crowded cities of Asia, where the current bird flu cases are occurring, are also ideal"

Coulda fooled me, Pollyanna. Everything I've read about the transmission of the virus from birds to humans happened in the rural provinces of Asia (China and Thailand) on farms where humans have direct contact either with bird carcasses--live or dead--or bird feces.

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Bob S.,

Cattle dealer Benjamin Jesty, 1774

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, I think that Pollyanna's point would have been that cities are a great opportunity for a virus to develop efficient contagion and virulence among humans. Avian flu is so far restricted to rural areas because the viral reservoir is among the birds. If the virus mutates to be transmissible between humans, then evolutionary action will move to areas that are more packed with people. Within a city, it pays to become more contagious if you are a virus that kills your host quickly.

You don't have to take anything away from Jenner if you choose to honor as well the wisdom of common folks. Whether he did it for selfish reasons or not, Jenner did the world a great service. Milkmaids may have known that cowpox conveyed immunity from smallpox. However, it's clear that milkmaids were not effiicent in spreading that knowledge (possibly for sexist reasons, but more likely for class reasons), nor did they develop an effective technique to distribute cowpox virus in order to create immunity. It's not effective to demand that every person work as a milker until developing cowpox. Jenner may only have received folk wisdom that already existed, but he converted it into an effective treatment and developed the persuasive case that caused it to be widely adopted. The world is full of cases in which more than one person developed the same idea (for example, Netwon and Leibnitz both developed differential calculus), but we still owe a debt to the person who persuasively conveyed that idea to the world. If your ideas are wonderful, but you never share them, you might as well have never had them. Perhaps the knowledge of cowpox-conveyed immunity was common among milkmaids whose public health efforts were stymied by British society, but we still should pay some honor to the fellow who was able to step past his class prejudice and perceive the truth in what his 'inferiors' told him.

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 11, 2005 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Of course, the knowledge to which I referred was the cowpox-smallpox immunity link. Smallpox immunization with live smallpox had been going on for quite a while before the cowpox vaccine was introduced.

Tim put nicely the point I was trying to make that Jenner actually did some praiseworthy things.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 11, 2005 6:26 PM | Report abuse

On re-reading myself, I see that I said "...more likely for class reasons..." but what I really was trying to convey was "more severely for class reasons."

Posted by: ScienceTim | December 11, 2005 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Tim and Bob,
I just think the horrors of Jenner's variolation stayed with him for the rest of his life, just as the horrors of having eczema vaccinatum as a child have stayed with me even up until now.

Jenner first:

Gloucestershire children who had not had smallpox were taken to a stable in Wooton-under-Edge owned by a Mr. Holbrow, an apothecary. The children had been "prepared" for the visit for six weeks, both bled repeatedly to make sure their blood was "fine" and administered violent purges to empty their stomachs. Sometimes, the children were given a sickeningly sweet herb tea, but they were otherwise starved, almost to the point of serious harm. Many, who by the time they had arived at Holbrow's stable, were emaciated, almost unable to walk unassisted and terribly ill, hardly prepared for the ordeal that would follow.

Edward Jenner was one of those children.

Jenner, then eight, was put on a table where Holbrow scratched his arm several times with the tip of a knife, as he did the arms of the other children, and there, over Jenner's fresh cuts, placed the dried scab of a smallpox victim before bandaging his arm.

Jenner was forced to remain in the stable for several weeks, surrounded by others who were in various stages of experiencing variolation. After about 10 days, Jenner, too, came down with a mild case of smallpox. He broke into a fever and had the typical bright red rash. Three days later the symptoms cleared up, but it took almost a month for the boy to recover fully from the combination of smallpox and the torture that preceded the inoculation.

I was nine years old when I had eczema vaccinatum. These slides from the CDC's adverse smallpox inoculation reaction slide collection do tell the story. They are for clinicians and may be hard for some to view:

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 9:07 PM | Report abuse

The article that is the next logical (reading) step after Joel's feature story is, in my mind, "Bird Flu Blues," by journalist Madeleine Drexler. It appeared Oct. 17 in

Key issues as Drexler outlines them:

Specifically, that means:

• Washington must offer financial incentives to American drug companies, so they wouldn't go broke making an emergency vaccine.
• In case of a pandemic, drug companies must agree to suspend patent rights.
• The federal government must accept all liability costs for pandemic vaccines.
• The Bush administration must lead an international campaign to prepare for, and defend against, the next flu pandemic.

