William writes:

Dear Professors,

I greatly enjoyed TWIV 400 with Harold Varmus, someone I have long considered to be an inspiring figure. Throughout the course of listening to the episode, I had in the back of my mind a question I was told to expect during one of my medical school interviews in 1997: If you could invite any 3 people living or dead to dinner, who would they be? Since Harold Varmus was one of “my people,” for me the entire episode was almost as if a variant of that hypothetical situation was unfolding. I’m sure you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when Dr. Racaniello asked the very same question of Dr. Varmus. What person interested in science wouldn’t love to be part of a dinner party including Dr. Varmus, John Enders, Peyton Rous, and Lewis Thomas? What a conversation that would be!

Looking forward to the next 400 episodes (and more)! Maybe in some future episode the TWIV hosts can give their own responses to “the dinner question?”



Bill Muller, MD, PhD

Associate Professor, Pediatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Attending Physician, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

Johnye writes:

Dr. R.,

Went to CuriosityStream /microbe. I’ve passed the web address along to some colleagues who are parents. I can imagine elementary school science teachers might be able to find resources there. Thanks for a new and interesting site to explore.

Johnye Ballenger


D writes:

V.R. et al.-

Although viruses are not specifically mentioned in the following article, it is intriguing to consider them (and their assembly/mutation) while reading.


Neeraj writes:

Dear TwiVOlutionaries,

Greetings from the Sunny Bay Area in California. The last few days have been quite hot out here but I am not complaining. It’s given me the opportunity to pursue outdoor sports and take my 1 year old son to the parks, that he absolutely loves.

On a more personal note, I have been an active TwiV/P/M listener for a while now and was introduced to this fascinating world of most educational podcasts by my boss Jeff Fairman (he was the only one who got the diagnosis right on your last case in TwiP, where the lady was observing “moving object” in her eye) at a small startup called Sutrovax in South SF. I have immensely enjoyed listening to your podcasts and so much so, that I have begun cancelling my music subscriptions to make time for listening to the fascinating world of parasites, which never ceases to wonder.

I began this journey of scientific research by Graduating from Rockefeller University (I am sure Drs Racaniello and Despommier will agree me that RU is still a hotbed of fabulous cutting edge research) and then moved to the west coast to pursue my postdoc work at Genentech Inc as I wanted to experience the world of biotech.

In reference to TwiV385 and In line with your discussion with Dr. Firestein, I agree that the present climate for promoting young scientists to pursue academic careers is becoming exceedingly hard. And even though funding is an issue, I don’t think it’s the only major one. I can speak from personal experience as well as from the experience of several of my colleagues at the time at RU. Coming from a background in Chemistry with no experience in biomedical research, I must say that my overall experience of learning lab science at Rockefeller University was absolutely amazing. However, the most disappointing and shocking aspect of my stay was the attitude of my PI towards mentoring and cultivating an atmosphere of curiosity driven science. Even though he gave me freedom to work on projects I was interested in, his inability to value time along with the ability to procrastinate were hugely demoralizing for me. Even after I finished work on 2 of the 3 projects I was working on, I had to wait for eternity “for god knows what” reason to submit the manuscripts that had already been written and edited so many times, that I had lost all charm in getting the story out. My passion for science and getting the data published were always at conflicts with my PI’s disinterest in getting the story out in time. On several occasions I was reminded that he has a tenure track and one more publication wouldn’t make a big difference anyways. Yeah to his career, but for a young scientist like me, that was devastating to hear and kept getting harder and harder to still muster enough motivation to keep slogging away with the hope that one day this will all be over. This experience always made me think, why is Tenure track really allowed? Why are these professors not accountable for their work like everyone else? Professorship is not about the comfort of the position but it’s a huge responsibility to cultivate the enthusiasm and the curiosity of the next generations of scientists. Given that no one ever teaches a lab head about how to be a good man manager, I think this is an aspect that should be definitely addressed since you can’t let people have autocratic power without accountability. Why not have a review system where the lab members can anonymously vote and spell out their grievances. Isn’t there a need for a review process right at the source where science is being done? This could avoid so many mishaps and altercations that I have witnessed in my career.

