Maureen writes:

Hi my instructors in science. I just listened to TWIV 438 and have to say I agree with Bob’s letter. I have been meaning to write a similar letter asking that parts of episodes be addressed to those not as well versed in the nuances of virology or microbiology. I love and have listened to all the TWIs for years but I do have a wish sometimes that there could be a summary for those of us who need it. I was thinking that a short layman’s explanation before the paper is read e.g. this paper is important because ____ and it shows_____. We’re excited about it because_____. After discussing the paper a few sentences that say e.g. in summary the authors wanted to explore ____ and the conclusion of the study was ____. (especially the TWIM episodes). I really enjoy listening to the episodes even though I haven’t a clue what you are talking about sometimes but I just wish I had a little clue. Anyway, I agree too with you that the conversation mode rather than the lecture mode teaches us well and makes us feel included. I often fall asleep listening to your podcasts and find my mind immersed in your conversations in my dream. However, I keep wanting to join the conversation in my dream because I become someone important and none of you will shut up to let me say something. I must remember to put my timer on to limit my listening while falling asleep.

PS I forgot to add my pick of the week. This dad is amazing and so much fun.

Simple Science Experiments You Can Do With Eggs Before Breakfast

Neeraj writes:

Dear All,

  This is Neeraj and I am mailing after a long time on TWiV, but not because I have not been listening (that never happens J), but because I have been distracted with a lot of things. And in between the chaos, there is always room for TWiV.

I am particularly intrigued by the last couple of episodes. From Episode 437, I was astounded to hear that getting repeatedly vaccinated against seasonal Flu isn’t that beneficial. Could that partly explain the poor cure rates for some of the recent vaccines that have been developed? In the same light, the discussion highlighted the importance of vaccinating young children (someday I shall explain my 2 year old the benefit of that needle prick which made him scream from the deep lunges on his lungs). Yes the Immune system has limited capacity but do we really understand the reasoning behind why doesn’t our body develop as strong a memory response against subsequent viral challenges as it does to the first one? Is it the nature of the virus or the differences so subtle that out surveillance fails to detect and magnify it? Fascinating stuff and just goes to show that even after decades of research, we are still learning things about such a small yet powerful entity i.e. the flu virus. Given the current breadth of research, I am hopeful that someday we will completely move away from generating these viral strains in chicken eggs and develop an orthogonal way of overcoming this infection.

On a more subjective note, I really liked the march for science discussion as part of Twiv 438. I do agree that telling stories about science is far more effective that presenting hard cold evidence only. Evidence can definitely be presented in support of the discovery but one always remembers and appreciates more, if one knows the origins / details of the journey that was undertaken for the discovery. I can personally share an experience from my graduate school days at Rockefeller University. I was admitted to the TPCB program and in the initial stages of the program, there was a provision where students had a chance to meet with the participating faculty, one at a time for a lunch / introduction session. A lot of the professors presented data to highlight what they were doing but the interaction that captured my imagination was the lifetime chance to meet with Dr Paul Nurse (A nobel laureate and the university president at the time). He didn’t show any slides but shared his passion for science and how it helped him to discover cyclins serendipitously in yeast. The whole episode is still vividly registered in my head and I will never forget the humility and eagerness with which he urged us to attack the problems we care about with full vigor. Failure happens. It’s the nature of science. But it’s still a data point and at times a very important one. It’s always harder to know what not to do that to go do something. Like Thomas Edison famously said  when asked about the failures he undertook before inventing the light bulb. He just said “I didn’t fail, I discovered 20000 ways of how not to make a light bulb”. Attitude is a big component of success in general, but especially so in science, given that majority of things fail.

