Anthony writes:

“[Propaganda] must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect… The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses.”

— Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, pp. 180

And here’s what a contemporary political consultant says:

“Victory is determined by an emotional response in the gut of the audience, rather than by an intellectual response in the mind of the audience. The heart, not the head, is the proper target.”

Thank you for your great appearance on TWiV.

Ralph writes:

Howdy from Texas,

It is 73 degrees  and cloudy here in Dallas. First, I want to thank you for sending me a copy of Vaccines and Your Child a while back. I hope it has better prepared me to talk about that subject if I run across someone who is against vaccinations. I have not met anyone like that in a while, which is good, for the most part. I would encourage almost anyone to get vaccinated against major viral threats. But, I wonder if you would call me anti-vaccine. That is because I do have some problem with the government requiring parents to have their children vaccinated. I do know about herd immunity and the risk choice brings.

I have a couple of comments about today’s show. The first is a mistake I see way too often lately. You draw invalid conclusions about people based on their positions and needlessly demonize them. For example, you describe people as anti-science because they are

against GMO foods.  I am very pro-science and also against GMO foods. I think most GMO foods are safe, but because of the way the patent system works, I think GMO foods concentrate way too much power in the hands of a few corporations and threaten long term food security. My objections have little or nothing to do with science.

The second comment is about climate change. The problem here is mostly about people trying to simplify this issue too much and drawing invalid conclusions. The person in your group who seems worst about this is Dickson Despommier. People who argue for lots of government

intervention on this issue often describe the problem, to the extent there is one, as man-made. The science on that is very weak, and I usually characterize it as junk science. I also rarely hear any comments about the benefits of warmer climate. For example a wider range of land is suitable for important crops like wheat. So, when I hear the term climate change denier, I am put off. There is some evidence to support the claim of warming of the planet in the last 100

years, but nothing useful about it being man-made. Do I call myself a denier?  How can I ignore the evidence just to support an argument by people who want the government to control more of our lives?  I listened carefully to the Skeptoid episode “The Simple Proof of Man-Made Global Warming” which proved nothing of the sort. Brian is not a scientist, but I listened after you recommended the show months ago. It does not make me anti-science to have doubts about anthropomorphic climate change or to doubt that the government can solve the problem.

To specifically answer Rich Condit, I am conservative and I am a computer scientist. I was trained to think logically through a problem. I led a debating society for a while and Alan is right about it teaching critical thinking. The liberals seem to want to control our lives and use every excuse they can find. When does the government ever want to let go of power?  And, when the evidence is as weak as it is for climate change being man-made, it seems natural for conservatives to answer their way they did in that poll. I don’t watch TV. I have not had a TV since 2001, so I never saw much of Fox cable.

I call myself a computer scientist, not a software engineer. That decision is mostly political. I live in Texas and in Texas, it is illegal to advertise yourself as an engineer unless you are board certified as an engineer. This goes back to the early 20th century after a bridge collapse.  I learned the history from the father of a friend who was grandfathered to be able to call himself an engineer without that certification.

442 is a good number. My first car was a Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 and it was a really fun car to drive. In episode 441, I cringed when Vincent made his Y chromosome joke, because I knew he would catch grief for it. I knew he meant nothing bad, because he is so wacko left wing. But, so it goes. I don’t listen to just those I agree with.

My listener pick is a dilbert cartoon:

Have a good day,


Angela writes:

Dear TWiV team and science activists,

I was so impressed with what you all had to say on the podcast from D.C. that I am listening to it for the second time and am inspired to write a blog post based on your message. You may recall from Rich, that I write a blog about Vipassana meditation and special needs parenting. You may wonder what science advocacy has to do with Buddhism and Epilepsy. The answer is EVERYTHING. For a more in depth exploration of the topic, you’ll just have to wait and read my blog post!

I write to you today to ask your permission to quote the podcast in my post. I will include links to TWiV and give full credit to each of you.