Still the flame kept burning and the passion for scientific endeavor was as strong as ever. Hence to pursue this, I applied and moved to Genentech for my postdoc at a Biotech. And the big change at a business enterprise was that everyone was “Accountable”. No Exceptions. It didn’t matter who the boss was, but when it was about getting the work done, nothing else could come in the way, especially not your ego. And this was a huge paradigm shift for me to see what makes a successful enterprise. The drive with which people attack a problem is infectious and it’s this culture that makes Genentech a front leader in getting breakthrough therapies approved day after day. I think your discussion with Dr. Firestein hit on several of these nodes but without any active decision making, I fear these will always be topics for a coffee table discussion only.

I have become totally addicted to these podcasts and would personally like to thank you for the noble effort of your entire team to have the passion for learning and educating everyone because we know more, when we all know more. The world of science is a fascinating one and I can never imagine doing anything else but be at the bench and make an experiment work. The satisfaction of it is hard to describe but the joy is immense to experience. We still have a long way to go and learn so much that’s unexplored out there. Your series of podcasts are an excellent way in getting a head start in feeding our curiosities. I wish you the very best and Alan, you have a gift at coming up with catchy headlines. And contrary to what people have been telling you Dr Racaniello, your exchange with Dr Despommier is most fun. I don’t think you are mean to him but just a very close friend of his.



Neeraj Kapoor, Ph.D.

Scientist, SutroVax

Bill writes:

In light of the brouhaha around the money mines of Elsevier et al…


and of course, the company that is upsetting their applecart…



not to forget these creative folk who rasp at the edifice.



Kevin writes:

Howdy TWiFolk,

I have also run into objections to the term “guys” in the context of trying to be inclusive in the classroom. There are already so many subtle obstacles to female students doing well in science (see this paper for many examples). Because of this, even if the reason for the objection is baffling to us privileged white men, it’s incumbent on us to remove what obstacles we can.

I applaud you for your efforts to stop saying “guys” when referring to a mixed-gender group, but you definitely need an alternative that serves the same purpose to make it workable. I wanted to offer one that’s worked well for me: “Folks” is gender neutral, still one syllable, and doesn’t have the awkward regionality of “y’all.” I’ve been mostly successful at replacing “guys” with “folks” in front of my students.


James writes: [re: virus dispersal by hand dryers]

Greetings TWIV-ers,

Great podcast across the brand as always. Just getting back to them after my relocation from London back to Scotland. I’m looking out my window on an usually clear sky, just outside Glasgow, with a sunny 8 degrees c.

I had already come across the virus dispersal article but I felt I had a couple of points to add.


Science communication with the public is a key challenge for science. I felt however this article was poorly reported to the public across all media. Even with the summary of the article.

Unless the public really think about this and read the original rather than relying on other outlets, it isn’t clear we are talking about dispersal from virus loaded sources, rather than post clean. While I accept the comments about public facilities and a lack of real effort to clean, does the potential dispersal factor not just make it similar to any other fomite- such as door handles. Given the relatively high exposure this was given in traditionally non-science high general population exposure should more of been made to highlight the need for good hand hygiene.


Given this was about dispersal, I have often had a thought about the paper vs hand dryer issue. Maybe this is something given partly due to my UK upbringing and our apparent disproportionate interest as Kathy mentioned. Paper towels have other drawbacks I have yet to see addressed. I have seen many times paper towels left within the ‘dispersal zone’ of toilet facilities, placed near taps, seen them soaking and likely absorbing bacteria.

Another issue, demonstrated in schools in Scotland, through science experimentation, is that a paper towel, when it comes in moist contact with a hand will allow migration of bacteria through the stack of paper towels. So when you remove the paper towel with your wet hand, and the one behind it is also damp… Just how often does bacteria pass on? This would be interesting to see weighed against the hot air driers. What if the person before you has the beginnings of a highly communicable disease?