Dreamer, I just have to disagree with you. There are many good follow-up questions that we could ask Joel about his article about bird flu.

Posted by: Loomis | December 11, 2005 9:27 PM | Report abuse

I just noticed that although Joel is scheduled to do the chat tomorrow at 1 p.m., there is as yet no link to the chat on the Web site. It's also not even mentioned on the home page list of chats (though it is mentioned but unlinked on the pop-up schedule itself). Wassup wid that, huh?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | December 11, 2005 9:48 PM | Report abuse

illustrations of bird flu virus H5N1

Posted by: kp | December 12, 2005 1:24 AM | Report abuse

Sorry to be caching up so late on this.

Dreamer, the point in Joel's article about INFORMATION registered with me as well.


Posted by: bc | December 12, 2005 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I thought it might, bc.

Here's a more complete picture of Jeffrey Satinover's career, to give him his due:

"Jeffrey Satinover, M.D. (psychiatry), ( M.S. (physics, doctoral candidate in physics). For over twenty years, Dr. Satinover has been an author and practicing psychiatrist. He was until recently a teaching fellow and doctoral student in the department of physics at Yale University, where he has completed a master's degree as a member of the Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics group and Yale's newly-established W. H. Keck Foundation Center for Quantum Information Physics. His area of research is in supersymmetric many-body theory as applied to quantum computation. His most recent book, The Quantum Brain, explores the interface of neuroscience, computation, artificial intelligence and quantum mechanics. He is presently completing his doctorate in physics at the Laboratoire de Physique de la Matiere Condensee at the University of Nice, Sophia Antipolis, under the direction of Didier Sornette, pursuing new techniques in the prediction of chaotic time series, with applications to biological systems, climate change and markets.

"Dr. Satinover is past president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York, a former Fellow in Psychiatry and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and William James Lecturer in Psychology and Religion at Harvard University. He is the author of the chapter on Jungian psychotherapy in the just-released Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy (Academic Press). He speaks widely on matters of public and educational policy and also on the interface of science and religion. He is one of three co-authors of a program of rigorous educational reforms that were adopted by the San Diego Independent School District, the nation's sixth largest. He has been asked on a number of occasions to consult to Congress and to prepare Supreme Court amici briefs. From time to time his talks are broadcast on C-Span. He served in the United States Army National Guard as a combat helicopter Flight Surgeon for the State of Connecticut and later as an Army Reserve psychiatrist.

"Dr. Satinover also designs market-neutral trading strategies for hedge funds that integrate statistical and adaptive (i.e., neural network, genetic algorithm and evolutionary programming) methods with extremely rigorous data collection, error-trapping and analysis.

"Dr. Satinover has written five books that have been translated into nine languages worldwide. George Gilder, best-selling author and publisher of the Gilder Technology Report says that 'The Quantum Brain is the first great book of the 21st century-and the first definitively 21st century book... A heroic and historic new vision that will be read with admiration and amazement in centuries to come...a promethean work.' Jack Tuzsynski, Professor of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Alberta has hailed it as, "A great feat ... Like no other book I know. The Quantum Brain... set[s] new standards for popular science writing. A tapestry of insights from ... mathematics, computer science, ...quantum physics, cell biology and more. Even the most active players in the fields of artificial intelligence or neurophysiology will find new information in this book.'"

Posted by: Dreamer | December 12, 2005 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Dreamer.

I think I've found another book I want to read, as big as that stack on my nightstand already is...


Posted by: bc | December 12, 2005 10:40 AM | Report abuse

But I think it's important we not lose sight of the importance of shape and its importance in carrying/conveying information.

Joel writes:
Molecular biology is to some extent the study of architecture. It's all about structure. Proteins...have many ways of folding themselves in three dimensions. Their structure determines their function. They roam the body in search of a correctly shaped receptor. They just want to fit int somewhere."