Also, I have a couple of responses to your comments:

First, I believe it was Dickson who discussed the old Mr. Wizard show and commented that we need something similar today. Well, we have it courtesy of Bill Nye and his new Netflix show, “Bill Nye Saves the World”. Lots of fun and geared toward adults.

Second, Janis Joplin got her start playing at Threadgill’s in Austin. The place started as a gas station & beer hall. It has the distinction of being granted the first beer license in the country. Rich, as an Austinite, it behooves you to learn more about the history of your new home (The Live Music Capitol of the World). Check out to learn more about your new neighborhood.

Keep up the excellent podcasting!

Angela Black, MD

Marion writes:

Twiv 442. An important topic, no doubt. But there was little new here. Moreover, it appeared that the panel was unaware of other important work on the topic.

As for the idea of “planting doubt,” the 2014 film “Merchants Of Doubt” clearly laid out that the oil executives deliberately learned techniques from tobacco executives about how to seed doubt when little genuine doubt existed in the scientific community. Towards the end, one executive even admits that they deliberately warmed the climate in order to improve access to arctic waters to drill for oil. Currently, there are still several prominent media-savvy paid shills for the oil companies who continue to promulgate the false “doubt.”

As for the idea about correlations between political affiliation and reactions to science, The 2005 book by Chris Mooney, “The Republican War on Science,”(2005)” …( To quote wikipedia) ..”argues that the [W Bush] administration regularly distorted and/or suppressed scientific research to further its own political aims.” About his 2012 book,  “The Republican Brain”  (also from wikipedia): “Paul Krugman wrote in The New York Times that Mooney makes a good point: the personality traits associated with modern conservatism, particularly a lack of openness, make the modern Republican Party hostile to the idea of objective inquiry.[7]Mooney’s work is evidence-based.

Also, the April 28 issue of Science cover story is on this topic.    Rather than the tiresome and vague mantra that narratives are more effective than facts, they give multiple  possible solutions:

  1. “appealing to consensus among scientists”
  2. Tell parents that their choice could hurt other people’s children
  3. Casting doubt on the credibility of sources of misinformation
  4. Making vaccination as convenient as possible
  5. Legislating to make it harder to get exceptions
  6. Pediatricians refusing to take unvaccinated patients.

My point is not that narrative is necessarily ineffective, but that science denial is at core a political issue. Its “followers” are being manipulated through multiple psychological tools.

Martin writes:

Dear Professor Racaniello,

sending greetings from Europe, english is not my first language, so please be patient with me.

I am a big fan of your virology lectures on youtube,

I have got an university degree in mechanical engineering, and i believe in Creator of all life on Earth.

I am not a religious fanatic, i do visit church only few times per year.

Please allow a brief intro:

Because i am mechanical engineer, i just can’t digest some ideas what biologists present in 21st century, in Era of advanced engineering and supercomputers.

I could name a lot of examples where huge engineering problems have been solved by so called random mutations.

e.g. RGB image processing, sound processing, autofocusing, or, another very complex engineering challenge – the synchronizing of human eyes movement …

There are so many other examples i could mention …

something more recent – this is one of my favorite – functional gear which sychronize movement of bug’s legs when jumping,

have a look here:

as an engineer, i just refuse to believe, that functional gear can be assembled by chance, by random mutations without any intention AND KNOWLEDGE in physics, math, mechanical engineering.

Nevermind, i have also a question from virology:

I hoped that one of your lecture named ‘Virus evolution’ will explain where viruses come from.

Unfortunately, I did not learn.

Please try to ignore that i believe in a Designer, i really like your work, i realize how smart and educated one have to be to do such research.

I am also glad you share your research with other people – for free.

You said, virus purpose is unclear but these things are everywhere.

Moreover, viruses are part of our genome.

I was wondering, what do you think about my idea,

of course, it is biased, i am still someone who believes in an Engineer,

but please try to ignore it for a moment,

here it goes:

Today we see a lot of electronic devices which needs to be updated from time to time with new firmware, not to mention, that whole operating systems need to be updated as well.