But most of all, with good hand hygiene the air driers would not be a significant problem, or at least no more than door handles and taps.

Thanks for the great discussions and great guests!



Yegor writes:

Dear Vincent and Dickson,

Thank you for the wonderful interview with Dr. Stuart Firestein, it covered a lot of ground and was really thoughtful and thought-provoking. After the episode ended, I added both of his books to my reading list.

I want to comment on the topic of incorporating history of science into the science class. I think it’s a critical part of education and the human stories of perseverance and failure and amazing insights must be told. However, I do have a small note of caution. From my recollection of myself as a student (and from my limited teaching experience), I feel that students are not very interested in history. You may argue that I just was unlucky in not having a good teacher who could tell those stories well, but I think there’s more to it. First, one needs to have at least a general picture of the present before the past can make any sense. You need to teach about the key roles of DNA in biology and/or about the key questions of heredity before the student can appreciate the true importance of Watson’s and Crick’s discovery. Alternatively, you would have to properly set the stage and describe the state of science at the time of discovery (good approach, but it takes a lot of time). Second, when students begin to learn a scientific subject, they are presented with a long list of wonderful and amazing discoveries, which distorts their scale of progress. Everything is great and important and a breakthrough. One needs to see what a more “typical discovery” looks like and how the progress is made day to day in science in order to better appreciate a truly elegant and brilliant experiment. I found that my own interest in history of science (and history in general) grows in proportion to my age and knowledge about the world.

On a somewhat related note, several years ago I did a project where I went back through 30 years of HIV research, selected one or two papers per year (mostly going by the number of citations), and then asked one of the authors to write a commentary on that paper, putting it in historical context. It’s not exactly the kind of “taking the paper apart” that you discussed with Dr. Firestein, but some of them are quite interesting. You can find all these commentaries here: http://www.vaccineenterprise.org/hive/feature/591 and if you want to read just one or two, here are two good choices: http://www.vaccineenterprise.org/hive/feature/661 and http://www.vaccineenterprise.org/hive/feature/664

Best regards,


P.S: Vincent, if TWiV was a paper, would you be the first or the last author on it?

Yegor Voronin, PhD

Senior Science Officer

Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise

New York, NY 10004

Steve writes:

Hi Vincent and fellow gender-bewildered TWiVsters,

I sympathise with your problems trying to find the right or acceptable forms of address for people, both singular and collective, but recently read this being discussed on the BBC site, in regard to the various new forms of gender identity that are being recognised these days, and discovered that there is already quite a movement in US university circles to get new ‘non-binary pronouns’ accepted, so you are far from alone!

Personally, I don’t think that allowing people to specify their preferred pronoun really achieves much, because it still leaves people who don’t know them, guessing. However, for collective terms of address–as in trying to replace your ‘guys’–a reasonably reliable term ought to be findable, though the BBC article implies that none of the efforts to establish terms to date has yet caught on.

I had thought that, perhaps, we ought to go down the taxonomical route and try ‘Homos’, or ‘Sapiens’ (Homs, Saps), but those already have confusing uses! (Incidentally ‘Guys’ hasn’t, in my experience, been considered derogatory in England, but until recently, someone using it might have been considered a ‘pseud’ for putting on American airs. I think it would mostly be accepted now though.).  From reading the BBC piece, it rather begins to look as though the ‘non-binary’ replacement for your ‘you guys’ is likely to be ‘you theys’.  Looks odd at first, but nowhere near as confusing as the individuals who now want to be addressed as ‘they’ in the singular!

[Actually, thinking again: You’ve already coined your own terms, that will work on your podcasts at least: TWiVsters, TWiPsters etc. People suggest new ones to you in their letters every week. 🙂 ]

Personally I think that people attach far too much importance to their sex lives, and ‘sexuality’ in general, and do wish they would actually find something really important to get angry about. It’s not as if we’re short of impending catastrophes!

