Eric writes:

Hi Vincent (or whoever reads these emails)- 

I just finished listening to Jeffrey Shaman session (792). 

First, on the positive, your program is fantastic and amazing and please keep up the good work. 

Second, having academics comment on how public health policies and announcement are developed is a regular point that drives me crazy. They rarely have any actual idea of the process and Dr Shaman provided an exceptionally good example of this when talking about WHO policies on masking early in the pandemic. 

Rather than developing policies on a whim, which is what Dr Shaman appeared to communicate, the WHO have a very structured and rational approach by convening a range of external subject matter experts to review the available data and provide their expertise and recommendations on specific questions. These are then collated and summarized to provide the basis for key WHO recommendations.

As such, having highly articulate and compelling guests such as Dr Shaman commenting on what is clearly out their lane is doing a disservice to TWIV — and is dangerous by helping undermine the authority of critical public health institutions. It also undermines confidence in discussion on the topics they do have SME. 

Please, please, call any guests out when they stray into expounding on public health policies. Ask them why they hold these perspectives and if they have any actual experience in, or understanding of, developing public health policies. 

Disclaimer: I worked for WHO as an outbreak epidemiologist for 5 years before getting tired by the bureaucracy and returning to academia. 

Very best,


Portia writes:

Hello, Vincent, Dickson, Kathy, Alan, Rich, and Brianne,

You feel like old friends to me!

I have been listening to TWIV for several months now, wish I had known about it at the beginning of the pandemic, but I am going back to listen to the first TWIV’s and I am in episodes 60’s, as well as keeping up with all the new TWIV’s.

This email is in response to hearing about Dickson’s watercolor, I will be checking out his watercolor after writing this email. My ears perked up when Kathy mentioned “watercolor”, and then Dickson mentioned Mario and Dale, whom I also had the honor of knowing and meeting. I took a workshop from them in the early 90’s, before Mario passed away, I also have collected several of their works, and met with Dale every time I went to New York, before she also passed away. So they are always on my mind, and hearing them mentioned by Dickson was quite a nice surprise.

I am now a photographer, but in my previous life as a software engineer, I took up watercolor and admired Mario and Dale’s work greatly. So now I feel a connection with Dickson too!

As for TWIV in general, I really appreciate what you all are doing to bring knowledge to the public, although I think those who listen are a self-selected group. I share Vincent’s frustration and applaud you for keep doing the podcast (and videos)

thank you all.


from California

Karen writes:

Dear twiv,

In their emails, so many people exclaim “twiv keeps me sane during the pandemic”. I don’t think this is just silly exaggeration or ingratiation. I also feel this way! And I am trying to figure out why.

Maybe for some people the reason is that twiv gives them authoritative answers. But for me, and I think many others, it is much more than this. It is that twiv is one of the few places on the internet where we hear scientists acting like good scientists. It does not happen all the time, but I find it very refreshing and interesting when the twiv team and your guests ask each other authentic questions and try to figure things out right there online. (By authentic, I mean questions for which the asker really does not know, but wants to or needs to find out the answers.)

This is one of the things that I found to be very distressing during the pandemic – people (including even friends and people who called themselves scientists) failing to ask relevant questions – people blindly believing the weirdest conspiracy theories – people not even trying to look for evidence. And people who assume -without even trying – that they can’t possibly understand a research paper.

For example, it was very obvious that throughout 2020 there was very little testing (especially RT-PCR testing) here in India – especially in rural areas (where most people live). And yet, ‘educated’ people in mainstream and social media, were proclaiming that covid was not affecting people in rural areas. The rural people themselves could not be heard, since they generally do not have access to internet. And it was clear from the beginning that even the counting of deaths was extremely inadequate.

Why weren’t people asking, “What is the evidence?”?

I am a researcher in science education, and unfortunately I have to conclude that it is partly the fault of us educators. Before the pandemic, I had been analysing discussions between students, and between ordinary people, in order to find out how they learn and whether or how they do science in their everyday lives. All too often, schools are actually teaching children to stop asking questions and to stop doing science. We have found evidence that small children – as well as uneducated farmers – do ask each other questions and carry on their own investigations. But in schools students are taught to sit quietly and unquestioningly, trying to remember the lists of ‘facts’ reeled out by authorities (teachers and textbooks). So when educated people find themselves in a desperate pandemic situation, they grasp for the definitive answers and the quick fixes that they hope are true, rather than realising that things may be more unknown and more complex.

We need educators – like twiv – who teach us that science is not a list of ‘facts’ but a process of questioning and investigating, observing, and finding evidence. We need to emphasise the roles of questioning, not knowing, disappointing results, complexity, mystery, hard work, and probability in science.

I encourage you to have more of these kinds of discussions that are just like the discussions scientists have as they are doing science in their laboratories. For me, the most exciting twiv moments are when there is some disagreement or lack of understanding between you. This is what has been helping ‘keep me sane’! Thanks!

– Karen                          .

Mumbai, India

Doug writes:

Hello TWIV team,

I’m a recently retired electrical engineer who has been following your podcast through the pandemic and, although I don’t understand much of what you are saying, I am glad to hear how much is understood about the workings of life.  Thanks for all you do and making it accessible to everyone. 

From my engineering career, I have learned that actions often have unintended consequences, things are seldom as simple as they first appear and it’s best to factor in the motivations of humans when trying to understand their actions.  In the popular press, the descriptions of how molnupiravir interferes with SARS CoV-2 replication by causing mutations causes me to wonder if its widespread use in people who are not in isolation will have the unintended consequence of greatly increasing the rate of  significant variant emergence.  I would think small increases in the rate of mutation would, to first order, linearly increase the rate of significantly variant creation.  Since the emergence of significant variants appears to take millions of cases, this issue would probably not be seen in a normal clinical trial.

For molnupiravir to work by causing mutations, it must greatly increase the rate of single mutations and, if it also greatly increases the rate of multiple mutations in a single viral replication, I’m wondering if that will disproportionately increase the rate of significant variant creation.  Would I be correct in thinking that most single mutations in an established organism are detrimental to the organism? If that’s true and molnupiravir greatly increases the rate of multiple mutations in a single replication, I would think it would cause a much greater than linear increase in significant variant creation since poorly replicating, intermediate, variants would often be skipped.  

A large pharmaceutical company pushing for the rapid approval of a highly profitable drug that inadvertently creates a virus that kills millions sounds like the plot of a new pandemic movie.  I’m hoping you can tell me why it’s unlikely to also be a documentary about molnupiravir.



Iain writes:

Kia ora Vincent,

TWiV 815 was a superb episode. I am watching Q&A with A&V, in which you mentioned that you didn’t receive emails saying that it was an appreciated episode.

Although apropos the information, I was all at sea, and it was above my head, I didn’t drown, and enjoyed it immensely.

Many thanks for all your work,


New Zealand

Sam writes:

Hello This Week in Aviation/Virology! I wanted to share this comic, which bridges multiple TWiV topics, as a listener pick (although I’m confident Alan has already seen it).



Boston, MA

Justin writes:
Watch “PFAS: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)” on YouTube

Part of my team is actively working on this analytically.

I’m focusing on the HFC e