When you consider, that a virus DNA is a part of our DNA, and when you would accept that DNA is a designed ‘code of life’, could a virus be some kind of update code?

in your lecture you said, most of the viruses do not seem to do any harm….

Perhaps they do good and update the genomes in some way

I hope i do not sound too crazy ..

lets assume, there is an Engineer who has designed all life on Earth and he loaded all the information to various genomes.

If i would be that Engineer, i would like to keep a way how to update my ‘creation’ from time to time –

but i would like to do it gently, without too much fuss, without to kill a thing, just to tweak it a little.

You are the expert, can you imagine, that a virus could do the job? The update-job?

You said you see viruses everywhere, plants, animals, humans, bacteria, even viruses ‘infect’ viruses.

I apologize for being ridiculous, but if i would be that Engineer, i would definitely design some ‘backdoors’ to be able to tweak the organism.

Moreover, some scientists thinks, that some viruses might be a way how to regulate population (e.g. bacteria population)

this is not what i exactly thought, although i can imagine, that Engineer may have designed some kinds of viruses for regulation purposes as well, in case that something gets out of control.

But i would like to stick with my main question – the ‘code update job’, if something like this could make sense.

or does it sound too crazy?

Thank you

Jens writes:

Dear Vincent and TWiV Team,

Thank you very much for discussing our paper on a novel mononegavirus (PpNSRV-1) on TWiV 434 so patiently. Since you called me (Jens) out by name directly (thank you!), we thought we would respond to some of the discussion points that were raised by the Team. Feel free to cut this somewhat lengthy reply at will should you choose to read it on the air.

You asked about the definition of a “drosophilid”. The suffix in this vernacular nomenclature term, “-id”, is all you need to pay attention to. In all non-viral nomenclatures, suffixes such as this one tell the reader to which taxon a particular organism group belongs to, and the suffix is directly correlated with the suffix in the official formal name. “-id” is typically reserved for families as in this case: a drosophilid is a member of the family Drosophilidae.

This correlation holds true throughout most taxonomies: for instance gorillas are hominids (members of the family Hominidae) as are orangutans and humans. One rank up: hominids and hylobatids (members of the family Hylobatidae, i.e. gibbons) are hominoids (members of the superfamily Hominoidea). One rank down: humans are hominines (members of the subfamily Homininae) but gorillas are not (they are gorillines, i.e. members of the subfamily Gorillinae). Once thought through, you now know what are: canids (aha! Not all canids are canines, but all canines are canids!), bovines (yes, that’s a subfamily) etc.

In virology, we unfortunately have not yet installed such a system systematically, although especially plant virologists are avant-gardists and are increasingly using a similar system (bunyavirids, anyone?). In 2006, Vetten and Haenni suggested to introduce taxon-specific suffixes for virologic vernacular names (PMID: 16721512). Accordingly, the collective members of orders, families, subfamilies and genera would receive names that have the suffixes -virads, -virids, -virins, and -viruses, respectively. Thus, ebolaviruses (i.e. members of the genus Ebolavirus) would be filovirids (members of the family Filoviridae) and mononegavirads (members of the order Mononegavirales). Implementing this system would have the advantage that ambiguities in name calling would be diminished. For instance, a reference to picornavirads would immediately clarify that we are talking about members of the order Picornavirales, whereas a reference to picornavirids would mean we are talking about members of the family Picornaviridae only. Currently, the often used term “picornaviruses” is ambiguous. Alternatively (or in addition to implementing the vernacular suffix system), we could finally start an effort not to have taxon names that contain identical word stems: if either the order name Picornavirales or the family name Picornaviridae were changed, then the ambiguity about the word “picornavirus” would disappear, for instance.

Especially during the Easter egg after the end of the episode, you seemed very frustrated by the very many specific entomological terms used in our paper. However, we are of the opinion that scientific writing ought to be as succinct as possible. Maybe it is a consolation for you that entomologists think virologists are insane with their specific terminologies and that reading a virology paper for an entomologist may be as frustrating as reading an entomology paper is for a virologist?