Anyhow, you might like to read and post this link‎ to the BBC piece, and you could possibly bring in a spokesperson from one of the Unis that are trying out the new pronouns.


Keep up the good work–though I have to admit that I’m finding all this genomic evolution stuff very difficult to follow (You could for a start, usefully, explain how long a base sequence has to be before it is unique and can only belong to, or have come from, one species.).

All the best.

Steve Hawkins




(Completely steel grey overcast at the moment, but, at least, not windy.)

Neil writes:

Dear Stuart,

Over this past weekend I listened to the latest TWiV podcast (https://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-385/) in which you participated. I enjoyed the discussion overall, and appreciated your willingness to devote your time and effort to activities beyond the securing of your latest grant or publishing your latest original report, which after all, are necessities to keep one’s position.

As it happens, I am an immunologist and clinical pathologist (I direct a histocompatibility and immunogenetics laboratory that supports organ and hematopoietic cell transplants) with major interests in such areas as immunity to pathogens, transplantation immunology, genetics, and the relevance of evolution for medicine. In addition, since my undergraduate days I have maintained a strong interest in logic and aspects of the philosophy of science, especially the philosophy of biology. So I wanted to provide a bit of feedback.

In general, I would guess that our perspectives are reasonably compatible. Certainly, I agree that the “the scientific method” is largely a fiction. That said, I do not accept that, as you say in your TED talk (I am not a fan of TED talks), science is really just “farting around in the dark.”  I do not question that experimental inquiry always proceeds in the presence of uncertainty and incomplete understanding (metaphorical darkness), but what scientists do, at least successful ones, is not usually (I allow for methodological pluralism) just random fooling around in the lab. Some ignorance does not correspond to total ignorance on any level: factual, methodological, theoretical, or conceptual. As you argued in noting the over-selling of the role of serendipity, significant discoveries are usually made by scientists with extensive prior education, training, and experience in experimental or observational investigation. Therefore, I think you were over-selling your point about ignorance, at least in the TED talk.

By the way, my antipathy to TED talks is multi-pronged. First, the atmosphere is worshipful with respect to the speakers, which is antithetical to the sort of somewhat critical attitude to speakers that is most appropriate in a scientific context. Second, and related to the preceding point, there are no questions. Third, there is a real temptation to distort the truth for cheap laughs or a bit of extra drama.

In the course of the podcast, there were many comments, too many to keep track of, that made me want to respond. So, I will just cite a few.

Regarding Ray Kurzweil, I think he is deluded. Below is a link to a commentary I published on his expectation of living hundreds of years. The original title was “BS about the singularity is here,” which was meant to evoke the title of Kurzweil’s book, “The Singularity is Near.” Very much without my approval, the Huffington Post editors replaced “BS” with “Hogwash,” a clearly inferior choice. I do not believe Ray has yet transcended his human limitations.


Greenspan, N.S. Hogwash about the singularity is here. The Huffington Post, July 7, 2010.



With respect to Thomas Kuhn and his extraordinary influence, I think his framework for how scientific revolutions proceed is massively flawed. One point is that he extrapolated to all of

science from a very small number of examples primarily from physics (a beautiful illustration of the limits of inductive reasoning). Biology is quite different. Although I have yet to write the article, I hope eventually to write a piece analyzing the discovery of MHC restriction, a major advance in understanding of how T cells recognize antigens, to explore how this “revolution” fails to conform to Kuhn’s rigid conceptions. In my view, the distinction between normal science and revolutionary science is at least much fuzzier than Kuhn allowed and possibly irrelevant to biology. Arturo Casadevall (a friend of mine) and Feric Fang have recently carried out a fairly thorough analysis (MBio. 2016 Mar 1;7(2). Pii:e00158-16. doi: 10.1128/mBio.00158-16) of what they hope are representative scientific advances and find that these discontinuities in understanding do not generally conform to Kuhn’s rather rigid Scheme.

