Christine writes:

Dear TWiV-casters,

In response to Jon Yewdell’s comments about the need for science education at a young age (TWiV 857), I’d like to give a shout-out to the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, a program for public school high schoolers here in Nashville, a classroom-full cohort each year who spend one day a week at Vanderbilt University learning science. My daughter Alice was lucky to be admitted to this program. She’s 23 now, a landscape architecture student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and it is on her that I rely to troubleshoot ideas about all kinds of topics since her critical thinking skills are so well developed thanks to her four years as a baby scientist. 

In 8th grade she was hesitant to apply to the SSMV program since it meant more work in high school. But she came to appreciate it very much and made some lifelong friends there. Still, while Alice and her friends are lucky to have been a part of an advanced, high-quality science program in high school, it would be better if more students or all students were exposed to the ways of thinking and methods of science.

My own exposure occurred much later in life when I was hired by a science publisher, VCH Publishers, later part of Wiley, and worked there for a few years in close contact with chemists, biochemists, physicists, molecular biologists and Buckminsterfullerenologists (‘Buckminsterfullerenes,’ edited by Drs. Billups and Ciufolini, was published by VCH while I worked there: see

It was striking to a literary person such as myself how *large* the world of science is. And yet, literarily inclined people such as I had managed to ignore it most of the time.

I do my best now to publicize TWiV, especially episodes that are easier to follow for lay people, via my Twitter feed (@irizaurus) and among friends. I am not always successful in convincing nonscientists to listen to TWiV – it takes some insisting, just as it took some work to convince Alice to apply to SSMV when she was a teenager. Well, I’d like to say that this pandemic is an opportunity to strengthen science education by any means available.

Thank you for all you do! I usually cook or bake while listening to TWiV. Your back and forth conversation and comments have inspired some delicious soups and baked goods, if I say so myself.





Nashville, Tennessee

Anthony writes:

Three key theories

For now, whichever idea a researcher favours “often comes down to gut feeling rather than any sort of principled argument”, says Richard Neher, a computational biologist at the University of Basel in Switzerland. “They are all fair game,” says Jinal Bhiman, a medical scientist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg, South Africa. “Everyone has their favourite hypothesis.”


Distressing twice

1) That the origin of SARS CoV 2 is shrouded metaphorically in the mist of communication with China and literally in the mist of deep jungles is understandable. What defies comprehension is that the most studied thing on the planet has left everybody clueless.

2) The confusion with the concepts of theory, speculation, observation, inspiration, interpretation, and experimentation (hypothesis). There are very few theories — Evolution, Gravity, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, etc. Theories are the closest that we can experience Truth. Any “gut feelings” on Theories mean nothing.


John writes:

Drs TWiV:

Mostly sheltering in place here in Greater Braddock, awaiting the advent of 5C tomorrow and the double-digits predicted to herald the arrival of March.

At the end of 871, talking about Maurice Hilleman you mentioned him as having saved the lives of more people than anyone ever. Not to question that, but since Norman Borlaug* was also mentioned it might be an idea to divide the honors along the lines of the Four Horsemen, so Hilleman could have saved more lives vs. Plague, broadly considered. For Borlaug it would be vs. Famine, and I would propose splitting that category into indirect and direct categories. Borlaug would win in the indirect line, for the Green Revolution.

But for directly feeding people there’s someone that nobody thinks about anymore – Herbert Hoover, who mobilized and orchestrated food relief efforts during and in the aftermath of WWI and also after WWII, a task he largely rose to without being asked. Hoover’s efforts during WWI have been covered in various places, probably best in his 1951 autobiography, but for the WWII efforts (at the behest of Harry Truman) the only really good account I know of is:  Herbert Hoover and Germany (Louis Lochner, 1960) that I recently read and which also summarizes the WWI efforts.  It’s a relatively short read, too, and if it encourages someone to read his autobiography, all the better. Lochner basically just lays out all the details, while the autobiography is written with a certain degree of dry wit and contains the occasional bit of comic relief.