In the present scenario, I feel at times scientists get too sucked up by the data. The nature of the trade has also made it harder to work on things where there is no foreseeable therapeutic benefit (I will never understand why). Science communication is tough but it is a necessity one should engage in. It doesn’t have to necessarily start at the level of society or has to be big, but it has to be simple to understand and easy to remember (especially if one can mention the impact it has had on our understanding of something). Overall, I do feel there is more noise than order when it comes to the way science gets publicized and with the current administration hell bent on doing deeper cuts (I hope not), I worry about how one’s enthusiasm can stay afloat to pursue a career in it. Someone once mentioned to me, “ideas are cheap, experiments are expensive”. I don’t think I was in agreement then and I don’t think I am completely in agreement now, but I do think there is a fair balance that needs to be struck. In the end, I apologize for the lengthy rambling but I would like to sincerely thank the TwiX series of podcasts for making many of us more literate about the diversity surrounding us, with an honest dose of rationality. These podcasts are much more than just scientific discussion. They are a tool for shaping how one should think about discussing science. At least that’s what I feel and experience.

March On,


Neeraj Kapoor, Ph.D.

Scientist II

SutroVax, Inc.

Laurel writes:

Dear TWiV Team!!

Good afternoon!! This is my first time writing, but rest assured, I am a long-time listener! For the past five years or so, I’ve enjoyed listening to you all whether it’s been during my marathon training, while using the microscope to study Human Papillomavirus in Paul Lambert’s lab at UW-Madison, or while dissecting fruit flies in Haifan Lin’s lab at Yale.  

Our weather this afternoon here in New Haven, CT is grey, humid, and approximately 18°C. It’s similar to the weather at the March for Science, so I think it’s appropriate to share a few reflections from last week’s TWiV episode (438) on science communication.

Before I heard from the entire TWiV crew last week (including Kathy Spindler at our Yale Science Journalism Symposium – thanks again!), I had a limited view of science communication; I thought it was solely about translating the complex language of science into accessible information. I still think that this is an important aspect of science communication, especially in the classroom, but I now appreciate the importance to connect science with people and their beliefs.

I see how relevant this connection is, particularly when I reflect on my beliefs and evidence of climate change. Today, I accept that humans have rapidly changed the climate of the earth. Yet, for many years, I tried to deny and ignore the evidence. It was easier to deny the evidence than to accept that I have contributed to global climate change.

As a scientist, I believe that if we want to use evidence to change policy (such as climate change, vaccinations, and education), then we need to engage in conversations that incorporate both beliefs and evidence. Relatedly, one of last weeks  TWiV audience members, the microbiology professor, asked about tools that the scientific community can use to teach students how to critically analyze what they read, especially on the internet.

One tool that I would like to suggest is Sally Hoskin’s CREATE program. In the CREATE program, which I’d like to nominate for a listener pick, students analyze articles from the internet or printed sources such as Wired, The New York Times, or National Geographic. Through questioning what they read and the experiments that would be required to reach the article’s conclusion, students become critical of how data is interpreted and portrayed.

While at the University of Wisconsin, I really enjoyed implementing the CREATE program in a freshman biology course. Another highlight of the class was that the students also had a chance to meet scientists including Shelby and David O’Connor.

Speaking of David O’Connor, a reoccurring guest on TWiV, some of my favorite TWiV Episodes include those where there is a panel of scientists and we hear their stories of how they became scientists.

Thanks for creating TWiV, I really enjoy listening!

All the best,


P.S. You can read about my own story of how I became a scientist on my blog here:

Neil writes:

Dear TWiVcasters,

Yesterday, I finished listening to episode 438 on scientific communication. This episode also includes a letter pertaining to the origins of the use of the word “bug” to refer to all insects (or to bacteria). Last December, I published a commentary (attached and directly related to scientific communication) on the use of the word “bug” as modified by the prefix “super” to refer to bacteria exhibiting resistance to multiple antibiotics in Pathogens and Immunity (P&I). My thesis is that the routine reference to bugs that are super when discussing bacterial pathogens with resistance to many drugs is frequently based on minimal thought. Furthermore, such intellectual laziness leads to an overly narrow perspective on the critical challenge of controlling the spread of resistance mechanisms. Regardless of what you think about my perspective, I believe the topic is worthy of broader discussion.