Matt Ridley writes on page 280-1 in his book, "Genome" about Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and prion genes:

"The truly baffling aspect of this proliferating knowledge of ignorance is that it strikes at the heart of an even more central genetic dogma than Francis Crick's. It undermines one of the messages I have been evangelising since the very first chapter of this book, that the core of biology is digital. [How very helpful that today's supercomputers can assist with pattern recognition.] Here, in the prion gene, we have respectable digital changes, substituting one word for another, yet causing changes that cannot be wholly predicted without other knowledge. The prion system is analogue, not digital. It is a change not of sequence but of shape and it depends on dose, location, and whether the wind is in the west. That is not to say that it lacks determinism. In anything, CJD is even more precise than Huntington's disease in the age at which it strikes. The record includes cases of siblings who caught it at exactly the same age despite living apart all their lives.

"Prion diseases are caused by a sort of chain reaction in which one prion converts its neighbor to its own shape and they each then convert another, and so on, exponentially. It is just like the fateful image conjured in his brain one day in 1933, while waiting to cross a street in London: the image of an atom splitting and emitting two neutrons, which caused another atom to split and emit two neutrons, and so on--the image of the chain reaction that later exploded over Hiroshima. The prion chain reaction is of course much slower than the neutron one. But it is just as capable of exponential explosion; the New Guinea kuru [among the Fore] epidemic stood as proof of this possibility even as Pruisner began to tease out the details in the early 1980s. Yet already, much closer to home, an even bigger epidemic of prion disease was just starting its chain reaction. This time the victims were cows."

Posted by: Loomis | December 12, 2005 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Me, to my friends:

"Anyway, so I'm in this online blog/chat thing, and everybody is getting all personal, and a few months ago these two 20-somethings, 'Sara' and 'jw' started flirting with each other. And they found out they had a lot in common--they were reading the same books, going to lunch at the same (chain) restaurant, even though they live in different states, it just got more and more interesting. And now, they're getting married! Not to each other, but..."

Posted by: Reader | December 12, 2005 12:07 PM | Report abuse

from the German:

"Taube" = "pigeon, dove"
"Berg" = "mountain"

thus "Taubenberger" = "of the pigeon mountain"

Hmm. Don't get me started on "Achenbach."

Posted by: PJW | December 13, 2005 12:51 AM | Report abuse

What about all the "kopfs"?

Norman was a heck of a guy, but, "Schwartzkopf?" C'mon. now!

Posted by: Bob S. | December 13, 2005 2:33 AM | Report abuse

Loomis - I don't think that dreamer will be completely on board with THAT thought. It will appeal to some extent, but I imagine that it's probably a little too tied to actual matter to seem entirely real.

Posted by: Bob S. | December 13, 2005 2:42 AM | Report abuse

Great article about H5N1.
Taubenberger has done great work too.

Two sentences stood out for me as I am interested in this subject and know that there is controversy over how viruses 'evolve'. Reassortment which was use and referenced many times in your article and Recombination that is NEVER reference in the literature seemingly.

The two sentences were...
"Some of the experts sounding the most dire alarms may be on a quest for funding." This is almost certainly true and most research scientist ARE seeking funding. The important question to ask is whether they sound the alarm because they are genuinely frightened because they 'see' the data and the codons differently that others. Henry Niman advocates recombination as the way in which viruses evolve as another means.
The second sentence that struck me was...
""We can't prognosticate evolution," he say.s" We couldn't understand viruses 30 years ago either, but then we could...because we had an open mind and pursued research. Henry Niman's work on recombination theory suggests that one CAN predict where virus change will take place and how. IF these theories are correct, then it would be possible to anticipate the changes that are likely to take place and build vaccine in advance.... At least this is my crude understanding of it.

I hope that you will investigate this technology with Dr. Henry Niman at in order to follow on your excellent investigation and enlightening reporting. It will serve us all well if you do. Thanks.

Posted by: StL Bill | December 13, 2005 11:32 AM | Report abuse

So....where'd all the kits go?

Posted by: Sara | December 16, 2005 9:28 AM | Report abuse

As Church Lady would say, "Well, isn't this SPECIAL?" Welcome to the time machine, boys and girls. Tomorrow will be yesterday, and the next day will be the day before that, and before you know it I'll have all my hair again!

Posted by: kurosawaguy | December 16, 2005 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Joel Our Fearless Leader - Are you being censored? Are you in trouble for getting into the middle of the Froohaha?

Posted by: RestonLC | December 17, 2005 7:59 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: Bird | April 26, 2006 10:51 AM | Report abuse

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