We think the TWiV team was highly successful in explaining our paper and the various terms to the audience and we enjoyed the episode a lot. However, you honed in more and more on the term “secondary sex ratio” and in the end you even suggested this term may  be derived from a wrong Google translation from the Chinese. We of course love making up terms as much as the next scientist. But unfortunately we cannot claim “secondary sex ratio”, a term that has been taught in elementary biology classes for decades: the primary sex ratio is the sex ratio at conception; the secondary sex ratio is the sex ratio at birth (for insects at emergence); the tertiary sex ratio is the sex ratio at adulthood; and the operational sex ratio is the sex ratio of males and females ready to mate.

Thank you for calling me (Jens) a persuasive guy. Maybe I should have been more persuasive when it comes to choosing the virus name. However, I respect the name the discoverers chose for the virus. Naming of viruses will become increasingly difficult in the future with hundreds, thousands, or even more new viruses discovered in single studies. You referred repeatedly to the Nature paper from right before Christmas describing some 1,400 new RNA viruses (PMID: 27880757). In that case, the authors simply used the place of discovery, the host it came from, and a number for virus name formation. Thus we now have “Hubei diptera viruses 1-19” with two of those being orthophasmaviruses (6 and 7), three being phenuivirus-like (3-5), 2 being rhabdoviruses (9 and 10), one being close to PpNSRV-1 (11), three being partitiviruses (17-19), one of them being a picornavirus (1) etc. In the case of PpNSRV-1 you do not have isolation place information in the name, but at least you do know the host (Pteromalus puparum) and at what kind of virus it is (a negative stranded RNA virus). I do not know which format is preferable and I doubt there will be universal agreement on any format across subspecialties. Unfortunately, there are currently no nomenclature standards for virus naming or virus name abbreviation formation – I wish there were. Personally, I am of the opinion that virus names ought to be very short and that they do need to contain any kind of information (we do not say “sub-Saharan fierce felid 1” but seem to be okay with “lion”, thus I prefer virus names such as “Measles virus” over long constructs). However, opinions differ among virologists and naming especially quickly becomes emotional. We have names such as “Pteromalus puparum negative-strand RNA virus 1” in mammalian virology as well. Think about constructions such “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus”, “severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome virus”, “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus” etc. Yet, while I find these constructions indeed horrible and in practice unusable (there is a reason why people say “MERS virus” and “SARS virus”), these names seem to be supported by a large cohort of virologists.

You mentioned that we assigned PpNSRV-1 to a novel species, Pteromalus puparum peropuvirus, and that thank God you now may not have to use “Pteromalus puparum negative-strand RNA virus 1” anymore. You should know from my last TWiV with you, though, that species and viruses are not the same thing – hence “Pteromalus puparum negative-strand RNA virus 1” is here to stay at least for the short term. If the difference between species and viruses is still unclear, then I suggest doing a supernumerary TWiV episode on taxonomy J

Finally, I would like to point out that the 1,400 RNA virus Nature paper indeed uncovered several PpNSRV-1-like viruses, which will change the phylogeny of mononegaviruses. Preliminary analyses now suggest that PpNSRV-1 is not a new nyamivirus as we thought, but instead the founding member of an entirely new mononegaviral family. We hope to finish an official taxonomic proposal before this year’s ICTV deadline (June 8).


Jens on behalf of all co-authors (copied).


If you or the audience is interested in the latest official taxonomy of the order Mononegavirales, please look up PMID: 28389807 (published April 7).


I can’t tell you what the weather is like here in Frederick, MD, because this email was so long that it changed at least four times while writing it as is typical for the area. Looks warm, though.

Jens H. Kuhn, MD, PhD, PhD, MS

Virology Lead

Tunnell Government Services

Carolin writes:

Dear Twiv-sters:

I really enjoy your podcast and would like to tell you how you have helped ‘salve’ a wound in my heart after 25 years:

You see, I am lawyer with a biochemistry degree. In 1987, I received my bachelor of science in Biochemistry from Michigan State University. During my junior year, I encountered two professors in our microbiology class. They were “researchers”, not the usual professor who was on sabbatical. At the time, I was having some trouble with my eyes including some eye infections from wearing contacts for long hours while studying. So I sat in the front row close enough to see the board and slides, etc. As a result, I was horribly picked on by the professors, who called on me and gave me a horribly hard time when/if I did not know the answers. I was so angry, that I studied extra hard and got an A, the second highest grade in the class after a graduate student.