By the way, P&I is a relatively new journal hosted at Case Western Reserve University. The founding editor, Michael Lederman, a well-known expert on HIV, and the other senior editors (of which I am one) are dedicated to improving the experience of investigators in submitting manuscripts. So, for example, we permit submissions in any National Library of Medicine-approved format and only require adoption of our preferred format after acceptance. Anyone interested in additional information on P&I should visit:

With respect to the claims that several of you made about science exemplifying the pursuit of truth and the reliance on evidence and logic, science at its best does certainly approach these ideals. Of course, science is not always at its best, as many of you have noted at various times. Some scientists, clinician-investigators, and science journalists make dubious claims and these examples of exaggeration are by no means rare. The attached brief essay explores the sources, science-related and from other arenas, of what I claim is an ever-increasing volume of statements that are proffered primarily for motives other than promotion of the truth, i.e. what can be described as BS.

Since this essay was published, I have settled on a new term to denote the totality of BS, which was inspired by the revolution in biomedical methods for interrogating thousands of genes, transcripts, gene products, or metabolites in parallel. Thus, all BS can be referred to as the “bullome.” The field devoted to studying the sources and nature of BS, an aspect of the study of cognition and critical thinking, can therefore be called “bullomics.”

Best regards,

Neil Greenspan


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

Professor of Pathology

Wolstein Research Building, Rm. 5130

Case Western Reserve University

Jeremy writes: (re TWiV 439)

Great podcast guys. Clear. Articulate. Interesting. Exciting.

The PERV CRISPR target number is 62.

Never underestimate George Church !

Genome-wide inactivation of porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERVs)

Yang L, Güell M, Niu D, George H, Lesha E, Grishin D, Aach J, Shrock E, Xu W, Poci J, Cortazio R, Wilkinson RA, Fishman JA, Church G

Dennis writes:

Hi Docs,

In TWIV 439 with Paul Bieniaz (wonderful twiv) Dr.  Vincent raised the idea that someone is trying to remove many porcine viruses. George Church in a talk described how they are trying to remove 61 viruses simultaneously using CRISPR.  If this can be done then porcine organs can be used for human organ transplants. I don’t know the latest. That’s exciting work. his talk can be found on YouTube but I haven’t searched for the link (on mobile right now).  I think it was a World Science Festival panel discussion with several Biochemists.

Best to you and thanks for the education!

Jean-Michel Claverie writes:

I know how much you are into the saga of “giant viruses”.

You will find enclosed my translation of a press-releases from the CNRS concerning a forthcoming publication in Nature Communications.

I also enclosed a copy of the proofs of the article.

I trust you to respect the strict embargo imposed by Nature

Best regards and Happy Easter!

Jean-Michel Claverie, Dr. Sc.

Director, Structural & Genomic Information Lab. (IGS, UMR7256 CNRS-AMU)

Head, Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology (IMM, FR3479 CNRS-AMU)

Professor of Medicine (PU1/PH)- Genomics and Bioinformatics

Aix-Marseille University School of Medicine, APHM

Ken writes:

Dear TWiV-Fellow Plaque Lovers,

Just finished listening to TWiV 437 while – you guessed it – doing a plaque assay (only 5 plates, not 200, my wall will be pretty small).  Wonderful, and not at all boring, TWiV on viruses that don’t make you sick.  

I must admit to an inordinate fondness for spindle-shaped viruses, maybe I will have to compete with Kathy.  (Shameless plug: see the cover of the next issue of J. Virology, Volume 91, issue 10, but who looks at journal covers any more???. . . .), The bicaudaviruses that were found in the CORK samples (from just off the Oregon coast) are fascinating.  One in particular, ATV, is known to undergo an extracellular morphological change in the virion whereby it “grows” tails (see Whether the subsurface ones do the same is an open question.

Thanks for not one but two TWiV bumps, hope that they will help with my three pending grant proposals.  I was also very pleased to hear Kim’s e-mail about the SEA-PHAGES program at Washington State University, run by a buddy of mine, William Davis, a great program.  I am trying a somewhat similar Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (aka CURE), “Mutant Viruses from Hell” aka. Advanced Molecular and Cell Biology Research Laboratory, some of whose results are in the aforementioned J.Virology paper (

Sorry that I will miss the DC March for Science and the live TWiV, but will be participating in the Portland March, hope that you all have a grand old time.  Weather in Portland, 14C, classic April weather, either pouring with rain or bright sunshine, wait 5 minutes and the weather will change. (For Vincent: The cherry trees are just starting to bloom.)