Lochner details how the WWII relief efforts came about after the Russians reneged on their agreement in the partition of Germany. The products of the different sectors were supposed to be shared equally among the sectors. East Germany was the breadbasket, but instead of distributing the harvests, the Russians took them for themselves so a massive food relief effort was mounted, actively and vigorously headed by Hoover, who by then was in his 70s. If you like, that’s my pick.

And that makes a good segue to the situation in Ukraine that I’m following closely. When I saw Jon Stewart’s podcast on that today I immediately thought that you might like it. Three comedians cheering on one of their own (Zelensky – did you know that his earlier career was as a comedian?).  It’s excellent and only 16min (and in triptych format just like 871 today, to boot). And Stewart, BTW, started off as a Chemistry major @ Wm&Mary, Class of ’84.

*Norman Borlaug was corn geneticist Charles Burnham’s grad student. Burnham co-founded the American Chestnut Foundation that I’ve mentioned before, with encouragement from Borlaug, and was himself a fellow grad student with Barbara McClintock and George Beadle, seen in this wonderful 1929 photo of future luminaries in Genetics (Rollins Emerson’s early work had recapitulated Mendel’s, which hadn’t been rediscovered at the time, so he was by this time already was somewhat in the luminary category).

Thanks again for your tireless efforts,


Philip writes:

As a watcher of TWIV, I understand by conventional wisdom, a HIV vaccine would need to be 100% sterilizing which is a high bar to reach. 

So, us older folks had Chickenpox that leaves the virus in us and it later activated to give us shingles. 

I would summarize that HIV must be more deeply hidden in the body than the Zoster Herpes virus. Is my thinking correct?

I had the earlier attempt at a shingles vaccine which I understand was the chickenpox vaccine. I did the first dose of Shingrix and forgot the second so I started anew and properly completed the 2 dose series.  

Richard writes:

Dear Prof. Racaniello and fellow TWIV cast members

Reporting from the South Island of New Zealand where it is currently 17 C (63 F) with the heavens delivering an almighty deluge!

As a farm animal veterinarian, I have been fascinated with the detection of SARS-COV-2 in all manner of animals species, especially in white tailed deer as discussed in episode 847.

Please see the link provided below for my pick (if I could be so presumptuous). I keep hearing Vincent and Rich’s voices in my head when looking at the map of distribution of detections reported in animals – “we need to get out there and do more sampling!!”. I immediately question whether the perceived increased prevalence of reported outbreaks in North America and Europe are because they are doing the most sampling, if compared against other parts of the world such as India.

In the species I attempt to specialise in, cattle, one recent survey even tested 1000 cattle in Germany where seroconversion was detected, albeit in only eleven cattle, which were most likely exposed to by their handlers and the authors couldn’t see evidence of cow to cow spread (reassuring for this dirty cow vet!)

Even though this virus has caused so much devastation across the globe, I cannot help but being completely fascinated by it and your infectious enthusiasm has not been as effective as Paxlovid to help alleviate this malady!!

Thank you for completely reinvigorating my interest in emerging infectious diseases, so much so that I am now going to begin a Masters of Science in One Health as I believe this concept (One Health) is critical for increasing our surveillance and understanding of what is out there.

Yours sincerely, a fellow Rich.

Kind Regards
Richard Nortje BVSc PGDipVPM
Large Animal Veterinarian
Rangiora Vet Centre

Jason writes:

I’m a chemist by training and computer nerd professionally (remember my message about home and lab automation which got read on-air in epitope 821?) so I found a nice crossover between the two which may be helpful for researchers who need to count things as part of their daily work. The Apple App Store has a number of apps which automate counting, and I’m sure the Google Play Store does too. Just aim the phone at the things which need counting and AI in the app does the rest. All the apps I’ve found need a license so I don’t have any real experience with them, but they look promising. Some examples:



Keep up the great, informative, interesting and entertaining work. I gobble up each episode as soon as it’s viral.