Unfortunately, this experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth about whether or not I would do well in graduate school. I looked around and found law school to be my alternative. I’ve done okay as a lawyer, graduating from the University of Michigan in 1990 (Go Blue, Kathy!) and even enjoyed it sometimes. I have used my science background and love of science as much as I could, including a few years of patent law and 12 years of representing persons injured by asbestos injuries, battling with asbestos manufacturing over the epidemiology of causation.  However, I have always wondered what had happen had I taken the road not travelled and gotten that masters degree…

So every time I listen to a Twiv podcast, your professional, positive attitudes are very healing to me. I appreciate how you are all still curious about each other’s work, how you share information and ideas and address controversies with care. I do wish I had professors like you in my microbiology class. There may be a young female student blinking hard in the front row someday who will really really appreciate it.

Thanks much and keep up the great work!!

(p.s. I really enjoyed the discussion of viral plaque assays. I actually did follow a lot of it after all these years!)

Carolin K. Shining

Shining Law Firm

Sherman Oaks, CA

Noah writes:

Dear Beloved Professors and TWiVers,

I am a microbiology major at the University of Florida and a verdant TWiVee. This semester, I am taking Dr. James Maruniak’s virology class, so in January I was susceptible and looking for a supplement to my lectures when I stumbled across your infectious podcast. WOW, have I not been disappointed.

I suppose that science is a language of many dialects, and a large part of learning part of any field is in hearing its language used and thinking in it often. I listen to podcasts mostly as I perambulate from class to class or occasionally when I am in the lab doing BCA assays, running Western blots, counting cells in “flow”, staining tissue, cutting slides, injecting mice, etc.. The TWiX family has virtually monopolized my podcast-listening time as I work my way backwards try to make it back to the beginning. Thank you for everything you do.

This may be a pedantic and really unimportant not-even-really-a-correction, but I have been searching for a moment and an excuse to send a piece of fan mail; so, here it goes: Einstein’s work in temporal relativity corrected our understanding of phenomena at scales as large as the speed of light or as huge as the mass of a black hole. Anyway, the arch of history is long, the curvature in the fabric of spacetime is longer, and the hitherto intractable problem facing modern physics involves the big of Einsteinian gravity and small of quantum mechanics seeming to speak incompatible languages.

That said, most corrections that must be made with Laplace transforms are typically very, very small, which must have been what Dr. Dove meant. Also, Einstein did describe the energy in all amounts of mass (including very small quantities), photons tend to be small, and the decay of muons is related to their velocities per time dilation, so Dr. Dove does not err.

I recommend your podcasts to my friends and colleague, and although I could never have enough time to extol every virtue of TWiX, I do say that your voices are always pleasant, your ideas always sound sharp, the science is just thick enough, and Dr. Racaniello’s weather is always in degrees C.

Okay, I better get back to studying for my immunology exam.

Everyone, thank you again for your excellent work.

Thank you for being nice to Dickson. He asks the questions that I would not have the courage to ask.

May your listenership ever be over 9,000.

Sincerely, Noah

Peter writes:

Hi TWiV team.

Just a couple of listener picks for TWiV first from wartime Poland:

How a Fake Typhus Epidemic Saved a Polish City From the Nazis

How a Fake Typhus Epidemic Saved a Polish City From the …

During World War II, a man went to the doctor in Rozwadów, Poland with a unique complaint. He was one of thousands of Poles forced by the Nazi occupiers to work in …

and a second pick describing life in the city of Guangzhou at the time of the SARS outbreak:

6 Ways Life Gets Complicated When Disease Overruns Your Town

A first hand account of life in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou which in 2002 became the epicentre of the SARS epidemic.



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