I also have a listener pick, which I don’t think that TWiV has covered yet.  The Fab Lab with Crazy Aunt Lindsey, a YouTube channel with kids DIY science projects, from making butter, citrus batteries, to yeast growth, etc.  It is a lot of fun and definitely another science communication channel.  (Second shameless plug, stay tuned for a guest appearance on the Fab Lab by XtremeVirusProf in the next season.)


Jessica writes:

Dear Dr. Racaniello,

I’m an admirer and long-time listener. Thank you for your podcast!

I’m really happy you’re marching as one of my favorite scientists and educators. That said, I’m also disappointed that many scientists including on the TWIV team did not join the women’s march to promote the science/fact agenda as I, and many others (Dr. Spindler) did. Sure, it was mentioned on the show but felt more like an observation or musing than anything.  

This lack of support/participation in January feels to me like a perpetuation of the bias against women that remains pretty dominant in the STEM fields. Our male counterparts are comfortably outspoken about the usefulness and criticality of science and data but not about equality.

I feel like it’s an affront to female scientists that our male colleagues were not as motivated to march for social justice as a cause that may directly impact funding and jobs for them personally.

I’m still a fan and I’m glad you’re participating in the resistance and for a great cause but I’m just sad at the fact that you missed an opportunity to buoy a movement that whether obvious or not, impacts you, science, research, and society at large.

I just wanted to let you know as someone who has spent the majority of my life studying/working in science as a female that I will not march because I did already and I promoted science back then as I was encouraged to do.  There were actually many signs about facts, science and climate change to name a few so I was not alone!

Good luck on Saturday,


I was really conflicted about writing you as I’ve been really conflicted about whether or not to participate in the march! I really do admire what you’ve done with TWiX in educating listeners world-wide. I admire that you defend research and the scientific method including by marching for science, but I wanted to let you know that I had this internal struggle.

I can relate to your personal feelings of disappointment because, when I participated in the women’s march in January and read many opinion pieces from women/people of color citing their disapproval of the march, it enabled me to understand that the dismissive sentiment is valid and fair. I hadn’t thought about it at the time I signed up for the march that I had been “absent” from many important demonstrations before the women’s march.  We all could have, should have marched many years ago to insist on justice and equality for our friends of color, women, refugees, immigrants etc.  In a recent example, we (marchers) should have showed up when the Black Lives Matter movement mobilized but many of us didn’t and we failed to drive the necessary change.

We all have blind spots, it’s part of life but those of us who have privilege can change the world if we recognize those shortcomings and make a point of helping where we’re needed going forward— I’m committed to show up to demonstrate for justice for all as often as possible.   I really appreciate your response and the efforts you’ve made previously to promote more diverse representation in science.  I also sincerely appreciate that you’ll use your influential position to continue to lift up your underrepresented colleagues.  

Thank you so much again for your response, I really do look forward to hearing about the march and great new episodes of TWiV.  I promote the podcast often as a biosafety professional supporting R&D because it’s important to me that folks working in this field understand the science.

Brian writes:

Hey, docs! Love the show, I listen often to all the TWix series, though TWiP and TWiM get more of my time; however, I wouldn’t have discovered them had it not been for this show.  I just couldn’t let it go when Alan, who I normally would think has much more sense and credibility to his statement or rather mis-statements, when he was talking about the size of the U.S. military.  We are not the largest, that would be China with 2.3 million which is about  3/4 quarters of a million more troops than the U.S. in 2nd place with 1.5 million troops.  Then you had to go a step further and say larger than the next ten biggest… well that number (of the NEXT TEN LARGEST, not the TEN LARGEST) is 7 MILLION, 53 THOUSAND, 201 to be larger.  Also, shame on Dickson, my favorite voice on the show, for affirming in the background with “correct”. I promise, I forgive you both.  I am sure I am not the only one to catch this ( at least I hope I’m not) but I felt the need to make the correction.  I don’t mean to sound critical but rather constructive, I know you are passionate about the issue at hand (NIH budget) and probably didn’t think that one through.  Happens to us all.  I am sure if my words were out there to be scrutinized by the masses that I too, would have several if not many mis-statements.  Anyway, I have beat that horse enough, and I am ready for another paper!