The discussion on pitchers aiming for outside the strike zone went a  little off-target. Of course pitchers need to tempt batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone, but it cannot really be denied that some situations require aiming for the strike zone. Certainly, fast ball pitchers will sometimes try to throw at maximum velocity right to a batter’s sweet spot to demonstrate dominance. With the bases loaded in a close game I expect some pitchers will intend to throw strikes at least for some of their pitches.

The notion that lifespan extension has not created problems yet is clearly debatable. Look at Japan. Or, consider the long-term outlook for Social Security in the U.S. The absence of complete social disruption so far hardly demonstrates that there would be no problem if average human lifespan was 100 years.

I have no doubt that I would enjoy discussing an indefinite number of topics with you, but I do not make the mistake of presuming absolute symmetry. Nevertheless, if you do wish to respond, I will be pleased to receive your thoughts.

Best regards,

Neil Greenspan


Neil S. Greenspan, M.D, Ph.D.

Professor of Pathology

Case Western Reserve University

Kim writes:

Hello Vincent,

You’ve been mentioning crowdfunding on the podcasts now for quite a long time. I’ve been listening for a long time and your podcasts have influenced me a lot in my day-to-day life. The quality of the content you, and your co-hosts, make is astounding. I really would love to contribute to the podcasts in order to help you produce even more amazing content. Thus, I urge you to create a Patreon page so that all the people who love your podcasts can contribute and give back. You will be amazed by how many will want to contribute, and you’re missing out on a lot of funds every month you keep procrastinating on this topic. There are various entertainers, such as YouTubers, whom make huge amounts every month via Patreon and similar sites with content much inferior to yours. So, please Vincent… “Get with the program” (1).

Best regards,

Individual who is feeling more and more like a thief for every TWiX podcast he consumes.

Reference list:

  1. http://www.virology.ws/2016/02/12/scientists-share-your-zika-virus-reagents/

Dave writes:


I really appreciate your show, but I didn’t think I would ever have anything to write in to you about as I am not in a scientific field. However, I came across this game which made me think of you guys and lady guys called InCell VR on Steam.

They also have links to iOS and Android versions from their website, but the Steam page has a video.

It involves racing through a cell trying to beat an invading virus to get to the nucleus, and has some interesting visuals. It brands itself as a VR game, but a VR headset is not required (and I don’t have one). It is also free to play. I’m curious what you think.

Thanks for all your work creating an informative and entertaining show!

Ricardo writes:

Hello Twiv Friends.

I finally catch up with the late episodes.

Project Premonition was a wonderful idea for an interview. What we can do with grate minds, money, and the wish to make good.

On the last episode Dickson Weekly Science Pick was about Germany nearly reaching 100% renewable energy.

From the 7th of May till the 11th of May during 107 hours Portugal electrical grid was supported in 100% by renewable sources.

Alway a pleasure to listen to you gu… (sorry Kathy) all.


Ricardo Magalhaes, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Microbiology


Faculty of Health Sciences of Fernando Pessoa University

Rua Carlos da Maia, 296

P-4200-150 Porto


Fatma writes:

Dear TWiV,

I want to bring to the listeners attention a novel bioinformatics tool, recently published in Bioinformatics, that has the ability to predict virus-host protein-protein interactions. This can be of help for many virologists working on human viruses and want to limit their research space when it comes to find which human proteins are able to interact with their virus proteins. I am one of the researchers on that work (this does not make it not novel or less useful), and I will be happy to help any research group interested in using that tool. We are already helping different labs across the world, and I hope we will be of more help to the scientific community!

Please find the paper at:


Best Regards,

Fatma Eid

PhD candidate,

Computer Science Department, Virginia Tech

Stephen writes:

How mosquitoes use six needles to suck your blood.

I now like them even less.


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