P.S.  Be nice to Dickson!  Only the listeners get to pick on him!  Haha just kidding, I love the banter and chemistry of the whole crew, you all make the show what it is.  There couldn’t have been a better cast for Seinfeld and there couldn’t be better for TWiV either!

Allison writes:

Dear TWIV masters,

   As Vincent spoke about the yellow fever vaccine in TWIV #430, he called Anti-Vaxxers “morons” because surely they would be against it, but all of you have it wrong. We don’t care what adults do to themselves, we worry about the kids, like the baby getting five shots in the photo below, with zero follow-up studies for any harm done. Because vaccines are considered harmless and left out of every equation, thus, the results of this great experiment continue to be ignored and no mysteries are solved. When I told the nurses at the clinic that the DPT they gave my son had paralyzed him for three days, they ran. So, I never brought any of my five children to doctors again. Does anyone remember back in the 1950s when there was only the DPT & OPV, and the OPV was broken up? Today, babies are getting 25 doses by 6 months, and the “Gee, that’s funny” observation of a most bizarre reaction called autism has been begging for scrutiny. [OPV was not in the 1950s]  My thought too!

   The bottom-line is that the vaccine debate is a subject divided between the witnesses of adverse events in their children, like myself, and those whom have not seen any. I was lucky because no one could say that something else paralyzed my son, in his case it was the tetanus toxin in his DPT shot lacking anti-toxin. Understand that many anti-vaxxers know what they saw and that is why they hold their ground, like my friend whose 3 year old had the immediate reaction of a seizure to the HepB shot right there in the clinic, and stopped talking.

    Thus, either, vaccines are safe all the time or the risk is worth it, with the latter being more honest and already proven to millions of parents for whom the risk was not worth it, and no medals were handed out. At what point is someone allowed to consider the downside to injecting too much, too soon, and too many times? How can nothing go wrong when common knowledge admits everyone will react differently to the same drugs and the same microbes.

    But I do want to thank Vincent for his brilliant comment on TWIV #16 at 23:40 mins, when he exercised the scientific method by saying: “I feel personally that there isn’t scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, but ya know, this is a very complicated thing… it may be in a certain child under certain conditions with a certain genetic background it does something that we don’t understand at the moment. We have limits as to what we can do…”

   I agree that we have limits as to what we can do, especially when scientists can’t find grants for negative research nor can they publish any negative findings. So, my question is this: As more vaccines are added to the schedule for children, at what point does one ask, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Do keep up the good work… I have listened to all your podcasts, every TWIV, TWIM, and TWIP, and have enjoyed them thoroughly!

Best regards, Allison

P.S.       By the way, polio vaccines do not cause autism. You should be happy to know that they’re not on the list. And, although the OPV can be problematic in children with weakened immune systems, because they can’t mount a  proper defense in the 24 hour window of time before the virus reverts to virulence, still, I like the OPV because it’s non-invasive, uses no adjuvants, and won’t leave children on the spectrum. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the IPV, because the body hates to be injected with phenol!

She sent:

Babies get 25 doses* within the first 6 months of life that are up to 3x their body weight**.

*Diphtheria (3x), HepB (3x), HIB (3x), Flu, Pertussis (3x), Polio (3x), Rotavirus (3x), Strep (3x), Tetanus (3x).  

** Newborns to 6 year old children get ‘Universal Doses’, which are One-Size-Fits-All and made for the oldest at 50lb. These shots are given to preemies at birth, despite their gestational immaturity.      

VRR: in the interest of accuracy, I must correct some misinformation in the letter above, lest it be used to propagate falsehoods about vaccines. There was no OPV in the 1950s. There is no phenol in IPV. Babies are certainly not given up to 3x their body weight in vaccines in the first 6 months of life. And the only vaccine give at birth is HBV; others begin  1 month later (see this schedule).

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